I have spent about half of my life in climates with four clearly identifiable “seasons”, which for me includes my least favorite, the time of snow-covered frozen tundra (with a nod to the Green Bay Packers). However, I have never in the past created the time and experience of observing the seasonal changes in nature in a patterned way. My near daily walks through a forested area in a nearby park have corrected this life experience deficit. Some images become haunting. Forested winter looks like a war zone to me. The intensity of summer’s fullness of green looks a bit cocky, as if there is no realization that autumn is lurking and the end is near. Beech trees wear their fragile light gold leaves all winter, seeming to engage in some stubborn act of defiance. I enjoy these images, catalysts to reflection.

One is particularly haunting, which I describe to myself as “green starts at the bottom and moves up”. As winter begins to lose its stranglehold on the forest, little sparks of dark green moss show up along the edges of the walkway, soon to be challenged by grasses that swallow up the moss, which moves to alternative sites, quietly, persistently. Then the low short bushes and tall weeds go green, slowly followed by the “short” trees, gradually moving upward to the old tall trees going green. I have reflected a good deal on “green starts at the bottom and moves up” because it seems a metaphor for much of human existence.

For about half of my professional life, I worked with a variety of health care organizations, usually grappling with the severe damages of unresolved chronic conflict, often a dimension of unacknowledged inequity and power imbalances. These experiences were instructive. I became fascinated by the disconnect between what the “leaders” thought was going on in their organization, and what the “employees” thought was going on. What became obvious was that for me the “employees” were actually the more reliable informants, the “leaders” often merely describing their wishful thinking. As the “outsider”, I was impressed with how insistent the leaders were that their perception of reality was the “truth” and how difficult it was for them to imagine that their “vision” was just that, merely a vision and not a reality. The occupants of the C Suite, in spite of their convictions, would encounter passive-aggressive inaction and sabotage, evoking discomforting confusion.

And I learned to trust the fact that “green starts at the bottom and moves up”. If these organizations wanted to grow and prosper, it was the “employees” at the absolute lowest levels of the organization who were the most relevant initial resources. If leaders dismissed their input or perspective, the results were predictable…no green. Now you could always locate splashes of “green” about the organization, which sometimes looked like beech trees sprinkled, much as in the forest, in unpredictable locations. I learned that the “moss” would sometimes be nestled in the larger swaths of grass, supporting the possibility of a bush or two bursting forth, some with blossoms and flowers. In time, if you stayed with the “green starts at the bottom and moves up”, you could observe the unfolding of real organizational change.

Now this was usually a difficult realization for the big old trees in the C Suite, and though there were exceptions (exceptional leaders), the illusion of control and the need to feel successful were always lurking as deterrents. The essential understanding of the connectedness of all dimensions of the organization (forest) and their complex relationships was often totally missing among the leadership groups, or reduced to simplistic linear mental modeling. Fiscal fears, presented as financial concerns, were often like some disturbing chemical killing everything green in sight. I was often moved by the grasses and bushes compassionately helping the big old trees, their “leaders” grapple with the realization that they really didn’t get to meet their goals by fiat. I had the advantage of working with organizations where most who worked there were people of good will and generosity of spirit.

As I write this, I imagine all sorts of people throughout the nation getting up this morning and selecting something “green” to wear, since it is St.Patrick’s Day. I think of all the corporations in this country who are dealing with the realization that a shift is happening, that the Great Resignation might be a message. I wonder how many will recognize that “green starts at the bottom and moves up”. I wonder if our leaders in all venues of our social systems might be helped by a walk in the forest this spring, noticing that “green starts at the bottom and moves up”.

“We must shift our allegiances from fear to curiosity, from attachment to letting go, from control to trust, and from entitlement to humility.”

~Angeles Arrien