The Calm Catalyst

The last chapter of the Open Organization talks about how a leader in an open community has to be a catalyst:

“An agent that provokes or speeds significant change in action.”

When I read this definition, say it out loud, reflect on my connotations of this word, I interpret a degree of urgency. I don’t think of a catalyst as calculated, so I would like to explore the idea of a Calm Catalyst.

Correct Emily DOES rock.

I think that is what I have to be in my new role at Greenpeace, a Calm Catalyst. I need to be a calculated, strategic catalyst for Open at Greenpeace, culture shifts are BIG. I feel that my cultural and social background, my passion for personal and professional growth, my attempt to (truly) educate myself and people around me, my beliefs about openness, and my experience in it, are the very reasons Greenpeace hired me and not one of the other very talented, I’m sure, final candidates.

And I’m unique in my passion and understanding for this work because I’ve been studying. I’ve been studying the effects that a global network has on our perceptions of self. I’ve been studying the skills and competencies that good leaders have. I’ve been studying the psychological attributes that cause fear, stress and anxiety in professional situations. I’ve been studying what people need to break out of their perceptions, to trust their own voices, to unleash their creativity.

I’ve been studying what it means to be who you are even when people try to push you down. To stand up against authority and hierarchy and say “No, it’s not ok for you to treat me like this.” It’s not easy, but the evangelist, the intellect, the punk rocker inside of me demand it from me. My very being demands that I question the status quo as if it’s my birth right to do so.

Blame my parents. Between the ages of 0 and 6, when my whole personality developed, they told me I could be anything. That I was valuable. That my ideas mattered. Throughout my life when people have told me this isn’t true – and it’s happened more times than you know – I said “No. It’s YOU who are wrong”. When I wrote a report about the injustice of gym class. When I told a judge he wasn’t allowed to talk to me like that. When I poked the bear even though I knew the bear I was poking didn’t have the integrity to deal with the issue openly or honestly.

made with the keepcalm-o-matic
made with the keepcalm-o-matic

I am not a calm person. I feel strongly. I feel too much. I am generally cynical and enraged at the world. It’s hard to know that most people do not and will not love you unconditionally and accept you as you are. As a catalyst for “open culture” I don’t just mean open processes or licenses, I stupidly believe that if people were more open, they would strive to develop empathy, and the world would be a better place. It pisses me off that this isn’t the way of the world.

When I think about the type of catalyst I want to be, I don’t want to be a catalyst who is frustrated and annoyed. I don’t want to be aggravated. I want to be empathetic. I want to understand why it is hard for people to break free from their ingrained perspectives and work together towards a better world.

And while my nature may try to preclude my ability to be calm, the neuron pathways in my brain can be changed. If I express this desire, take note of when my calm disappears, I will eventually notice my triggers. I can identify them, pay attention to them and choose to remain calm at the fact that people don’t always know how to be open. That they need help. That I can help them.

This is calculation. I will continue to be passionate (cynical too, you can be calm and hilariously cynical). I have a love/hate personality, so I think this Calm Catalyst thing is going to make it easier for me to create positive change.


The Calm Catalyst

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