Engaging for change

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Contributed by Andrea Diaz

When I read Hemal’s initial tweet, my alarm bells went off.  I immediately jumped into a defensive and judgemental state of mind, “who the hell does this guy think he is?”, “he’s just another angry man with opinions and a keyboard”. I felt aggravated that this random man would call my friend a “bitch” and try to shame her sexuality as a way of getting his point across. Clearly, he wanted a reaction, he wanted a fight and I’m so proud of Yael (@yaelfiner) for not fuelling the fire.  I know if this was me I would have either not engaged with this man or I would have reacted emotionally and caused more harm than good.  

As I read on and I saw how Yael had responded to this man, I couldn’t help but be very impressed.  There was no sign of emotion “I won’t take it personally” (therefore not adding fuel to the fire), and there was a genuine concern and willingness to listen and learn.  His replies to her were what really blew me away.  Instead of insulting her again, he actually had some important and valuable things to say.  He was able to inform Yael (and everyone reading) the realities of living in Africa and the impact on divesting from fossil fuels will have on African nations.  This is where the learning begins, this is where solutions can be formed, this is the point of depolarization. 

With the right question, Yael had allowed the space for this man to express his views on the issue.  It became apparent the struggle he faces and the fear he feels about an uncertain future for his homeland.  You can hear the frustration in his words towards the lack of understanding the West has in regards to the reality of this issue.  The frustration of the West not taking responsibility for the global problems it has caused, and the lack of interest in helping developing nations out of this problem. His words made me think deeper about renewable energy and how even in what is a ‘global’ crisis, there is inequality in resource distribution for clean energy.  

In concluding their conversation when Yael asks what he believes the solution to be, his answer is simple, “All rich countries should Invest in Africa in renewable energy with long term loans”.  He actually agrees that renewable energy is the way to go but it will take the help of the West to achieve this.  In the end, I agree with him, that developed nations should be allies of Africa and other developing countries in getting access to renewable energy so that the world can begin to curb its reliance on fossil fuels. This is a global problem, requiring global solutions.  This discussion needs to include more voices from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Island nations so we understand the full spectrum of what is to come regarding divergence from fossil fuels.  

This Twitter discussion came a long way from where it started.  What began as an explosion of aggression and frustration, ended in an informative and thought-provoking discussion.  It is a testament to Yael for maintaining a level head and being able to steer the conversation in a way that invited this man to open up to his truth and to share that in a more impactful way.  Had Yael chosen not to engage, we would have missed this opportunity to learn a little bit about the reality of life in Africa, and how our decisions impact the lives of others on the other side of the world. Had Yael chosen not to engage, we would have left believing that this was just another angry person on the internet, and would have never had a chance to hear his legitimate concerns and intelligent argument around renewable energy.   

As I finished reading the conversation, I left with a feeling of gratitude, curiosity and determination.  Gratitude for Yael for her courage in pursuing this conversation in a constructive way.  Curious to learn more about the struggles of developing nations in regards to this climate crisis and determination to do better and to support organizations that promote sustainability and global equality in the best way I can.  Thank you, Hemal for sharing your thoughts and views.  Thank you for bringing to light an issue many of us in the West are unaware of. 

You can also read Yael’s own perspective on this conversation.

If you liked this, follow me on Twitter. I teach people how to talk about hot topics without exploding or shutting down.