An interview with Joshua Myrvaagnes where Tad Hargrave speaks about the web of life needed to make a sustainable world.
Joshua: I’m very excited about this interview. I’m speaking with Tad Hargrave, a green marketer and personal hero. He is one of the major people to inspire me to start InspiringWebCopy, and he generously agreed to be interviewed for Inspiring Newsletter.
JOSH: Tad, you’re “the marketer who works with hippies.” Are you a hippie? What was your journey, were you a “hippie” first or a marketer first?
TAD: A mix. I went to a Waldorf school, was raised with politically progressive values, and environmentally conscious. Then in high school I read Anthony Robbins and got really into that—seminars on personal growth, New Age, Steven Covey—and they are pretty capitalist, on the more progressive end of the suicide economy but still a part of it. Even the idea [in Tony Robbins] that you need to be always growing, that you are either growing or dying, that dying is bad, is a part of that I feel is problematic in personal growth. The perspectives around money are capitalist. I led Tony Robbins seminars and was really into that.
At the same time, I went to a YES! Camp in Oregon – Tony Robbins is really yang, and then I was at this YES! Camp which is really yin, and it was bugging me. I wanted to say “stop whining and telling stories and making excuses”. But I felt changed, and loved. And it made me question my whole world-view really deeply.
I spent a few years doing both. I’d say to campers, “I’m a capitalist, capitalism works, it’s just misunderstood.” But I started learning more about [the politics of] environmental issues. I was still in the leadership-within-the-system model, I led Tony Robbins seminars at schools to build school spirit, then spent time at YES I out grew that model started to think well, the system works, but there are some pretty big problems with it and that there need to be some major lifestyle changes.
In 1999 I started Youth Jams. I started having deeper conversations with more seasoned activists, some challenging conversations, about the IMF and WTO. I went to protests, I met anarchists. My politics shifted. I was no longer feeling that it was possible to make change within the system—now I believed the system is fucked.
And then I began to get the itch to train and facilitate things. At YES, it’s a very yin space, and I like to talk, to coach, to give advice. I was feeling bad about that, I thought I should be “holding space” more. But then I realized I didn’t have to make myself wrong about that—I like to train and facilitate. I had started a business at 18, leading the Tony Robbins workshops in high schools, and learned a lot about marketing (some of which I feel I’ve recently recovered from)—but a lot of it is very simple and commonsense. And I also began to realize that there’s a big difference between the local, mom-and-pop, green business and the multinational corporations. I thought, I’ll teach this stuff to green businesses.
I led my first green business workshop, and it was just awful. Three people showed up, it was just me pontificating and with only a few real life examples. One person left. Ugh.
Then they got better.
JOSH: How’d you learn about Stephen Covey?
TAD: In junior high school, on PBS. I was fascinated by this idea that natural law and princple could be the center of things, integrity. Leo Buscaglia was the first person I read, he had a book called Love. He was a teacher at UCLA and taught a class on it, how to be more loving, since there wasn’t any other class like that in the curriculum, and it was packed. There were assignments like go tell your parents you love them.
JOSH: What in your view is sustainability?
TAD: A sustainable world is something that can be sustained, and that means an entirely different way of living from what we see now. Way beyond “the green economy” I which I think is not sustainable. If we all did everything suggested in the Al Gore movie, we’d have a %21 reduction in carbon emissions, that would not be enough. I see that we need to get away from a) nation states, with so many modern conflicts being started based on artificial borders (e.g Iraq, Israel, the USA, Canada), and b) cities, requiring importation of food: if you’ve outstripped the land’s capability to support you, that’s not sustainable. We must challenge the centralization of power.
A friend of mine recently went to a women’s empowerment group, and she spoke her vision, and that was be a billionaire. I’ll be a billionaire, imagine all the good things I could do with that money, she said. I looked at her and said, “Show me the way you’re going to make a billion dollars without exploiting the environment or people.” And is that the answer, putting greener people at the center of power? I don’t really think if Obama, or Edwards, or even Kucinich got in office that would solve everything.
Tolkien had it right. When Boromir wants to take the ring from Frodo, claiming he can protect them with the help of the ring, Frodo sees how the ring is already twisting Boromir. The only way is to destroy the ring, to destroy the power center—and recreate a web of life.
Martin Prechtel says in the modern world, if you want a knife you go to the store. In his village, you have to talk to spirits first, you have to get it out of the ground, you have to take everyone’s needs and opinions into account. It’s very easy to have a fast social movement and a revolution of white, male, land-owners if you all the think the same, but if you include women, people of color, nature and animals—then things need to slow down. This web of life is the real green economy. At the same time it’s true that the present green economy is bringing us some things that will help us get there, The Internet is horrible and violent, but does decentralize communication and power. We’re seeing a shift in energy production also, where individual’s homes have solar arrays that feed into the grid.
I believe the way of the indigenous is the only sustainable way.
JOSH: What can your clients—green businesspeople, holistic healers, mom-and-pop—do to be more sustainable, more indigenous?
TAD: I think the first thing is to have a new conception of wealth—the assumption of wealth is that it’s an individual thing, not a community thing. Even New Age books, while they b.s. that it’s really gratitude or health or relationships, talk about those things in a way that is really individual, I feel. One reason the green economy is crucial is in setting up the community—we’re seeing BALLE, living economies.org, growing tremendously.
