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Monday, November 08, 2010

Helping Audubon Help Birds

Last week I made some very critical remarks about the national Audubon organization and some of its historic and organizational struggles. While I made every effort to be sincere and to make sure that what I posted was accurate, there is still a problem with what I posted.

According to German sociologist and philosopher J├╝rgen Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action, effective communication requires three essential elements--
1) It must be truthful
2) It must be sincerely conveyed
3) It must conform to accepted social rules

The third point is where I failed. I was critical and somewhat intemperate in my remarks. My tone was more attacking than conciliatory. Some of my intentions were clouded over by my passion, and my posts were not the most effective way to strengthen Audubon and the bird conservation community.

Since my original intent was to protest the possible loss of Hog Island as a center for building and sustaining a national Audubon community, to the extent that my posts offended or turned off members of that community with the power to influence that decision, then my posts failed in their attempt. To the degree that the posts could be taken as a Jerry Maguire moment, I lost credibility as a rational and viable partner and valuable member of that larger Audubon community. So my posts have failed to some degree, and my posts have damaged my relationships to people I care deeply about within the Audubon community. I feel that intensely, and feel the need once again to apologize.

In my best moments, my intent is to strengthen and support the Audubon societies as the strongest and potentially most effective bird conservation organizations at the national, state, and local level. I hope to my previous comments can be charitably read within that context and not as an attack on Audubon or any member of the Audubon community.

We are at a critical time in the history of Audubon. Birds need our help. The economy has financially weakened nonprofits across the country. National Audubon has a new president, which usually leads to shifts in policies and priorities. There is a lot of work to do, and it will take all of us who care about birds and/or Audubon to get this work done.

So here's my take on how you can help Audubon help birds.

1) Join Audubon. In many places you can join at both the National and the local level. National Audubon needs your support. So does your local chapter. So depending on how Audubon is organized in your area, determine if you have the opportunity to join at both the national and local chapter level.

2) Crack the Wallet. You can give to Audubon at the local, state, or national level. You can provide general support (there are always light bills to be paid), or you can support individual programs that you are most interested in. Take a look at what Audubon is doing on each of these levels, and see where you want to put your dollars to work. Since there is a lot to do, and a lot going on, there are a lot of programs and projects to support.

3) Be a Leader. If you care about birds, don't just get involved--take on a project with your local Audubon chapter. What do birds need in your area? You and a couple other people can form a subcommittee and take on the world. If you'd rather just spend your time birding, go back to suggestion number two and at least make it financially possible for someone else to do the important conservation work while you enjoy your time birding. Audubon even has some funds available that can help you do your local projects. You can also become a leader on the state level by getting involved with a statewide Audubon council linking the chapters in your state, or by serving on the board of your statewide Audubon organization. There are also ways to be involved on the National Audubon board. But you don't have to have a title or position to be a leader. If you care about birds, lead out on whatever it is that you see needs to be done.

4) Be a Follower. Even more than financial support, what good leaders need are good followers. Do what you can to support your local Audubon chapter leaders. Ditto for your statewide and national Audubon officers and staff. You may not always agree with everyone, but do your best to work through your issues without rancor. If you're reading this post you know that I haven't always succeeded here. But I am dedicated to keep trying. To patching up difficulties so we can work together. We have enough obstacles and sometimes even enemies to face without having to worry about getting stabbed in the back by members of our own community while we are out trying to do our best. Sometimes there is a tendency to complain and take our marbles elsewhere when we are upset. We need to practice following sometimes, even when we disagree, for the benefit of the larger good. This is something that seems to be breaking down in some sectors of our larger society. It is a tough skill for some of us to develop. But remember that united we stand, divided we fall. We've already seen a lot of falling in the bird world, and perhaps the greatest threat that Audubon and the conservation community face right now.

5) Be heard. Make your wishes and desires known within Audubon at all levels. Remember what it takes to be an effective communicator (truth, sincerity, living by the rules of the group with which you are communicating). Clean up your messes when you make them, but be in communication. On my best days I know that my messages have the greatest influence when they persuade with patience, gentleness, meekness, and love.

6) Have Fun. Sometimes we think birding is fun, while bird conservation is work--the last thing we want to do after a full day or week at the office. So make it fun. Make sure you have lots of fun meetings--with food. Get involved with people you enjoy being with. Let the creative juices flow. Plan bird conservation parties. Contests. Competitions. And more parties. If you have the best parties in town, you will get the most done!

7) Go to Hog Island. Along the lines of having fun, attend Audubon's chapter leadership workshops (next one is Aug 15-20, 2010) or other programs on Hog Island, Maine. Soak in the sights, sounds, and legacy of this traditional Audubon stomping ground. Take the boat out to see the puffins nesting on Eastern Egg Rock. Enjoy the great food. Hang out and share your best Audubon thoughts with like-minded local Audubon folks from around the country. If each Audubon chapter sent one member to this camp each year, we would need 10 camp sessions so the future of the camp would be financially secure, and we would be much stronger as a national community--a true Audubon society!

Yes we have our problems and squabbles within Audubon, most of which are probably not best addressed through blog posts. Audubon is a big tent, a tent that both needs and can provide support and opportunities for all of us. Under that tent we will strengthen each other and our cause as we all work together to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.


Jason Kessler said...

Sometimes, though, one needs to bellow to be heard. I found the blog postings in question to be thought-provoking, and appreciated them for what they were: passionate.

Anonymous said...

I agree with OpposableChums entirely. Sometimes, you need to let the pain come through before anyone will listen. I found your posts to be intelligent, rational, and entirely appropriate in tone. You can't howl in anguish every day, but sometimes it is the best thing you can do.

There are many, many times when I wish NAS would do some howling instead of issuing all those nice, restrained press releases.

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