When climate activist Greta Thunberg was named Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, my first thought was, “Good for her! She totally deserves it!!”
My second thought was, “Wow – How does she do it? Could I do it, too?” By “it,” I meant, how has she become such a powerful activist? And how does she hang in there, even though the odds of beating climate change are so high, and she’s under attack from some of the world’s most powerful people (like the President of the United States).
Here are my seven takeaways from Greta this past year:
- Just do it. Many of us were struck by the photographs of Greta sitting all alone outside the Swedish Parliament making her solitary statement about climate change. They made me ponder the times I dithered about what I should do, or when I should do it, or whether I should do it at all if I had to do it by myself. Not Greta. She just started striking. “I am doing this because nobody else is doing anything. It is my moral responsibility to do what I can,” she told The Guardian. My takeaway: when you see an injustice, do what you can to stop it. Don’t wait. Be a leader, even if you’re just leading for yourself.
- Don’t let your fears stop you. I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my life. But I’ve always feared crossing the Atlantic or Pacific oceans on a boat. No matter how big the boat is, the ocean is a billion times wider and tens of thousands of feet deeper – and that scares me. I don’t know if Greta was afraid to cross the ocean, but she did have fears about speaking out. “I have always been that girl in the back who doesn’t say anything. I thought I couldn’t make a difference because I was too small,” she said. Nevertheless, she crossed the ocean twice on a small boat, which has allayed my fears, and she’s made a real difference by mobilizing concerned citizens all over the world, allaying hers.
- Speak out in the way that makes sense for you. Do you ever feel like you shouldn’t speak out because you don’t know what to say or how to say it? Take heart from Greta. She has described herself as being shy and reluctant to speak in public. So instead of wielding a microphone or a megaphone, she made a simple poster that she hand-lettered with a simple phrase. And that simple phrase, School Strike for Climate, electrified a movement. If you see something, say something, in the way that works for you.
- Use facts to speak truth to power. One of Greta’s biggest strengths is that she knows what she’s talking about – and she’s willing to use her knowledge to challenge world leaders and corporate titans. She has studied climate science, read the reports issued by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and can talk as knowledgeably about the issue as many scientists and certainly more than most politicians and business leaders. We don’t need to know as much as she does, but it helps to have the basic facts at our fingertips. You can find them here.
- Embrace your difference; don’t hide it or be ashamed of it. One of the most impressive ways Greta has asserted her leadership is by deriving strength in who she is. Greta has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a neurological disorder. Rather than hide it or be diminished by it, she believes it has given her the ability to master an issue that others find daunting. In fact, she calls being on the spectrum her “superpower” because it “makes you think differently.”“Especially in such a big crisis like this one…we need people who think outside the box and who aren’t like everyone else…” she says.
- Don’t dismiss young people. Many of us who have been fighting climate change for decades are tired, frustrated, and feeling so hopeless, we’re ready to give up. Then, along comes someone like Greta! Where her critics try to discredit her for being so young, I’ve been invigorated by her passion and fearlessness. I realize that precisely because she is young, she’s still idealistic and ready to fight, and she’s got the youthful energy to do it. Plus, as a mom, I’m always trying to explain how climate change could impact my kids. Who better than a young person could have shamed adult world leaders at the United Nations, with the words: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.”
- Have a sense of humor. Climate change denier Donald Trump is the president of the most powerful country on Earth. Yet, he’s irked by a teenage girl and constantly insults and belittles her. Her response? Troll him right back, but with a sense of humor. It is easy to get caught up in the nasty fights that go on on social media, in the press, or at demonstrations. Greta often responds to these with a slightly sarcastic wit that shows she can take the high road.And as I’ve learned from her over and over again, the view is always better from the high road, right?
Photo via Greta Thunberg Twitter