The key word here is local. Meetings of people in circles are the most important thing I think now, not because it’s the most radical, but because community is formed. The entrepreneurs are so grateful to be learning about each other. Obviously there are ways to become greener and more sustainable and take more of a stand—that’s not what I teach but I think there are a lot of ways, from what they sell to where they source materials) but the main thing is the new organic not going to be ‘super organic’ it’s going to be local. I’ve started seeing “Don’t buy organic, GROW organic” bumper stickers. Business can focus not only on their own growth but focus on the growth of the local economy.
It’s about not seeing ourselves as isolated, but as part of the re-weaving of the economy as a different thing.
BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies is growing incredibly quickly, their conference sells out every year.
Also, people are starting to see that all the many issues — racism, sexism, classism, colonization, civilization, all are part of the same package. These words all describe who’s in the center and who’s not; white people, men, people with money, the colonizer, those who live in the city versus country; all have the common dynamic of centralizing power, and people need to stop taking it in the first place.
JOSH: What’s your spiritual stance, on the spectrum of materialist to “out-there”?
TAD: The animist philosophy resonates with me the most; I feel there are different levels of reality, and that if this world is extremely diverse the spirit world must diverse too. I haven’t had any direct experiences; I don’t feel qualified to comment. Some days I feel as though I can’t give a shit about spirituality but I do know thatempathy is really important. I see someone watching The Secret and then their friend goes through a tragedy, and the person who saw The Secret asks them “How did you create this? What are you learning from this?” without extending to them basic compassion for what they’re going through. I think the re-humanizing, re-“indigenizing” is important, not the fascination with bells and whistles of spirituality. Everyone wants big vision questions, and fireworks. No one in their past lives was the guy who shoveled shit. Everyone was King Arthur.
Recently I’ve been interested in Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication work.
I have seen at the rainbow gathering scene, while there are progressive elements, I’ll see very young people leading workshops, someone in their mid-twenties. I don’t see experience and groundedness. One workshop about “Spiritual Experiences” was just a guy talking about his various drug trips. A weird ego gets into it. Sort of a “who’s got the biggest spiritual dick?” thing. But then a lot of them will come to people like me to wrestle with what’s going on in their lives, and they seem to get nervous around me. They realize they need to get real about what things they’re doing to make money, the consequences of the development deal they’re a part of. They’ve rationalized these things to themselves and to other people around them, and now they feel they need to stop. They crave more of a human realness versus importance. People dealing with their issues—those conversations are so beautiful. But at a conference I went to recently people began to talk in New Age speak and I felt myself fly away, I just had to leave the room. They were not speaking from experience; they were wsying things to ‘sound’ loving and wise. I find myself getting bored or disgusted.
JOSH: What about holistic healing, if anything, contributes to sustainability?
TAD: Holistic practitioners are definitely important. They’re very connected to the whole green economy; the medical/pharmaceutical industry is horribly violent; alternatives are super-critical.
The healthiest thing, though, is community. There have been studies, one says that if you have a shitty relationship with your parents that’s a bigger factor in shortening life expectancy than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. In terms of holistic practitioners I’m working with currently in helping them re-word their descriptions of what they offer] I see a common problem that they need to be conscious of what language they are dropping. Platitudes, New Age-speak, it’s true in any kind of business, but I think it’s especially a challenge for holistic healers. You’re talking about “raising your consciousness,” but what does that really mean?
JOSH: What projections do you tend to get, if any, from your clients?
TAD: I don’t get a lot. I’ve worked a lot to cut through and to name most of the pretenses that show up in this industry. But a lot of marketers are actively courting the projections and crafting the elaborate pretenses, wanting to be viewed as experts. As worthy and powerful. Deana Metzger writes that healing is a community event; and points out that, in many ways the whole doctor-patient relationship, the professional-patient relationship, is part of the problem. It struck me that in marketing this is true as well. If I make myself ‘seem’ like my time is scarce or a like I’m a genius, that can be a fun game, but at the same time. . . .I see a lot of holistic healers who don’t want to talk socially with their clients. It’s a mentality of professionalism and protecting oneself. But I also think it’s a way of them not needing to admit they human. They get to pretend that they’re all healed and enlightened by not dealing with people outside of their sessions. They get to keep it from being a real human relationship. There is a similar thing in marketers. Trying to keep a distance and seem to be very powerful.
One projection I do get is that I’m all about the green economy. I don’t talk about indigenous life in my workshops. People assume I’m all New Age-friendly and compact fluoreseents, maybe.
JOSH: What are you doing now?
TAD: esage.ca—Edmontonians Supporting a Green Economy, it’s about a local living economy, local business members meeting and community members meeting. We have had four or five meetings so far. There’s been lots of information gathering, meetings twice a month. Green business entrepreneurs and sustainability. We’ve had meetings about how to grow a business and meetings about how to grow a garden. Also about nuclear power and Sari, the exploitation of oil in Northern Alberta that is presently the largest oil deposit in North America and would be an extremely resource-intensive extraction process. We’re looking at meeting with the city and how to get people together around these topics.
JOSH: Thanks so much for your time and for sharing about your work and your visions.
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