August 25, 2020

Plan C: A Conversation We’re Not Ready To Have, But Need To Have

A dear friend gave me a coffee mug while I was in the final stages of caring for my husband. I treasure it. It says:

“Plan A is always my first choice. You know, the one where everything works out to be happily ever after. But more often than not, I find myself dealing with the upside-down, inside-out version where nothing goes as it should. It’s at this point the real test of my character comes in. Do I sink, or do I swim? The choice is mine. After all…life is all about how you handle Plan B.”  —Suzy Toronto

We’re in the throes of Plan B, as we speak. Survival mode. Coping. But I’m increasingly thinking about Plan C. We all know things aren’t going to go back to the way they were. There won’t be a return to Plan A. And we won’t be in Plan B forever. There’ll be a Plan C. My challenge to our community is to think about Plan C and what we want it to be, rather than just let it happen to us.

Plan C. We don’t have time or energy for it. But we must. 

If we don’t, we let Plan C be shaped by people that almost certainly do not have our vision for the future. We need to do this. Our community is comprised of people that are driven by purpose, by being part of something larger than ourselves. By saving the world. 

The work you all are doing in Plan B has to happen. You must focus on keeping your organizations alive. You must focus on your people, and the day-to-day realities of this horrible time. You must focus on providing for animal welfare, while somehow accepting that you likely aren’t able to do as much for conservation and inspiring your guests right now as you would like. 

But if all we focus on is Plan B, our zoological community will almost assuredly suffer. We risk losing people that care deeply about our vision–not just surviving. I worry that our heart, our soul will be injured.

Finding the good in Plan B.

I’m hearing from people about what they actually love, even treasure, in this period. Time with family. Time with our animal family. Time outside. Just time. The little things. Meeting our neighbors (safely). Walking the dog. Showing up for work in sweatpants and a “Zoom shirt,” with a dog at my feet.   

People seem kinder. More helpful. You hear and see more people “paying it forward”. We’re consciously thanking our first responders and our essential workers. We’re reaching out to old friends, to relatives, to former colleagues. 

We’re all getting closer to nature, whether we want to or not. Because of COVID-19, people understand more clearly our connection to wildlife. We’re outside more. And with less traffic, animals are closer. We’ve all heard the stories. Who knew there were cougars inside the city limits of Bellingham, WA?  

We’re learning more about social inequities. I’m far from “woke,” but am working on it. Learning more. Owning my prejudices more. 

There are some positives from an environmental perspective. Fewer cars and less commuting translate into fewer carbon emissions. Of course, some sustainability initiatives have suffered.  The use of disposables has understandably increased, and increased e-shopping certainly has downsides. 

We’re seeing innovation in our zoos and aquariums. Virtual summer camps. Drive-through zoo programs. Vastly improved use of social media. Zoos and aquariums being part of online learning programs.

People are more open to change, in part because they have to be. But researchers have found that big change is a secret weapon to promote more change. It’s a big part of why I moved from Florida to Washington. Besides memories of Florida being painful and missing mountains and family, I also wanted to look at life differently. I wanted to ensure I lived life fully. That I lived an active and outdoor life. That I loved well. That I took risks. That I pursued big dreams. I’m not fully there yet, but I’m on that path. The big change of moving is making these other changes easier. 

Shaping Plan C.

Our community, more than most, has a vision for the world. We have a mission that gets us up in the morning. We naturally have meaning and purpose. My biggest fear right now is that we go through this horrific period and come out worse than we started. I challenge all of us to shape Plan C.

  • Let’s work with our communities–now–to push our environmental sustainability and conservation vision. Some cities are–or are planning to–decrease traffic lanes and increase open spaces. Let’s be part of that discussion. Or lead it.

  • Let’s ensure we focus on climate change, and help our communities move beyond the current (and understandable) focus on disposables. 

  • Let’s build on this increased reach we have through our enhanced social media efforts.

  • Let’s use that media to not only drive needed attendance, but to continue to help people understand the value of our organizations. 

  • Let’s use that media to further our social change efforts–so we become a meaningful part of working with communities to shape people’s relationship with wildlife.

  • Let’s continue to focus on leadership that encourages empathy, vulnerability, and caring.

  • Let’s continue to focus on social inequities, do our own work, and work within our organizations and with our communities.

  • Let’s reframe how we think of our audiences to include the global audiences that we now reach virtually.

  • Let’s embrace the growing and inevitable role of technology going forward–but do so thoughtfully and strategically to further our mission of connecting people to wildlife and nature.

  • Let’s use this as a time to think differently about our conservation work. We know this is a terrible time for conservation funding, a problem made worse by the (hopefully) temporary decimation of ecotourism. Let’s see if we can leverage our partnerships and our collective strength to drive for BIG conservation funding in this horrible time.

  • Let’s challenge ourselves to be part of planning and implementing a Plan C that inspires not just us, but everyone, to create a better world that helps people and wildlife thrive together. That helps us thrive. 

On September 3rd at 12PM ET, please join us for our next Community Conversation webinar “What Have We Learned in the Past Six Months and What Comes Next?” to continue this conversation on shaping Plan C. Click here to register.

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