In Episode 70, Quinn & Brian discuss: When things are broken, when the people who are working on those things are also broken, and why we need to help them. Our guest is Nikki Silvestri, the founder and CEO of Soil and Shadow, a project development firm designing economic and environmental strategies with human left in.
As the Co-Founder of Live Real and former Executive Director of People's Grocery and Green for All, Nikki has built and strengthened social equity for underrepresented populations in food systems, social services, public health, climate solutions, and economic development. She is a nationally recognized thought leader and general good doer, including being named as one of The Root's 100 Most Influential African Americans and receiving ELLE Magazine's "Gold" Award and OxFam America's "Act Local, Think Global" Award.
We don’t hesitate or feel like we’re overselling things when we say that what Nikki has to say is something that most people need to hear, and this could be a truly transformative message if it falls on the right ears. Brian said it, Quinn took credit for it, and now we hope you take it to heart.
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Intro/outro by Tim Blane: timblane.com
Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy. This is the podcast where we dive into a specific topic or question affecting everyone on the planet right now or in the next 10 years. If it can kill us or turn us into people who can see in the dark, that's what you came up with?
Quinn: Yeah. I mean that would be transformative, right?
Brian: Yeah. No, it would be.
Quinn: We'll get into it.
Brian: We're in. Our guests are scientists, doctors, engineers, politicians, astronauts, a reverend. We work together towards action steps that our listeners can take with their voice, their vote, and their dollar.
Quinn: This is your friendly reminder that you can send questions, thoughts, dreams, and visions. Another feedback to us at Twitter at importantnotimp. You can email us at email@example.com or you can send us now a voice message-
Quinn: ... at the link in our show notes. You can also join thousands of other smart people and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at importantnotimportant.com.
Brian: This week's episode is deep. That's what it is.
Quinn: I literally didn't know what else to type.
Brian: It's fucking deep. Listen. Things are broken. Yes. Sometimes, the people working on the things that are broken are also broken. How do we help them? Why do we help them? Well, because we need them.
Quinn: I don't hesitate to say this is probably ... This is just such a ridiculous word to use like a transformative episode.
Brian: I feel like you're trying to steal my I fucking said this is the episode that everybody needs to listen to. Now, you're saying it like I didn't say it.
Quinn: I was about to tell everybody that you said that.
Brian: Got it. Got it. Well, I take back what I just said.
Quinn: Our guest is, was, forever will be Nikki Silvestri, a truly empowering human and a woman and coach. Wow, man, it's only been 10 minutes, and I feel like I'm going to be thinking about this one and learning from it for quite a while. This is not a nerdy one.
Quinn: This is not a wonky one. I'm not asking you to memorize cancer facts or understand why oceans are doing what they're doing, but it's about why we're doing what we're doing and a lot of times why we're not doing what we could be doing. Nikki, she gets to the heart of it, man. She's trying to help those people. I don't want to give too much more weight. Do you have anything else before we get to it?
Brian: Just listen to this episode and tell everybody that you know to listen to this episode. I'm not kidding. It's incredible. It's like how when we talk about all the problems in the world and how none of it matters if we don't fix climate change because if we don't fix climate change, we can't do anything. If we don't start from a place of peace and wanting to truly wanting to help and innovate and if we're not happy ourselves, then fuck. Well, everything's fucked. It starts with you first all the way down to the ... I don't know, just listen to the fucking episode.
Quinn: Here we go.
Brian: So good.
Quinn: Enjoy. Our guest today is Nikki Silvestri. Together, we're going to ask who's fixing the people fixing our planet. Nikki, welcome.
Nikki Silvestri: Hi. It's great to be here.
Quinn: For sure. We're happy to have you.
Brian: Very happy to have you. Nikki, if you wouldn't mind, tell everybody who you are and what you do.
Nikki Silvestri: My name is Nikki Silvestri. You can find me at nikkisilvestri.com. I've been in climate change and food systems for the majority of my career. Now, I like to say that I save the people that are saving the planet.
Quinn: Now, that sounds pretty. I love that.
Brian: Can you tell us a little more detail about what that involves? You don't have to go into everything, but just to kind of give us context for why you're on the line today.
Nikki Silvestri: Well, I don't know if you know any environmentalists, but we tend to be somewhat hopeless people. We like to walk around talking about all of the climate solutions and regenerative agriculture and food systems, but a lot of us are just in a ball rocking back and forth in a padded cell inside of our hearts. That's what I address on a one hand. Then on the other hand, we need to be the most systems thinking abundance mindset, social justice sophisticated, social entrepreneurs that ever lived to solve the problems in the amount of time that we need to solve them ecologically.
