J500 Media and the Environment

I don’t need a bottle to get intoxicated
July 24, 2009, 11:31 pm
Filed under: J840 Week 6, Local Events + Action, Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

Advocacy is intoxicating. The power of giving a voice to people and causes that don’t have a stage of their own through my words is better than drugs or booze.

I first started advocating for my faith when I was in college and the editor of the school paper was an aggressive athiest. I advocated for my daughter almost 20 years ago when she was diagnosed with a mental illness in elementary school. The Kansas City Star published a letter to the editor I sent in to advocate for my political beliefs. I advocated for my children in high school to raise money for their extra curricular activities by launching and writing the content for the booster club websites. I had the chance to advocate for wounded veterans by writing website content during a redesign of the Salute America’s Heroes site in my last job.  And now that I’m finally figuring out what i want to be when I grow up, I must admit that the rush of finding the perfect word to set an emotional hook for a reader is not just intoxicating, it’s borderline addictive.

The experience of digging into the issues surrounding the homeless that have arisen in Lawrence this spring and summer have fed the rush. Doing the interviews where I get to look into their eyes and see their pain, feel their passion, and watch them have the hope to overcome adversity is a payoff that nothing short of incredible. The skills I have honed as an adult – listening and quickly understanding a person’s issues and feelings – and my love of words have given me hope. Words can affect change. The question that remains in advocating for the homeless in Lawrence is how will we use our words? Will we use them to affect positive change, or keep the status quo?

Cindy Olsen

Spare me the drama!
July 16, 2009, 12:30 pm
Filed under: J840 Week 5, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,


Is all the sustainability drama necessary?

Is all the sustainability drama necessary? (image from http://www.daivdandgoliathtees.com)

Everywhere I turn I hear about the need to be sustainable. And I agree, we are at a global crossroads. But the opening act of whom ever has the stage always seems to lead with a negative story. Any positive spin comes at the end, if at all. To them I say, “Spare me the drama!”  The most important component of a definition of sustainability is that it is uplifting and inspires us to choose what is best.

Sustainability is often defined in terms of “R” words. From “Leading Change Toward Sustainability,” we get “redesign, replace, reduce, refine and recirculate.”  Toyota uses “refine, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover.”   Based on several of our readings this week, I would also add “repair.”  We have to move forward, and we have to fix what is currently broken. The undercurrent seeping out of these words is the act of building. For me, a personal definition of sustainability includes creating processes and actions that fix, support, and build up people, cultures and environments – the structural under pinnings of life.

Often in sustainability discussions humans seem to be placed separate from the environment – interacting with it but not a part of it. A definition of sustainability must include the inter-relatedness of humans with nature. In my research, I ran across the term ecosophy, associated with psychoanalyst Felix Guattari. As I understand it, he holds that ecology alone (ecology being a component of sustainability) obscures the complexity between humans and their environment, and a much more holistic approach is needed to “change mentalities.” Ecosophy encompasses the marriage of mental, social and environmental ecosystems. This approach is exciting and allows for the creativity to build the things we need to implement the “R’s” while making sure that the physical (environmental), cultural (social) and spiritual (mental) nature of life is accomodated.

So, for Cindy Olsen, sustainability is the creative processes of repairing, maintaining and moving forward the physical, spiritual and cultural life on earth. I’m inspired, are you?

Cindy Olsen

The eyes of journalism
July 8, 2009, 11:15 pm
Filed under: J840 Week 4, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

We are not blank pages when we start writing a story.

Here’s my problem with the term “journalistic objectivity.”  Nobody, no matter how hard they try, can see through eyes other than their own. No journalist is a tabula rasa on which the facts of a story can be written. We write through cultural filters, and we can’t help it.

Our culture defines who we are and how we see things. Two people raised in two different cultures can draw completely different conclusions on the exact same set of facts. And in their cultural setting, each would be correct. In 1991 researchers Markus and Kitayama concluded that culture “can influence and in many cases determine the very nature of individual experience, including cognition, emotion and motivation.”

