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Julia Butterfly Hill: Living With Meaning

user profile picture Adam Taggart Apr 26, 2014
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In 1997, a young woman impulsively climbed a tree in protest of excessive logging of old-growth timber. By the time she climbed back down over two years later, she had become an international face of the Environmental movement.

In this week's podcast, Chris speaks with Julia Butterfly Hill about her journey: what led her to climb that tree and how she dealt with the flood of fame and notoriety that followed. More than anything else, Julia views the experience as an example of the ability to make a difference that lies within each of us.

In a society in which many feel increasingly dis-empowered by increasing wealth inequality, multiplying regulations, eroding civil liberty and growing corporatization, financialization and centralization — Julia's message is that each of us has more agency, and more ability to shape our destiny, than we often realize. And it's her strong hope that as the escalating costs of society's misdirections mount, ordinary people will become increasingly courageous in exerting their extraordinary power. For in the end, that's what's going to ultimately effect change at the top — as well as happiness within each of us:  

I have to acknowledge that there was a movement of tree-sitting before me. So I did not just come into a zone of nothing. I do believe that the garden had been prepared for my action to flourish. If I had done it 20 years earlier or 20 years later, I do not really know what the results would be. I'm clear, though, that because a moment had been working and building and working and building: that was a part of my success. I believe part of the success, too, is that most people remember a childhood moment where they had a tree fort or wanted one, so it taps into that part of us. And also, I think there is something about the hero’s journey too.

I really do see so much in people. The desire to have something worthy of giving our lives to; because we give our lives to so much that really is not worthy of it. And I think even if people are not completely conscious of that, their spirits, their hearts, their souls feel it. And that is why we turn to self-medicating and numbing ourselves with shopping, over-consumption, movies, television, drugs, alcohol, and all these things we do. Because there is something deep within us, even if we do not recognize it and cannot name it, that wants to have something worth giving our lives to. So something powerful about that arc of what takes the ordinary and makes it become extraordinary.

I tell people the only thing extraordinary means is "extra ordinary". Extraordinary people are ordinary people who come up against something that calls out their greatness. And they choose to say yes to that calling, even if they do not know where it is going to lead them or how it is going to end. But they cannot choose to walk away. I call it the 'choiceless' choice. We could choose to not say anything. We could choose to walk away. But to do that would kill off a piece of ourselves. So even though we could say 'no', we have to say 'yes'. And there is something about having something deeply meaningful to say 'yes' to give our lives to.

The final thing that I think also resonated for people is there are so many people who care deeply about this planet, its beauty. I mean, that's part of the discussion. Let's set aside even science, the environment, jobs or anything. Pretty much, we live on this absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful planet. And everything that is unsustainable is also really ugly. Even from an artist’s view, you cannot argue that the Tar Sands extraction in Canada is pretty. I don't know a single person who would go Oh, that's nice! When you see a beautiful ancient forest and then it looks like a bomb has been dropped off in it — there's no one that can say That's pretty!.

So there's a movement of people — regardless of exactly our view and our bend on economics, science, policy, whatever — that appreciates beauty and wants to see that beauty protected, and recognizes the value of living on a healthy and beautiful planet. And our voices are not heard in the mainstream. And I feel like my action, in many ways, became the voice for the voiceless all over the world because it did make it into the mainstream conversation.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Julia (53m:44s):

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