Nikki Silvestri: On the other hand, that's what I also do is help environmentalists become better systems thinkers.
Quinn: I told you she was awesome.
Brian: I need savings. This is a good-
Quinn: This is not an intervention but I'm doing that right now. [crosstalk 00:05:16] I told you that before we started.
Brian: [crosstalk 00:05:18] Nikki, what we're going to do is Quinn's going to provide some quick context, probably wrong. Then, you can correct him for the question at hand here. Then, we're going to figure out some action-oriented questions that get to the heart of why we should give a shit about what you're doing and what everybody out there listening can do about it. Sound good?
Nikki Silvestri: Sounds great.
Quinn: Yeah. Sometimes, the context is incredibly wonky and nerdy. We'll be talking about bacteria or cancer or space trajectories or the percentage of carbon dioxide affecting soil or something like that. This one's a little more meta, so we don't have to get into all that, but basically, our listeners are often texting and driving. They don't have time to Wikipedia or look up the things. We like to get everybody on the same page to start, but we do like to kick off with one important question to set the tone a little bit. Instead of saying tell us your entire life story, Nikki, I would love to ask you why are you vital to the survival of the species.
Nikki Silvestri: Why am I vital to the survival of the species?
Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Be bold.
Brian: That's right. Let's get this going.
Nikki Silvestri: I would give you all my real answer. Let's see how it goes.
Quinn: Let's do it.
Nikki Silvestri: After I had my nervous breakdown in 2014 after talking to drunk climate scientists in DC who were saying we're all going to die, I had to do some soul searching around what I felt like my spiritual mission statement was and why I am here. What came up in that deep exploration is that the deeper reason why we are destroying ourselves and destroying the planet is because of our dilemma around can control and domination and needing to exercise our fear of mortality on each other and on the planet and control what we can.
Nikki Silvestri: At its core, I feel like I understand that. I don't try to address the symptoms. I try to address that core thing because we can rebuild systems. We can create new policies. We have the right answer. We've had the right answer for decades. We're not doing it and we're not doing it because of the control and domination thing. That's why I'm vital because I actually have the right answer. I'm doing the work to address it so that we're not creating systems that will just destroy an election cycle later.
Quinn: I'm into it. Wow.
Brian: Would you say that was kind of your big pivot personally?
Nikki Silvestri: 100%. I started my career ... I was a young executive director. I became an executive director at 25 and spent ... My career before that was all in the food systems and climate change as well. We had more time than 20 years versus 10 years is it's a lifetime [crosstalk 00:08:14] someone's entire life. When I really started talking to scientists and was running two offices, one in DC and one at the Bay and having to go on television and talk about hope, I didn't believe it, not when I was looking at the science. I just didn't believe it and then to learn the actual statistics and the possibility when it came to soil carbon sequestration and different drawdown strategies. That was enlightening for sure.
Nikki Silvestri: But the part that wasn't was that we'd had these answers for decades, and we weren't doing it. That was really the thing I wanted to address. Why aren't we doing it? What do we need to hear individually and collectively to actually act in the amount of time that we have? That question is now what drives me. That was my personal revolution.
Quinn: I love it. Do you have any sort of background in psychology or sociology or anything like that you feel has really helped you kind of come to this unique place of getting to the deepest sort of first principles of why we're not acting?
Nikki Silvestri: Such a good question. It just so happens that both my parents have master's degrees in counseling-
Quinn: There we go.
Nikki Silvestri: ... [xrosstalk 00:09:37] a transpersonal and humanistic psychologist. It's possible I grew up with seven older foster brothers and that my parents ran a foster family agency together for the majority of my life.
Nikki Silvestri: I grew up in deep conversations about why parents have children and then have the types of struggles that means that they have trouble raising them. I mean having children is one of the most primal things that we can do. That love we have for our children is one of the most primal forces that we experience on a day-to-day basis. For me, to interrogate the reasons why someone would reject it, struggle with it, do terrible things to their children, I think it brought up the human psyche and the human condition for me really early.
Nikki Silvestri: Then, I got activated around environmentalism, I think, for ... Honestly, I've tried to answer that question like what is it about the little black girl who grew up in Inglewood in the late 80s and early 90s that made me such a fierce warrior for the ecosystem. I don't have a good answer for you. There's different moments, those inciting moments I can point to in my childhood, but it really feels like it's something outside of me that feels like it's something that I came in with. I feel really honored that I get to honor that path.
