> Bette Rubin is a first-year Master of Environment Management student at the Nicholas School of the Environment, concentrating in Coastal Environmental Management. She is also the Action Team Coordinator in Ocean Policy Working Group.
On March 23, MEM alumnus Dr. Wallace ‘J’ Nichols visited Environment Hall to speak with some CEM students. Nichols received his Master of Environmental Management in 1992, before a CEM program existed. Still, he spent time at the Marine Lab in Beaufort, and concentrated on coastal and ocean issues. Nichols has made waves over the past few years with his groundbreaking concept (now also a New York Times bestselling book) of Blue Mind, the blending of water and neuroscience.
Specifically, Nichols’s theory is that humans are strongly influenced - physically and mentally – by water. People tend to be happier and healthier when they are in, on, or near water. Of course, this comes with a caveat: obviously, if the source of water is a leaking pipe, or a flooded town (in other words, water with a negative association), the theory does not hold true.
Sitting down to lunch, J asked us to each say the first emotion that came to mind that best explains our intentions for pursuing an MEM degree, and what keeps us pursuing our coastal interests. He listened intently, and responded to every student with a unique, thought-provoking idea. Constantly advocating for the incorporation of neuroscience into every other aspect of our lives, it was quite inspirational to hear his thoughts on each person’s motives.
With slight trepidation, we each told J (and each other) what brought us to this program. More than a few of us prefaced with sayings like, “this might sound stupid, but...” and “this is really embarrassing, but…”
At one point, J told us that when he hears things like that, he knows it’s time to pay special attention. That usually we only admit to being embarrassed or saying something foolish as a way to protect ourselves from feeling too vulnerable. Saying “I know this is dumb, but...” is like a security blanket: it makes us feel better before we expose our deepest and most honest feelings. This is exactly why J listens closely: it is when we reveal the foundation of who we are, and why we’re here.
He aptly pointed out that scientists are often discredited or ignored when they incorporate emotion into their work. Scientists are supposed to follow the facts, and leave all emotion at the door. Yet ironically, most scientists probably wouldn’t be doing what they do if they didn’t actively want to do it for one reason or another. It is that emotion – whatever emotion it is – that brought scientists to their fields and keeps them working on important issues that people should care about.
So in a way, we do a disservice to ourselves and to science by trying to ignore the underlying emotion.
So this Earth Day, do yourself – and everyone around you – a favor by being honest and emotional. Tell people your story.
Explain what drove you to pursue your degree, what brought you to Duke, and what keeps you going at 2am in the computer lab, working on GIS, filling out FAFSA forms and looking at your bank account to see how much money you have left to spend on a beer or two this month. We are grad students – largely in debt, sleep-deprived, and stressed out. But we are also willing to accept these conditions – why?
We each have our reasons. Share yours. You might inspire others to pursue their dreams, or to want to save the world, to do their part, to recycle, compost, turn the lights off, take faster showers, eat locally-sourced food... the list goes on and on.
If you can get one person to modify one behavior – or even consider modifying a behavior – you are contributing to the mission of the greater NSOE community, and all environmental students and professionals everywhere. Don’t discount the emotions that spur your life goals; embrace them.
Giving others insight into your motivation just might ignite a new flame in someone else. And that is the best way to participate in Earth Day.
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