Written by Jessie Panazzolo

It is quite evident that I haven’t written a food for thought blog in a while, having in fact written a total of zero for this year. Today however, I was inspired to get back to the roots of this community and share how I feel about my role in the world over the past few months.

Since the pandemic hit, the interest in our community sky rocketed with opportunities to represent the community at global webinars, scientific contributions and media outlets sharing stories about us. It seemed selfish to feel sad about how the articles were written. We have such authentic and incredibly soul baring stories as the only content on our website and to have it all summarised in a journalistic style hurt my soul a bit. The new Lonely Conservationists that found us through these pieces reassured me that these stories were just a vessel- a mode of transportation- to help others find their tribe.

Since this is a global community I was having meetings at 6am, speaking at conferences at midnight and getting important work sent to me after I had settled down with a wine at 7pm. There were a lot of times in the past few months where I contemplated the impacts of living in the southern hemisphere and how that lends itself to increased levels of exhaustion. After finally feeling like it was all a bit much I did the sensible thing and asked for help. I had the most beautiful bunch of Americans and fellow Aussies offer to scrape me off the floor and lift me up. I finally had a team of people to sound ideas off of and have the skills to build projects that I never could on my own.

Just as we were getting stuck into Lonely Conversationists, our new project together, we felt the impact of the pandemic wave crash into the wave of a social revolution. It hurt me to see that people demanded black voices be heard, but after sharing James’ story less people than usual read what he had to say that week, despite it being shared more widely than most other blogs. It was hard to know how myself, a white person so detached from the current events in America, could make a meaningful impact in the community that wasn’t just contributing to social media mob mentality. I have been delighting at the unique perspectives of Sean and Sebastian and thankful that they are taking the time to speak with us at the end of the month. I hope that our diverse and empowering community can only continue to use our stories to make changes into the future. I can only hope that they are heard.

I am taking the time to write this piece because of all of the ways I have felt sad, and too guilty and scared to speak up about my sadness in a community founded on speaking the truth. I felt too guilty to say that media articles hurt me because of the societal privilege of appearing in them. They weren’t negative, so I had nothing to complain about in the eyes of most. I felt sad that James’s story wasn’t read and digested with the same ferocity in which it was shared and what that meant for other blog authors and the issues they shared in their stories. A stranger commented on a blog the other day saying that I had nothing to complain about as I was pictured with a beautiful tree in a beautiful forest. I had to suggest he read the story to find out that it wasn’t me that wrote the words or who was depicted in the photo, and maybe he would understand the context better then.

I feel sad that people gift me books with messaging detailing how we are not doing enough for our planet and that the onus is on us as tired individuals who are already burnt out from doing too much. I feel sad that I feel guilty for publicly opposing the views of a gift, and adhering to the values my community stands for.

I am sad that I feel guilty that interviewers want me to wrap up a year and a half of hard work in a pretty bow and give them a fairy tale ending, but I can’t. I feel sad that I feel guilty about not having fixed a global issue in a year and a half  instead of the onus being on the storytellers to share that this is an ongoing issue for conservationists like myself. The fact that I have put in so much work and have been so widely received, yet myself and so many others in the community remain as unpaid and as undervalued by the industry as when Lonely Conservationists started, should have been the real story people were itching to share.

So here is me sharing this story. The story of how messy life is, especially coupled with southern hemisphere living,  global pandemics and social revolution. The story of how our community is judged without being listened to because it is easier to pretend that everything is wonderful instead of acknowledging and validating how we feel. The story of how the burden for a better planet and happier conservationists is on a few burnt out people instead of on the polluting industries and companies who don’t value us for our work. This is the story of an ongoing battle that is not my responsibility to wrap up in a bow, so I refuse to continue to harbour sadness, guilt or frustration for the honest ways that I do try to make the world a better place.

For the most part my community of Lonely Conversationists is a wonderful success story, comprised of incredibly resilient and collaborative humans who have in every way changed my life for the better. They have the ability to revolutionise the conservation industry and to create long lasting impacts for global ecosystems and the species within them. The hard truth of the matter is though, nothing can change if we keep letting the world revolve as it has been. We need to start being okay with saying when its not okay and we need to be receptive to others when they do so too. Lets take the bow, thread it through our lace holes, tie up our shoes, and keep powering forward together.