Quinn: I think it's tremendous. I think we're all very lucky as I'm sure trying as those experiences have been that you have brought that perspective to them and had that pivotal with a bunch of drunk climatologists. Sometimes, whiskey is truth serum and can make you go, "Oh, shit." There's a whole other thing that's not being talked about here.
Nikki Silvestri: Exactly.
Quinn: Like I said, the context today I'm not going to give everybody a bunch of facts and figures here because we've done that enough. We do that enough. This is a little bit of a different conversation, but we have these … I'm sure you haven't wasted all of your precious time listening to our podcast, but we started a few months ago breaking off sort of longer conversations just between me and Brian about whatever we want to talk about with these main ones with infinitely more intelligent capable people like yourself where we actually address a topic.
Quinn: I have talked with him and even talked with my wife and some other people about just how heavy this stuff can really be which is why this one ... this episode and you as our guest mean so much to me why I've enjoyed talking to you so much because we work really hard to not only talk about to help people understand, help people take specific effective actions on the topics and questions we feel are most vital today, really good stuff and the really not good stuff.
Quinn: Of course, again, Brian and I couldn't do that alone. We're idiots. That's why we have people like you on here. Again, just setting the table so people kind of understand how I come to these things, each episode, we bring on someone who's out there on the frontlines in the field doing the thing. Most of the time, these aren't big names like some of these other conversational podcasts which is like let's hear what this celebrity is thinking about this or their newest movie or whatever it might be.
Quinn: We're not trying to bring on those people with huge pop-culture followings. There's so many incredible people though. This is our 70th original episode. There's so many incredible people that are out there. The people we've talked to and all the ones that we haven't like yourself that are out there working so hard to improve our condition. That's me speaking as a white guy which is to say like it's not that bad.
Quinn: Our world, our air, our water, our soil, our bodies to improve the lives of those that are suffering the worst, who are the most disadvantaged or a part of a system that was designed against them, people whose water and air is dirtiest who can't escape [inaudible 00:13:56] children with cancer, artificial intelligence researchers, all these people that are just trying to do something profound and just because they're ...
Quinn: If there's anything we've picked up on and I've realized myself going along and I feel like Brian does too because he walks in and just sees me with my head in my hands half the time, just because these people are infinitely more intelligent and driven and capable than we are, it doesn't mean that shit just doesn't get hard, doesn't get overwhelming, and doesn't just become like fucking too much at times.
Quinn: A lot of the reason is because they are often in the position of being the first to know some really bad news or to be the bearer of bad news or the ones that they think on the other hand again we don't just talk about negative stuff. They're the ones that think they're on the cusp of some incredible pediatric cancer discovery only to be set back once again which is just what science is, but that doesn't mean it's just not hard.
Quinn: I mean, again, I feel it. I'm just a fucking white guy with a newsletter and a podcast. I'm not out there doing these things, but I do want to do a better job of digging into this element of it because, like you said, we have had time and chances. We've known the answers of the thing we needed to do for so long. There's a variety of reasons why we're not doing things, but there seems to be this common core. It feels like you have come to terms with it and understand it.
Quinn: You're actually addressing it and working on that, working on the people behind our future and how they're doing and saying, "How are you" which is such a fundamental question." That's why this one really means so much to me is because I get it. I've sort of stole the famous comics Watchmen tagline who watches the Watchmen which is who's fixing the people fixing the planet. Talk to me about you had your drunk night and you had these revelations. Where did you go from there?
Quinn: Where were you in your life at that point with your work and then how did you pivot and where did you go from there to start working in this slightly different direction?
Nikki Silvestri: At that point, I was running a national climate organization that had an office in DC and an office in the Bay and a team of 20 to 40, all the things. I left. I left after being there for under a year. I walked off of a cliff if I had to just paint a picture of what that felt like. I was beyond burned-out.
Nikki Silvestri: I found out that year that my husband and I were going to have a lot of trouble having kids. It took us four and a half years to have our first child. It was hard. It was hard all around. I had come to a full circle of my career as well.
Nikki Silvestri: I started as an executive aide at that organization and then came back six years later as the executive director. That was my goal professionally was to be executive director of the national climate organization. To have achieved it and to realize that that wasn't my actual zone of genius was really hard.
