Libba Pinchot has a burning question: how do we get engagement when we need it most?
She tells us about moral injury by describing her own relationship with the forthcoming damage from climate change and her inability to do anything about it: "If I'm kind of wounded about my ability to engage with it, and if I have a lot going for me that other people don't in terms of awareness and action, then how do we get everyone else engaged in doing something?"
Morality and ethics, which Libba acknowledges is an old-fashioned thing to talk about at a cutting-edge conference, is at least a language that people can relate to. People can relate to morality. They can engage with it, and it might hint at the root of some of the most complex problems facing humanity.
Without discounting the terrible trauma of PSTD, recent research shows that long-term damage facing veterans is actually coming from their goodness as human beings. "It's the goodness of the soldier who has moral standards, because the shrinking of one's moral and social horizon also shrinks ideals and attachments and vision."
We aren't all soldiers, but Libba's thesis suggests that we are all suffering from moral injury to some extent.
Back to climate change, it's a big deal that the UN Climate Group just released a report about what we can expect. One takeaway: nobody will be untouched. A second takeaway: all the systems we are embedded in (economics, food, energy, and more!) will need "revolutionary change."
"For the world not to be the same in 20 years... I feel ashamed," Libba confesses to the room. "I was privileged to know information about climate change for a long time, since the 60's, 70's... and I'm still not seeing that my efforts can make a difference. And that's kind of the definition of moral injury. I'm someone in a system that's causing great harms for others, and I feel, whether passive or frozen, that I'm unable to do anything about it."
But the revolutionary change we need to deal with complex systems like climate change begins with the hearts and the empowerment of people to make a difference. The answer to moral injury is also in the problem. Our solutions for climate change will save us from our own moral injury, which will continue to enable us to do something about it.
That's kind of chilling, but it's also real.
Libba Pinchot is an educator, ethicist and social entrepreneur. In 2002, she co-founded the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) to re-invent work as a positive force for equity, peace, and a healthy planet.