David Goldsborough - staying true to ourselves

David is unafraid realism, yet seeding change. 

Elusive, yet clear; not scared to disarrange. 

David is motivator to hear your own voice, 

To carve your own way, and make your own choice. 

Hope to him is essential, yet not the driver in his role. 

Helping young people to find their own change, 

That for him is the goal. 

Meet my former teacher David Goldsborough. I just knew it was going to be good to talk to him about this question of hope of mine. 

Always having valued his opinion, I was a little nervous. David is someone I trust and who I feel slightly self-conscious around as I feel that he can see the turbulences of my mind more clearly than I could even begin to articulate, when lost in them. Knowing alone that he felt an importance to understand the concept of hope gave me, well, hope. 

The support he demonstrated for me since meeting him during my studies, is something I am very grateful for. When I doubted the bigger picture or my own perspective, he provided an atmosphere that allowed for exploring, and giving a voice to the question marks. More so, he provided opportunity and guidance, and instilled confidence that I had something in me I could utilise on my very own path. I am sure I am not the only one who has felt like that. 

A true teacher indeed.

Each year, David teaches a MSP master course Ísafjörður, Westfjords. During a walk from Suðureyri he found himself looking in the direction of Greenland;  “ no people, no human activities and a nice moment to reflect on life”.

Whilst I find it wildly interesting to talk to David, I find it equally frustrating. I just can’t quite put my fingers on what hope is for him. Or maybe, it just is not as clear cut - after all, it never has been for me. Is this inherent unknown to our work something I should consider to simply accept? 

Listening to David, I can feel a certain conflict of mine rearing its head. Between the changes I would like to see in this world, and a sense of realism.  We share the view that a complete paradigm shift is required for many aspects of our lives. To me, it is a deeply rooted sentiment that we should do things entirely differently. 

Such shifts are radical and take time. Radicalism also has few friends. I have found it difficult to integrate that deeply rooted feeling in my professional life. It would be a tough road, one that requires energy and  stamina. 

He feels that contrast, too.

Hearing people around him say that the “world is a messed up place” beyond help, he even admits, “it is very difficult to dispute that”.  

Yet it is not costing him his energy. Instead, he uses it to get his students out of their comfort zone and provide inspiration. 

He feels strongly about the big changes. Simultaneously he is happy to “at least try to influence young people”, even if it is only two students a year. He does not want to tell the people around him to do it differently. He rather plants seeds and tries to nudge them to make them think for themselves. 

The beautiful bit here? It does not matter whether it was him or someone else who’s had the impact. As long as there was one. 

“It gives hope to see those little results, and that helps”, he says, “but it is not the main driver” he tells me. “I don’t think we should take credit for it, it is important that people get moving.”, he stresses. “There is pressure in this worldview that the world is going down”, he continues. Maybe too much to get up and fulfill our dreams and ambitions, I wonder. 

To David, it is about staying true to your path and “carving your own way”, rather than surrendering to the systems you once aspired to change.

Inwardly, I am laughing. He once asked me to be part of a recruiting committee for new teachers at our university, and invited me to a meeting with different experts from the marine and coastal management world in the Netherlands. There we were.  Representatives of science, policy, management, conservation, fisheries, education, you name it. Asked to provide input on the relevance of a degree I had chosen specifically because it was supposed to be the middle-man between all those fields, to ‘build bridges’. 

A complex, complicated world in which those players are fairly isolated or at times working against each other would - naturally, I thought - not see the importance of people who could act as mediators. 

Instead, they asked for students to be educated more in their respective fields, so there would be work for them when graduating. Essentially, to become part of their system. The irony never escaped me, and hearing David talk about what he has observed over the years makes me think. 

He tells me how ‘scary’ it is to see even the young ones giving up before starting out. And seeing once aspiring students assimilate rather than fighting what they once thought needed changing. It really hits a nerve for me. Being first-hand witness to the consequences of peer pressure and hope being lost at a very early stage, he wonders “what is going wrong here?”. 

Oh, and that is so wonderfully refreshing. This is why I am here in the first place. Yes, he feels and sees these things. But he doesn’t shy away, doesn’t retreat. Instead, he explores how he can counteract this for his students. And that alone inspires me to stop walking away from these questions. To look at them long enough to find the loopholes out of them. 

I have to ask him though, what are the main factors here? Where does the lethargy come from? Even for those who say they want to make a difference?

Trust, he muses with me. Certainly to some degree. Trust that there actually is a supportive system somewhere out there that would truly want to work with us on such changes. Lack of trust in the bigger organisations within conservation that we are supposed to look up to. 

Possibly a lack of knowledge of those organisations that actually do things differently, trying their hardest to remain independent and on their own path to fight the battles that need to be fought. 

“The moment that conservationists become part of the institutional systems, then we should be worried.” he warns. Without taking away from the validity of what they are doing, he clarifies, “it takes away from their original role of pushing the envelope”. 

I want to hug him. How long has the world of conservation and sustainability looked outward and how to engage the wider public! How much have we missed on the inside, I think to myself? Have we lost sight of what our role should be? Are we learning too much about the problems, and too little about the creative ways out? 

Flashback to my student times, when doing a course on group dynamics and coaching of change. It is hard to describe. We had this teacher who none of us thought was going to deliver anything worth-while. He taught group dynamics and achieving change in the psychology of a group. So why felt our group of students so disconnected, we wondered. 

Boy, were we wrong! Unknowingly, we became our own case study of how change, trust and inspiration take place in a group setting - and we could only fully appreciate that once we had undergone the process ourselves. 

My point is that if we have not experienced yet how things can change and how certain skills and perspectives are the breeding ground for potential breakthroughs, can we expect someone to apply it elsewhere, to fully make use of their own potential and ideas? Breaking through our own mental barriers might be where we have to start? 

I ask David if he feels that hope is rooted in despair, or fear even. If fear is a driver in all of this. And he tells me no. “Fear is a bad provider of advice”, David translates a Dutch proverb. 

I want him to be right. Where I struggle with integrating realism with hope and moving forward, he thinks that both are essential and should not be mutually exclusive. In fact, he believes that having this regular reality check with yourself - whilst remaining to see the silver lining in the world - can help you realign with yourself. These aspects are helpful, not to be feared. Here to give you a “sense of control over what you can and cannot do”.

Is loss of control over our own role when we start giving up? Is that where we go wrong? 

Ending our interview in his true enigma fashion with a smile. he tells me that he “realizes he is only a very small cog in the wheel”, but hey, he continues, “a man can hope, right?”.