Nikki Silvestri: I just opened myself up. I was a puddle on the ground for a few months and did a lot of reflective practice, went to the forest quite a bit and just asked that question, "What am I here for and what am I meant to do?" That was when I was introduced to soil health and soil carbon sequestration and soil fertility as an actual intervention for climate change in a deeper way. I started a business and started doing some boutique consulting around supporting the advocates of soil health to do their systems change work even better and to incorporate diversity and inclusion, and did that for a few years and was really excited about it.
Nikki Silvestri: But at some point, I did start to notice this trend when I was working with someone in regenerative agriculture or national climate or working with folks that were doing a big foundation work around water and oceans. All of them seem to have this thing to come in where they were deeply struggling with personally how to sustain themselves knowing what they know and then how to take personal stability and actually translate it into tangible impact.
Nikki Silvestri: That's where I feel like my sweet spot is because, yes, it is personal [inaudible 00:18:26] and personal coaching and support, but on the other hand, it's taking the concept of thriving personally into your systems change work as a strategy. I learned that from soil. I can't really say enough about soil because when I first started working with soil, the thing that came up for me the most was how you can't fake soil fertility like if you're building soil health, you can't unintentionally degrade any other system.
Nikki Silvestri: But you can do that if you work with water, if you work with animals, if you work with any other thing. I looked at what it really takes to build soil health and the level of complexity of relationships you have to build with the organisms and minerals and all of the things underneath the soil to build healthy things above the soil.
Nikki Silvestri: Then, I started thinking, "Well, what if we created ... What if we took what it takes to build healthy soil underneath the ground and took those strategies and use them to build healthy soil between the activists, the advocates the policymakers, the organizations of the businesses working to save our planet? Then whatever they grow from that healthy fertile place will benefit all of us."
Nikki Silvestri: The last thing I'll say about this is that that's what soil health advocates tell ranchers and farmers. If you build healthy soil, everything else will come, your healthy animals, your healthy crops, income, all of it. That's my proposition for the environmental movement is if we build healthy advocates, activists, practitioners, businesses and organizations, all of our strategies might actually start working. How about that? How about them apples?
Brian: Wouldn't that be wild?
Nikki Silvestri: [crosstalk 00:20:20] their policy passed here and there. We might actually get industry to stop the fuckery. I'll pause there thanks.
Quinn: It's so compelling and it's a wonderful analogy or metaphor I guess, whichever way you want to place it, but it does matter. It's from ... I keep throwing these things out there. It's building from the ground up? Like you said, you can't fake the fundamentals. I wonder do these people ever feel ... I know there's plenty of people that are in lots of positions in the world that feel sort of a hero complex or they just feel like they're ... some of them might be just very focused on their work and some might see the bigger implications. I think that's becoming harder not to these days.
Quinn: Is there ever a sense of I need to do better because everyone needs me to? Brian and I talk a lot about the shoulds here when we're talking about [crosstalk 00:21:27] how our minds work or fail to work sometimes which is the, "I should do this. I should have done this and I shouldn’t do this." You wake up and you're like, "I'm already behind. I should do this. I should be at my kid's thing instead of this." Is there ever a sense of like I don't know if I'm articulating this very well, but I should have my shit together because this is the moment when we need to do that.
Quinn: I guess how does that make or break people? Does it often inspire them to do that or to work harder or to take care of themselves better or does it break them or is that just not out there at all? I'm kind of curious.
Nikki Silvestri: It's 150% out there. [crosstalk 00:22:07] It's one of the reasons why I talk about environmentalism and social justice, social equity kind of in the same breath because I feel like both of those camps have this realization that the problem actually does require all of us. There is no person who cares about water and marine life that is going to stop biodiversity loss in the oceans themselves.
Nikki Silvestri: They know that not only do they need their allies, but they need the people who are actively destroying biodiversity in the ocean to listen to them too. When you get to that deeper place within yourself where you realize that you can't control other people especially the people that most need to change according to you and your thoughts and your strategies, I feel like it creates the sense of hopelessness. It's a seed of hopelessness that we try to buffer with community building and tactics and all of the things that we build around ourselves personally professionally to keep going, but the seed of hopelessness still grows.
Nikki Silvestri: In the social justice movement, it's the same way. As an African-American woman, I often have the thought for my son to be safe in the world. It's going to require a shift of hearts and minds that is shifting 500 years of a global economic system. How I do that? How do I do that? What can I do in my lifetime that's going to have an impact? Then, finally, when you get reports like we have 12 years left until we get to an irreversible tipping point, it's literally like, "Shit. My kid is going to be in middle school. My kid is going to be in middle school. Is he going to have an opportunity to get married?"
