One of the most compelling voices in the area of climate change awareness is David Attenborough. For many year, Mr. Attenborough was a journalist for the BBC who covered feature stories on natural wonders around the world. He was sort of the Jacques Cousteau for natural discoveries above water. Early on, he was convinced that the natural world was being modified significantly over time.
He would know. This year, he turned 97 years old.
In his book, A Life on Our Planet, which in 2020 was turned into a documentary film, he describes visiting sites as a young journalist and then again 40, 50, and even 60 years later and noting the striking difference in his own lifetime: shores disappear, species vanish, forests deteriorate, etc. For him, the decay of the planet is not theory; it happened literally right before his eyes.
While I could easily talk about the importance of earth care – a worthy topic – that’s not my subject today. Rather, it’s the size of change over time. When most of us put together strategic plans or set goals for ourselves, we think in terms of weeks and months, maybe years. What is the appointment furthest out on your calendar (recurring events with no end date don’t count!)? How far ahead do you plan fitness regimens, vacation schedules, family reunions, or bucket lists? One month? Two years? Maybe five?
One of the main reasons we don’t plan out too far is that we know circumstances change and we only have so much control over our future. This is wise: there is little reason to plan around factors that have little or no chance of staying in place forever. Will TikTok still be around in 2025? Will we still drive cars in 2030? Will you still live in Montgomery County in 2035? Who knows?
But . . . that doesn’t cancel the fact that change will occur and while we don’t have control over many factors, we do have control over some, namely, those closest to our chest. If what we do has a slight change in a year, what can it effect in 10 years?
I’m the kind of person who tends to get impatient, wanting things to happen faster than they usually do. A year can go by and I often feel like I’ve accomplished little. So recently, when age moved me into a different decade (now which one would that be??), I decided to go back and look over the last ten years to see what I’d been up to. I was stunned at how much had transpired, all the experiences and projects I had been involved in, all the new people I had gotten to know, and yes, the things I had accomplished. I don’t think this is because I was particularly ambitious; rather, because I stopped to look!
I am not suggesting we all get out our calendar and start planning out year 2033 in detail. My suggestion, for myself and anyone else who is listening, is to fully live out our values – in how we work, how we talk, how we relate, how we spend, how we use our time, what attitudes we choose, what groups we join, and what perspectives we adopt – and stop periodically, look back, and reflect on the fruit of our labor. And when I say look back, that means more than a week or a month!
We have an impact. Whether we see it or not. But, as Mr. Attenborough can attest, we have a much better chance of seeing it if we take a longer view.