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On Leading, with Earth at Heart

a personal message from Jean-Pierre BAL

professor at THIERRY, and president of INSIL 


13 May 2014. Author's desk, THIERRY House, in a small village of the Belgian Ardennes.  


"No frills, no detours, only ‘straight talk’, perhaps supercharged with slides or videos,... those are features that are typical of the style of communication witnessed in many areas of our contemporary society. On the same continuum, not at the other end of it, one finds the notions of respect, tactfulness, care and consideration for others,... those being a few elements that demonstrate a given attitude towards life.


I’m now faced with a challenge; should I be stating: “our 21st century is full of toxic garbage of all sorts and natures, resulting from mankind’s inventions or irresponsible erring... Do something about it!” Or should I write a poetic exposé that conveys the message in a more gentle, say more civilized way? On facing that sort of dilemma, a major question arises: “what's our civilisation all about?” Perhaps a question to be answered on one's own, if one feels and wants to do so.


Leaving the dilemma to the side, while hoping not to fall into the trap of talking about me, me, and me (I will, anyhow), let me candidly write about a few ‘things’ that I take at heart. In these few lines I'm not going to address the debates about the how, why, when, where,... nor about the role many ‘groups’ on this Earth are playing in causing or precipitating climate and other changes that affect the most basic life requirements: air, water, food, and shelter - those are in fact the true realities I want to see addressed.


Speaking of shelter, the other day while working on the campus, I noticed a peregrine falcon flying across the greens; a rare sight in the area where I live. I imagined that it would find a prey at some point during the day, and then choose a shelter for the night. That thought once again reopened a certain book of memories. I recalled some of the events in the 1970s and 80s; the ones I tend to call the poisonings : acid rains, mercury in fish, tankers spilling oil, leaded toys, asbestos, nuclear disasters, smog, and so on, and so forth, alas, into the next decades, and new century, with more damages still.  


Each time an undesired event occurs it refuels my hope for betterment and anxiety of worsening, plus a recurring sense of urgency to act. I had a few humble environmental projects of mine, such as the Biotope 1978 project, but with my being too 'junior' to make it succeed back then. As years went by the environmental ‘thing’ continued to make a lot of sense to me. In 2002, as if it emerged from a long dormancy, the Environmental Leadership program saw the light, and found its first students at the graduate school I had founded earlier on. Another twelve years later the moment arrived for our Earth-voyaging program to dock at its new homeport : i2LN – the Icare Institute for Leadership and Nature.


In the early 2000s I said and wrote on several occasions that: "caring for nature, for our Earth, is the most crucial issue in the coming decades. It is about our most basic needs. It is about the viability of the next generations. It is the leadership issue, ultimately at the root of any other contemporary issue. It is about survival of our whole world, not about survival of the fittest". Today I add: the air that you and I breathe, the water that you and I drink, the food that you and I eat, the roofs over ours heads, I take all of that at heart, on this Earth of ours. Through i2LN I offer you the opportunity of learning environmental leadership, while hopefully expecting that the learning be put into practice, perhaps right away, where you live, anywhere around the world."




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