Nikki Silvestri: These are the kind of thoughts when it comes to should. All of those things create this orchestra in our minds of now, literally, now is the time. I don't have time to enjoy myself. I may not have time like whatever issues I'm having with my husband right now, I literally heard one of my coaching clients say that the other day. Yes, I'm having issues with my husband right now, but I can't take six months off to do deep counselling with him because we only have a few years left. This is crucial.
Nikki Silvestri: The election 2020 is coming next year. If my marriage survives the election, then I'll think about it.
Nikki Silvestri: I honestly feel like this is just a backwards way of thinking like that's my strong and bold opinion on the subject. Is that for a millennia, humans have thought this was the final era that we were all going to die. Even if it's true, we're still here in the present moment. It's that deeper non-dualistic practice of non-attachment that's going to create the kind of innovation environment psychologically, emotionally, and practically that will create the miracles that actually provide a pathway for our future.
Nikki Silvestri: We have to know what the miracle pathway is. That's what I'm trying to help us all build is that miracle pathway because it's going to take magic and miracles at this point.
Quinn: That's kind of the hole we've dug, isn't it? It's going to take a lot of hard work and just some shit to go our way whether it's [crosstalk 00:25:40] someone solving the battery storage problem or carbon sequestration all of a sudden becoming super affordable and really productive and [crosstalk 00:25:49].
Nikki Silvestri: When I say that we've had the answers for decades, literally, literally, the patents are there. The research is there. One of the biggest things that came up in my regenerative agriculture circles is the lack of peer-reviewed journals on regenerative agriculture. Some of that is because it takes four people to approve a peer-reviewed article and half the time, one of those scientists of before will just say, "I just don't believe this. I have no context for this kind of data. I've never seen it before." It's probably not true. It's a failure of imagination on our parts.
Nikki Silvestri: When we want to do something as a species, look, look, look, look, we got to get into some real fuck right now.
Brian: I'm ready. I'm ready.
Nikki Silvestri: When the colonists in America said, "We need people to work the land here, the soil here, there's not enough of us. Let's try and enslaving Native Americans. Oh, no, they know the land. It's not going to work. Okay. We need another plan. Let's go to Africa. Let's figure out how to transport millions of people."
Nikki Silvestri: I mean, the scale of the transatlantic slave trade, you want to talk about innovation. They created modern-day insurance. There were so many things that we have in modern day times that we just take for granted that the slave trade developed because they needed to innovate a new economic system to work their land that they wanted to possess like we are incredibly innovative. We've just used our innovation to create things like slavery. We need to use our innovation to fix that shit in 20 years, 10 years if I had my way.
Nikki Silvestri: We can do it. We just have to believe that we can. That's where I get on my soapbox. I'm like, "We are walking stardust, bitches. Of course, we can do this." It's not even that hard. It's just a failure of imagination. I try to get all of us together who have that seed that it's possible inside of us. We work it together.
Quinn: I love it. I think the comparison is apt. I mean we used it for this horrific thing that hasn't exactly let up. It's just in different forms of course for the past a couple hundred years since the "slavery" formally ended, but the things have come up and like you said, we designed a whole new system. It's a ridiculous comparison, but it's the same ... Not the same. When people say, "Why do we go to space," and it's like, "Well, do you like your iPhone?" That's where things came from.
Nikki Silvestri: Exactly.
Quinn: That's how it works is we said, "Let's go to the moon," and people were like, "We just designed an airplane like 10 fucking years ago like how are we going to go to the moon." It's like, "Figure it out. Fucking figure it out."
Nikki Silvestri: Exactly.
Quinn: We did. We can do that again. I think a lot of people talk with the Green New Deal and things like that about it's going to require a World War II level mobilization. It's like, "Well, okay. Then, let's fucking do [crosstalk 00:29:01]." It's just like my nuclear family isn't as full as ... My original nuclear family isn't as full of counseling and therapy professionals like yours, but I've married into one that is. I've always appreciated as a human who deals with things. As an athlete, we always had plenty of counseling and things like that. I do appreciate it. It does matter. It makes such a difference to look at things through that scope to look at it and say like, "We have to do these hard things." You have to look at it through that perspective and say, "Look, I understand why you're scared of the scope of World War II mobilization. That seems like a lot like do we really have to do that again?" The answer is-
Quinn: We do like [crosstalk 00:29:52].