This research is becoming real to me as I get to know the father of my granddaughter. I am the product of married, middle-class, college-educated, Caucasian parents, and grew up in the suburbs of a city in the northeast. He is African American, and grew up welfare-poor in rural southeast Kansas. His mother was 14-years-old when he was born, and he was raised by his grandmother. Both he and his father have spent time in jail. Last summer he lived with us for a few weeks. In that time my eyes were opened to a completely different way of thinking. I found my jaw dropping into my lap quite often, as he routinely spoke of things that I consider criminal/anti-social/reprehensible as a normal way of life. Most memorable was the time he spoke of a friend who “disappeared” after he cooperated with the police in the investigation of the death of an acquaintance. It was just another every-day occurence for him. I hope he couldn’t see how mortified I was.

If, as Markus and Kitayama concluded, culture is deterministic on our cognition and the way we interpret facts and events, how can we hope to be objective in journalism, or any kind of communication?

Cindy Olsen

Green Cement Shoes

I hate to think about it. When I try to figure out what is and isn’t green today, it makes me feel like I’m trying to run a marathon in green cement shoes. The top half of me is going a million miles an hours, the bottom half is stuck, and I get worn out in about a minute and a half.

Thoreau didn’t help. Sequestered away from society at the Sysiphus by Titianedge of Walden Pond, he wasn’t really relevant or inspiring. Gore, Carson and Lehrer/Friedman made me feel like I was Sysiphus. Barbie Bcause – seriously? Wrong on so many levels. For me, Williams hit the nail on the head with Green Noise. If you try to think below the surface of a lot of the environmental reasoning, so many questions bubble up so quickly, all I want to do is put the lid back on the pot so it doesn’t boil over. I want to be green and do the right thing. Just don’t make me think so hard.

But the assignment IS to think about it, so here goes. First, green is not a state of being. Defining yourself as green or not green is a weird kind of reverse anthropomorphosis.  Instead of attributing human characteristics to nature, we attribute the characteristics of nature to humans. Rather, green is a set of actions and behaviors that we choose or refuse to engage in that have a beneficial effect on the environment. By repeating actions and behavior, you establish a green lifstyle. An un-green lifestyle would be deliberately making choices that hurt the environment. Most of us aren’t like that. Rather, I think we fall into a third category – laissez-faire green. As long as it’s convenient and inexpensive, green is easy. Seems awfully shallow, but perfectionism easily becomes an excuse.

So what’s the way forward? Well Sysiphus has some pretty broad shoulders from rolling his rock up the hill for eternity.  Perhaps the green Sysiphus’s of the world can carry us until we can trade our cement shoes for green sneakers  to run the race.

Cindy Olsen

About me: CindyOl

“It’s never too late,” would be great lyrics for a song on my iPod these days. As I’m hitting the closing act of my fifth decade, my list of new experiences is growing quickly: learn new technology, acquire new eating habits, go back to school, get a job in a new industry, be a grandmother, and now becoming sustainable. It’s all happening to me. But no complaints here.

When I was born, there were no home versions of VCRs, let alone DVRs, or microwave ovens. I remember getting our first color television, and it certainly wasn’t flat. The idea that a home personal computer was even possible didn’t gain ground until I was in college, and we didn’t own one until our oldest child was entering first grade. If you mentioned the Internet and social media? You might have been considered a bit “teched.”  So the idea that I am the digital communications subject matter expert in my current job is amusing to me.

A year ago, if I was making a list to describe my interests and passions, sustainability Brewster Sunsetwould not be among them. I grew up in a small Massachusetts town surrounded by incredible natural resources. (I often long for the times when I dawdled away my summer days on an ocean beach.) It gave me an appreciation of the things that sustainability stands for. But I would have to say my experience with sustainability is more awareness than action. Civic and social responsibility (causes that include people) has always been a part of my life. From the Girl Scouts to faith-based service to others, helping people and teaching my children to help people is a foundational principle in my life.

Jersey CowIn my new job as a communicator in the dairy industry, I interact with people who are staunch advocates for the land and their animals. They bring the perspective of generations of experience. They are concerned about food safety and our health. And they want to do what’s right. I’m excited to be able to help them bring their stories to the public.
Cindy O.