Mickey Fearn knows a thing or two about conflict.
The Deputy Director of the National Park Service from 2008—2013, Mr. Fearn will help open The 2019 SHIFT Festival on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 9 a.m., with a public workshop on conflict resolution. (The workshop is free for SHIFT All-Festival Pass holders, and $50 for other participants. Tickets may be purchased here.)
Much of what Mr. Fearn knows about the topic occurred as Manager of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative, where, over four and a half years at the start of the century, he led the Mayor’s initiative to end racism and create equity in the city.
“A lot of my thinking is the direct result of encountering and facilitating very difficult dynamics during that experience,” says Mr. Fearn, who is currently a Professor of Practice in the North Carolina State University’s School of Natural Resources.
Among the reasons the Mayor had asked Mr. Fearn to create the architecture for the initiative was because “he knew this was an emotionally loaded topic. What mattered to him was to find someone who could navigate emotional complexity.”
Mr. Fearn described what happened next as the most challenging chapter of his professional career.
“It became clear that the complexity of equity issues rendered all previous experiences I had with equity work, and all I had learned, useless. I found that my own ethnocentricity and predispositions interfered with my ability to do the work.”
The ensuing acrimony, division and conflict was hard, “but those four years, and the next four, doing similar work at the National Park Service, contributed more to my own personal understanding and my understanding of organizations, communities, and human nature than anything else could have.”
The workshop at SHIFT will apply what Mr. Fearn learned in the process to the creation of a framework for effective collaboration between natural allies.
In leading the workshop, he will be joined by two members of The 2019 Emerging Leaders Program: Madison McCoy, a Program Associate at One Common Unity in Washington, DC, which breaks cycles of violence and builds compassionate, healthy communities through the transformative power of music, arts, and peace education, and Joe Fairbanks, a small business owner from Duluth, Minnesota, who, at Dartmouth, was the point person in the office of sustainability for inclusivity and diversity.
The workshop, which will center issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion, will serve as the opening event of this year’s SHIFT, the Center for Jackson Hole’s flagship event.
“Why are we leading with conflict resolution in a conversation regarding equity? Because this topic is emotionally loaded,” says Mr. Fearn. “Frequently the emotion paralyzes us.”
“I grew up in segregation,” he says. “I marched in Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. I’ve been struggling to get the environmental justice community to have meaningful conversations with the conservation community my whole life.”
“They’re both trying to create systems that are sustainable for all forms of life,” he says. Despite such commonality, their ability to work together can often be disrupted by different perspectives on the best ways to do so.
This spring, The Center for Jackson Hole found itself in just such a situation.
In April, a small number of participants in the organization’s Emerging Leaders Program, which is designed to create pathways of empowerment for early career leaders, demanded the immediate resignation of The Center for Jackson Hole’s Executive Director, Christian Beckwith, from SHIFT and ELP, both of which he had founded and directed.
As the basis for their demands, the campaign leaders asserted that Mr. Beckwith had not completed any diversity, equity, or inclusion training to prepare him for the role of being the Executive Director, which in turn left him “underprepared and ill-equipped to lead an organization that seeks to center equity work in the outdoors.”
In the turmoil that followed, Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service from 2008-2016, put Mr. Beckwith in touch with Mr. Fearn. Two months later, Mr. Fearn, impressed with what he learned about the organization and its objectives, joined the Center for Jackson Hole’s board.
Of the campaign against SHIFT, Mr. Fearn says, “This isn’t surprising. It has happened to just about every organization I’ve been involved with.”
The conflict resolution workshop at SHIFT will reference the campaign as a teachable moment for others interested in doing work at the intersection of conservation, outdoor recreation and public health.
Its focus, however, will be on the larger, systemic challenges at the heart of constructive dialogue and conflict resolution, leading participants through the challenges inherent to substantative work and strategies with which to overcome them.
“When all Americans understand the importance of, and their personal stake in, conservation, environmental justice and environmental stewardship, our movement will become much more relevant and powerful,” says Mr. Fearn. “When we ultimately realize that even though our priorities and approaches are different, and that activists engaged in conservation and environmental justice are in violent agreement with each other, we will create the comprehensive, cohesive, and effective strategies necessary to ensure all generations from this point forward stay connected with nature from birth.”
For more information on the 2019 SHIFT Festival, visit www.shiftjh.org.