Nikki Silvestri: I also feel like one of the things that comes up for people which is why the way that I do my work is the way it is, is that when we have a belief that's strong, that it's probably not possible. It's not like you can snap your fingers and just decide the next day or that moment that it's possible. It is possible to snap your fingers and get inspired. That's where speeches come in. That's where podcasts come in. That's where those inciting incidences come in.
Nikki Silvestri: But then you need a container to constantly remind your brain that it's expanding to support your brain not regressing into constructs that don't fit the new beliefs that you're trying to have. That's why having consistency and community and reinforcement is so important. It's got to be done over a long enough period of time where it just becomes your new normal. It's nuanced work. We dig into a lot of our personal pain in that because a lot of our belief around it's not possible. They can't be done. That shit started when we were little.
Nikki Silvestri: We had infinite possibility as a child. Somewhere, we got reinforced over and over again that whatever we imagined maybe wasn't even not possible. It's just wrong. It's idealistic. It's naïve, whatever we ascribe to it. The work of unmaking that is actually work. That's why I work with environmentalists and folks that are social change advocates because if you're in that work, some part of you already believes that there's a point to trying to work on all of this.
Nikki Silvestri: I want to take that precious ... It's such a precious tender place to say, "I feel like I'm destroying things. I don't mean to. I feel like I'm ... the scarcity that I'm holding inside of me is breaking me. I fear it might be breaking the thing that I love and care about too." Is there help to this because is there something I can do to come from a different place so that I actually have impact, so that this actually works? Yes, there is, but it's tender, it's precious, and it needs to be held as such.
Quinn: I think of two things on what you were just saying which is when I found this … I've so enjoyed our conversations before this where you would allot me 15 minutes, and I would just lay waste to it and destroy the rest of your schedule as we talk about children and such, but I found this ... But I have a multitude of children. They're a bit older than yours. I've tried to learn some things along the way as well as when I picked up my own family and friends and mentors and things like that.
Quinn: But this really simple little thing, I found this great ... It looks like a little like a pennant flag, like a college-type pennant flag. I hung it in this little playroom that they have. It just says, "Start with yes." To me, that's ... We try to keep that going no matter what. My wife is a creative human as well and just has this infinite sort of spark of yes and why not and things like that. We try to infuse them with it because the world will just beat that right the fuck out of you as soon as it can.
Quinn: Like you said, it is such a tender, and it can be brittle and easily shattered spark that everything else will try to, so I feel like it's ... I've taken it upon myself to make that my job as much as I can instead of saying like and we teach them like, "I can't do this say. It's hard and I just need help." That's fine like that's great. I admit that like things are hard all the time. I need help whether from them or from my wife or whoever else. Sometimes Brian, but start with yes. Then, if we can keep that going, I don’t know, man. It seems idealistic, but it's like maybe ... I don't know. Maybe, we'll save the place. Maybe.
Nikki Silvestri: It's funny that you say that because I often wonder where my drive came to keep some of this and to keep some of that spark. I come from an entertainment family. In college, I studied theater. My improv professor still is one of my favorite people. I feel like taking a whole year of improv really helps me know as a leader and as an entrepreneur and all things because to start with yes is like it's been paired with ... And keep saying yes no matter what and having that practice over and over again, it really extends the imagination. I still take that into my work to this day.
Nikki Silvestri: One of my clients, I facilitate investor and philanthropist gatherings for them. These are family office. These are fairly serious [inaudible 00:34:48]. I am a professional camp counselor. I'll have them up on their feet singing Little Red Wagon and [Waddle-ee-ocha 00:34:58] and Boom Chicka Boom. You can see in their faces when I ask them to stand up and repeat after me, they're like, "Oh God."
Nikki Silvestri: But then halfway through, it's amazing, so really injecting that spirit. I think that the way of being has to be modeled for us to change the way we orient with our work as well, and our way of being has to be joyful. It has to be pleasurable. It has to be connective so that we associate that in our nervous systems with our work because half the time, our nervous system associate difficult conversations, actual threatening behavior and politics that make you sick to your stomach like the actual nervous system experience of being an environmental advocate or a social justice advocate can be really shitty sometimes-
Quinn: I'm sure.
Nikki Silvestri: ... a lot of the times. Having experience is where you're also showing your nervous system that you can do this work joyfully is really important.
