This reflection is from SCI 2014 alumni Rebecca Cuttler of Renewal Funds. It originally appeared on her blog “Cuttlerie” on June 20, 2014.

A week ago today, I found myself sitting in the Lodge at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, listening to some very serious discussions while surrounded by the beauty of B.C.’s northern gulf islands, calm ocean and big trees all around me. I was there for Social Change Institute, an annual gathering of people from a range of sectors who make it their life’s work to ensure that the environment, democracy, and respect for life in all its forms are preserved for generations to come.

That night, I learned that the enormous threat posed by pipelines in B.C. have actually brought people together in powerful and even positive ways, forging unlikely alliances between First Nations communities, farmers, local governments and urban new economy workers who are working together to stand up for a sustainable future. “We are not just fighting against something,” one of my fellow attendees said. “We are fighting together to create a future.”

The Harper government’s decision on the Northern Gateway pipeline would be announced just a few days later. At that point, we didn’t know what the outcome would be, though we had our guesses. Listening to the energy and passion of my fellow attendees, I wondered what a world would look like where our environmental, social and economic futures were no longer threatened. I wondered if we would then lie down and say to ourselves, “Yay, everything’s fixed now. My work is done!”

I don’t think that will ever happen.

In the garden, there is almost always more work to do. You can slave away all day pulling weeds, harvesting crops and planting seeds, but it’s never really done. Perhaps, if you work really hard without stopping, you can look over the garden for a minute and think, “it’s perfect now! No weeds, everything is harvested, all of the seeds are planted.” But within five minutes, the plants will grow back and weeds seeds will germinate.

It’s the same with keeping your house clean, or your email inbox empty. You only get a brief moment where things are reset to zero.

And maybe it’s good that way. Without the work, we might risk losing our purpose. As much as I get satisfaction from having a tidy garden or a clean house or an empty inbox, there’s a little pang of sadness that comes along with it. There’s a part of me that looks forward to the vacuum refilling.

We humans are animals, and we evolved to live in a world where we had to work to survive. As much as we try to deny it, and as much as we sometimes resent all of the work we have to do, work is in our nature as a species.

Sitting there in the Lodge, it occurred to me that people who are committed to social change aren’t so much problem-solvers as we are cultivators and stewards — we do the work, as much of it as we can, to care for the world. We might have diverse motivations, opinions and processes, but it’s nevertheless work that contributes to the complex, living and continually changing planet.
Joel Solomon