Valedictory Speakers

Kinslow, Robert W.

I want to thank those who have supported me coming to this place: my ancestors, my Maryland ohana, all my teachers, HPU, my friends here today and especially my partner Lizabeth. I want to also recognize the empty chairs in this room that to me represent those who have gone before and the children yet to come. I want to thank the GLSD cohort for teaching me so much. Our voyage with HPU is over. It’s been fun folks.

This talk is dedicated to my brother, Timothy Kinslow who passed away gracefully five years ago. I was there. He and I were the book-ends in a large family - he the youngest and I the first-born.

It’s not often one gets a chance to speak in front of 400+ people. So grab your imaginations, here we go.

Those of us graduating seem to be beginning a new voyage, yet we all are traveling together through space and time on the canoe — an island we call Earth. And, it seems the central challenge of our species is how we relate to that canoe. Sustainable development, as native peoples knew, is that set of values, principles, behaviors and practices that guide and circumscribe human relationships with our Earth — this canoe. Tonight I want to talk to you about the inner meaning of sustainability.

But, first let’s recognize that it’s not an empty world any more. The planet is full of people and there is less Nature — 7 billion humans face multiple cascading crises in both the environmental and the economic spheres. Our culture, our energy and food resilience have become brittle and unstable. We have not decided how many of us can be supported by our finite island spaceship and at what quality. According to our flawed economics there are no limits to how big business can grow. We measure human development in terms of how well we extract, produce and consume our islands’ eco-systems and we cheer when GDP goes up. Our best science predicts that this will be a volatile century. Yet, we deny reality because we are afraid. Paralyzed. And, paralysis is not a positive adaptive behavior. Let’s not feed the fears.

What are the solutions? How do we bend the curve towards global sustainability? How do we align our behaviors with nature’s laws? To explore this, we must ask three questions.

It starts with time and space. When do we start? NOW. Where to start? HERE, within.

Typically time is past, present and future: how it was; how it is; how it will be. But, there is a fourth way of seeing time. The future splits in two possibilities — One, the way it will be if we continue our present behavior, and Two, the way it could be if we envision a just, viable and prosperous future — it is up to us to choose — tonight, here. I was filming the Dalai Lama in Maui a few years ago and he said something similar. “You have the ability to see the space between a stimulus and your response,” he said. “Seeing that space is the path to choosing happiness.” This is the essence of our power, that we can choose a sustainable path — every moment. 

And, this is why I say that sustainability begins within. It isn’t out there waiting to be practiced, it is in here, waiting to be discovered and chosen. Everything that has been built, all of it began in here. So why do we begin out there to assemble sustainability?

To create a sustainable future we must ask three questions.Who are we? Do we care?What do we prefer? Do we prefer a peaceful abundant future?How do we get to our preferred future? How can we all collaborate?

In closing, I want to tell you why I’ve been motivated to stand in front of you today. The last time I saw my brother there were 20 or so friends and family around him. I was standing across the room doing my big brother observational thing. Tim looked at me and said, “Robi, why are you over there in the background?” I replied, “Because that’s where I’m comfortable.” He looked at me sharply and said, “Robi, get out of the background. Come over here, be an example. Riseup brother, you are more than you think you are!” A few minutes afterwards, he was gone. One second alive, engaged matter and the next energy.

That was 2007, I began to discover how to serve more broadly with greater influence. My application to be trained in public speaking by a former U.S. VP was accepted. I started speaking to youth groups, investors, religious and business organizations, and government departments. I found a group of community educators to collaborate with to bring speakers such as Frances Moore Lappe (food), Dr. Steven Schneider (climate change), Bill McKibben (deep ecology), David Korten (sustainable development), Q`wichin (native Alaskan), and Richard Heinberg (peak oil) to Hawaii. These folks all encourage others to be greater than they are. I started presenting for the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy — about sustainability, resilience and conservation. And, I plunged into HPU’s Global Leadership and Sustainable Development program.

During the GLSD program, in summer 2011, I received an internship in Ghana, Africa with the Emerging Leaders Environment and Extraction program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Twenty-two graduates reviewed extractive industries and made policy suggestions for improvements to enhance resource efficiency. This year, a scholarship to the National Geothermal Academy, caught my interest. I studied geothermal energy in the western U.S. My experiences at HPU have been profoundly creative. And, it is because I began within.

Once you begin within, you’ll find others to support your passions. For example, faculty at HPU have inspired me to expand. I want to lift up Dr. Art Whatley, who somehow saw my raw potential and has been inspirational to my development. Dr. Nancy Hedlund has been a strong example of resilience and a positive creative collaborator. The multiple opportunities to speak in Dr. Lynette Cruz’s anthropology classes, really helped me learn about the power of communication. None of this would have been possible without the enormous opportunities and warm community here at HPU. I deeply thank you all.

Now the fun part, speaking of power I want all of us to do something together, OK? So get comfortable. Empty your hands.

Hold out your right hand and look at it. Imagine in it your past, your memories, what you know of your ancestors, culture, family, all that you’ve learned in school. Who are you?

In your left hand, imagine the future you prefer, your hopes and dreams, the challenges and pleasures, your well-being, your family, your children and who you will become. What do you prefer?

Now, bring your hands together in front of you and feel how it is that these two tensions can exist in your imagination, in your life. Integrate them. Hold these two together in your hands and in your mind. Ask, How do I get there? Feel it more than think it. What does it feel like? Imagine it whole.

You can use the three questions and this exercise together again and again to create your life.

I hope humans will move from a me-generation to a re-generation — of ourselves, our island home-earth. 

Thanks for your time and for all you will do to advance conscious evolution in our human canoe.