Quinn: I agree. It's funny. I feel like I've had numerous experiences. There's plenty of people who will pooh-pooh on this for a variety of reasons half of which I do understand, but I feel like I've had folks I've worked with who've played sports in some capacity. I can always tell if they have had experiences where they've been losing in the fourth quarter before and how they handle almost failing or failure or stressful situations or stressful situations where you're almost failing with a team and which your role is in that and not calling people out and persevering and things like that.
Quinn: It is a matter of, like you said, exposing yourself to that over and over again so you can learn how to do it so that when the time comes and people are like, "We got 12 years." You're like, "Well, fuck, okay." I mean it's going to be hard, but we can do this thing. One of the things that drives me so completely insane when we put out things like the Green New Deal which are still being entirely fleshed out but are so obviously needed, and the first thing you see is like, "Oh, we can't do this. It's too expensive." It's like, "You, motherfuckers, like try to help. Take one second.
Quinn: Try to be fucking helpful like can't you see that everything is on the line here?" I'm not saying you have to agree, but start with like ... and yes and keep going and just be helpful. It helps everyone's sanity. It helps our progress. It helps the whole thing.
Nikki Silvestri: Well, that's actually so ... One of the first things I do with folks is look at that pathway of resistance to acceptance and invitation. Putting forward bold ideas is important because it reveals our own and other's resistance to it. What are the beliefs that need to be shifted for this to be true? Resistance is useful because it shows, "Okay." These are the beliefs. These are the limiting beliefs that you would need to shift for this to be possible.
Nikki Silvestri: I think one of the most important things that environmental and social justice leaders can do is refine our ability to extend a generous and boundary invitation when we are experiencing resistance ourselves and when we see resistance in others because, a lot of times, there are those that are experiencing resistance that are primed for an invitation.
Nikki Silvestri: The resistance is a breath away from an inquiry and from curiosity. If we wiped the table of everyone who has resistance which I feel like it's easy to do, it's hard. It's hard to be with that level of resistance all the time. That's why we have to take care of ourselves. In that way, so like my curriculum, when I work with people is, first, you prepare your soil and that's doing that inner work around how you orient toward truth and non-violence.
Nikki Silvestri: A lot of this when you encounter resistance how to make an invitation that leads to acceptance like that very fundamental how to be type work. Then, the second phase is then build fertility. That's the hard part because that's where you get into shadow work. That's where you get into your own demons. That's where you get into what it really takes to inoculate excellence within yourself, and the deeper excavation happens.
Nikki Silvestri: Then, the last stage is then protect life. That's in your relationships both personally and professionally. Those are the diversity and inclusion strategies. That's the system's thinking work. That's where you get really practical about how to protect life once you've prepared your soil and you've built fertility.
Nikki Silvestri: Moving through a process like that, it requires us to see ourselves in everything we don't like. That's the higher calling, I feel, that is honest now is to take 100% responsibility for everything we see went wrong at the world and know that if we're noticing it, that means it's somewhere inside of us. If we can learn to love that thing and transform that thing inside of us, the strategy of how to do it out there will just flow. It will just come naturally.
Nikki Silvestri: You will find the words. Those opportunity you had to spend three weeks preparing for before, you will have the natural capacity to do in two days. It's practical. It's shortening the amount of time that it takes to turn an opportunity into impact.
Quinn: I love that.
Brian: Yeah. All right. Nikki, let's get specific here. What are the breaking points that we're seeing among all of the folks out there, the people that you've worked with? Is there a commonality here?
Nikki Silvestri: Are you talking about personally for them or tell me a little bit more about that.
Brian: Yeah. I guess it could be either. I guess like is there a commonality among the folks that come to you? Is it a personal breaking point? Is it a public-facing breaking point? Is it just a systemic breaking point where you go like, "Oh, yup. I've seen this. You're the third person this week," with these things. [crosstalk 00:41:24]. I guess like what have you learned to most practically address that.
Nikki Silvestri: Yes. Yes, and a big common thread is ... I'm speaking in the first person from the perspective of my clients. No.
Brian: Got it.
Nikki Silvestri: I've been doing what I've been doing for a while. It's been fairly successful, but I feel like it's time to step into a deeper layer of leadership. I need some support with stepping into that deeper layer of leadership because I'm scared to do X, Y, and Z. I may be scared to leave my current position. I'm scared to be more public facing. I'm scared to alienate my team because somebody new just came in above me. I'm scared. There's like really practical things they're looking at where they're stepping into a deeper layer of their leadership. They need some help doing that. That's a real common thread that I've seen over the last six months in particular.
