Q-and-A: OEC's Andrea Durbin's karmic lessons from the Dalai Lama
By Andy Giegerich
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
One of the Oregon Environmental Council's Andrea Durbin's takeaways from the Dalai Lama's Portland appearance: "Consuming things does not make us happy while it also degrades the planet."
Andrea Durbin's clearly living right.
When Durbin, the Oregon Environmental Council's executive director, received the invite to appear on a panel last weekend with the Dalai Lama at His Holiness's Portland appearance, it took her a Tibet second to accept. Durbin and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber earned raves for their insights, not to mention beatific demeanors, during a panel at the Dalai Lama's Veterans Memorial Coliseum appearance on Saturday.
We caught up with Durbin to get her take on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Sustainable Business Oregon: How did you land the prime stage space with the Dalai Lama?
Andrea Durbin: It must be good karma! One of the Maitripa College board members also serves on Oregon Environmental Council's board. He suggested me as a speaker and the college extended an invite to join the panel.
SBO: Did you get to engage him in conversation? What did you guys talk about?
Durbin: Yes, after the panel discussion we sat together in his resting room for a little while and then we had lunch together. We talked about a range of topics from the changing political context in China, to Nelson Mandela's illness and his friendship with Bishop Desmond Tutu. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also said how much he agreed with my point that we need to change politics and learn to work together if we are ever going to make progress in protecting the environment.
SBO: What were the most inspirational things he said during his talk?
Durbin: There were many points that I found inspirational. The Dalai Lama spoke about how consuming things does not make us happy while it also degrades the planet. He said that the widening gap between rich and poor is unacceptable, just as is using up our world's resources. He spoke of the importance of all coming together—that we are all humans and must work together to find solutions together—no matter your religion or ethnicity. And that it is most important who you are in the world: how you act in the world towards others and yourselves. Walking and living the talk is the most important act of your life.
But perhaps most inspiring was less of what the Dalai Lama said, and more about who he is and how he interacted. He is joyful and shares his laughter and openness in such a way that makes others around him feel a sense of lightness and happiness.
SBO: Did he say anything that can apply directly to OEC?
Durbin: There are three themes that His Holiness repeated that are critical to OEC’s own approach: We must work together with a shared sense of responsibility; we must think ahead to future generations; and as times change and knowledge changes, we must change with it. At Oregon Environmental Council, we are committed to working together: we seek bipartisan solutions, we work with farmers and health professionals, and we are made stronger through our community partners.
OEC is also committed to solutions that last so that we are leaving a healthy world to our children. I loved that His Holiness acknowledged that, as a monk, he has no children, but that fact does not relieve him of this sense of responsibility! Finally, while we remain committed to our core value of a healthy environment, OEC is also flexible enough to embrace emerging science, economics and social forces. When the science reveals that we need to change the way we manage chemicals or power our cars and homes, we listen to that science and adapt our strategies accordingly.
SBO: What does his appearance here mean to Portland/Eugene/Oregon in general?
Durbin: Oregon and the Pacific Northwest are environmental leaders in a number of ways. As I mentioned in my talk, many of us can find ourselves in a bit of a green bubble: it is easier here than many places to bike, take public transportation, and choose sustainably grown food. But His Holiness reminds us that stewardship of our environment requires addressing the social inequities not only in resources but also in access to decision-making. There is much more that Oregon in general—and OEC in particular—can do to address these inequities. His Holiness also reminds us that our unique and precious environment here in Oregon is inextricably linked to the environment around the globe—and we have a duty to act as global citizens in the choices we make about what we buy and how we live.
It’s a great honor to have the Dalai Lama come to our corner of the world and share his wisdom and perspective. Now our challenge is to keep this momentum going and make good on our roles as environmental stewards of Oregon.
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