Bob Talbot – the undercurrents that move the man

“It was only in my forties that I became less judgmental about us as a species and more accepting that we behave as we do because it is our nature; just like any other creature. When I was young I was morally outraged. On some level I still am, but I now temper that outrage with rational thinking that I hope leads to more effective solutions.”

Bob is a thoughtful and questioning man, whose actions are driven by his emotions and sense of ethics. His insights into the world around him, coupled with his emotional and moral response, have motivated him to achieve great things and to think about life with a depth and integrity that others might easily push aside for the convenience of living comfortably. However, he is also familiar with the internal conflict that this ‘right and wrong / black and white’ side of his character can bring; a conflict between hope and the lack of it, between believing that things can change for the better and fearing they will not, between being judgmental and non-judgmental.

In his youth, this conflict was strong. Bob was guided more by his emotions than by intellect. It was innate for him to feel passionately about the world and our species’ relationship with it. He would feel, react to how he felt and then take action, often driven by anger and frustration. He experienced guilt, angst and the belief that he should be doing more, coupled with an equally judgmental attitude towards the rest of the human race. He took up the good fight believing that if issues were made clear to people then reason and empathy would win out.

Through the years he realized that it was not sustainable or effective to come primarily from an emotional perspective. He also realized that his sense of right and wrong needed some refining. In an attempt to find balance, Bob allowed his brain to have a say.

“My intellect told me that right and wrong do not exist in nature. We all got here by natural selection; ‘should’ and ‘should not’ are not applicable. Intellect says that humans are merely extensions of animals that have gotten too big for our britches and are consuming the planet. It was bound to happen; it is a consequence of natural selection.”

This sparked a dialogue between the rational and emotional sides of Bob’s nature, something along the lines of, “If my intellect told me that all is as it needs to be on this earth, my heart still asked, then what? Do I sit back and watch it happen or do I do something about it? I decided that while acting from the heart may be an uphill battle, I would still do what I could to stop needless suffering and, win or lose, go down swinging.”

Now with over 25 years working on conservation and environmental endeavors, Bob accepts with equanimity that the fight may indeed not be won. For Bob, this acceptance does not mean giving up. Instead, it gives him the calmness and strength to move forwards without fearing the anguish that losing the fight might otherwise bring.

“When you accept with humility that you might lose, there is less pressure, less anticipation of feeling demoralized if the fight is lost. Then you can choose to fight the fight simply because it is worth fighting; regardless of whether you will win or lose.”

As well as accepting that our species may never change our ways and that the fight may never be won, Bob also admits to the glimmer of possibility that we may evolve past this phase of selfishness and apathy into a healthier phase of human existence. Above all he believes that “Whatever the odds, being jaded is not effective, you have to have hope”.

However, Bob is of course human and admits he can still be a judgmental person. “I know that being judgmental does not help a situation, but when I see human beings take, take, take, to the very last animal, it drives me crazy!” He still finds it tough to reconcile himself with our species’ collective consumption. It surprises him how much tolerance we have for aberrant behavior; we cannot seem to stomach being deprived of material things in life but we can stomach our own and other’s behavior towards each other and the planet.

When Bob asks himself what standard of living is rightfully ours to have while not being detrimental to the world around us, he readily admits that this is difficult to answer, with no quick and easy, black and white solution. But, he says,

“It is at least apparent that we have crossed the line to a damaging degree. Human beings have always had, and still have, a tough time being accountable. There is always a price to be paid and we never know the full ripple effect of our actions. But one thing is clear; that if we keep living how we have been living, we do not have much of a future.”

Which is why he remains an environmentalist to this day; one who accepts that our future may not be bright, but nevertheless keeps hope alive that it still could be. And one who wants to instill in each of us the unshakable, ethical and honorable stance that if something is worth fighting for we must fight, regardless of whether we win or lose.

All of which leads us to what will be my next post about Bob; his thoughts on what positive action can be taken, some of the obstacles in the way and the methods he is using to encourage change. Read more next time…

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