Brian: That's compelling. Do you find that there is a common reason that prompted them to do that? That makes sense?
Nikki Silvestri: No. It makes total sense. I've been sitting with that myself because when I look at it, there's an underlying sense in most of them. It's twofold. On the one hand, I feel the emotional resonance when they come to me like what I said verbally sounded pretty practical, but the emotional residents when they come to me [crosstalk 00:43:03] there's tears when they talk about this.
Nikki Silvestri: I can feel the I'm not being fully who I am. It hurts. There's pain in there with devoting their lives to something but feeling like they're not getting back what they need to. A lot of times, they're in their early 40s and mid-40s. I think they're seeing the barrel of I'm moving into the third phase of my life, and I don't want to be half of the person anymore.
Nikki Silvestri: I think when you've devoted your whole life to causes, you do get to the point where I got to be whole [inaudible 00:43:45]. This is not going to work anymore. I think that's an underlying reason.
Nikki Silvestri: That's fascinating. There's got to be I mean ... I imagine it's a wide variety of even further underlying conditions and causes and beliefs and feelings and experiences from like, "I'm scared to take on the next thing or am I intellectually … I'm scared to find out if I'm intellectually capable of the next thing or if my leadership qualities are up to task or has it all been worth it or is ..." That's it's fascinating to unpack all of that, but at the same time going back to helping them fortify and be inspired in the sense of like, "And we need you to do this."
Nikki Silvestri: This cause needs you to do this and ... Yeah. I don’t know. That's really interesting. I imagine and this is where ... We started this thing. I started this thing originally because I'm a sci-fi screenwriter. I've always been interested in civic duty and the news and things like that, but for my work, I was seeing a lot of science and technology and space and cancer and earth and ocean news because it influences my work.
Nikki Silvestri: I keep up with that stuff, but I realized there was a whole bunch, just a couple years ago, a whole bunch of like really vital stuff happening, really good and really not good, that most people weren't seeing in the news because the Facebook feed was filled with cats and other other shit like that before Facebook really broke everything.
Nikki Silvestri: I just said, "Hey, I'll put together this little newsletter." This is like the five really important things you missed this week besides the day-to-day stuff that comes and goes. This is the stuff that's going to last, the make or break stuff. Then, of course, everything has really changed over the past year and a half as it seems like democracy is fighting for its life every day in a different way, in a different battle.
Nikki Silvestri: I do empathize with it, with people feel like every day, they open their phone and that's the phrase. It's like, "What fresh hell am I going to find today?" I imagine if we had a different political situation, this would be relatively easier. Not only would we not have a day-to-day nightmare of a human and a collection of humans around them in charge, we would conversely be probably making at least some progress towards fighting this thing, the antithesis of this. Maybe not the World War II level operation that's so necessary but something.
Nikki Silvestri: Instead, what we have, and again, I try to step back and look at how both, again the people like yourself that are out there doing this, the people that you're treating and working with and coaching and just the politicians, the people that can actually enact legislation and the people that put them in office. I try to take a step back and objectively see it all and empathize in different ways.
Nikki Silvestri: But the reality is we have this ticking clock that's ticking faster. It's closer than we thought. Every time we assess it, we realize it's even closer than we thought. We have these predictions that are becoming almost irrelevant shortly after they're made, but we also have ... We do try to balance this year. We have these incredible tantalizing glimpses of hope and progress that it's almost as if sometimes it feels like they're too hard to hear knowing we can't effect them yet until whatever it is, January 2021.
Nikki Silvestri: You have an incredible number of clean energy jobs that anybody can qualify for whatever your race or background or what your previous degree was. We need so many more. The price of clean energy has come down to be competitive with everything. It blows everything out of the water. It's cheaper now to close and knock down a coal plant and build a [crosstalk 00:47:53] new clean energy plant whether wind or solar, then to keep that coal going.
Nikki Silvestri: Batteries have come down so much in price if not storage so, but at the same time, it feels like we're in this almost like a terrible like one of those nightmares you cannot wake up from even though you know it's a nightmare like my wife and always joke about she had this super creepy basement growing up. Everyone always had that feeling you're down there and you think it's dark and something's coming after you.
Brian: I can relate.
Quinn: You run up this fucking stairs as fast as you can to get upstairs. It's like we're constantly running from the monster down below. You see the light at the top of the stairs. You know it's there, but it feels like you can't get up there like that is some hope there against this ticking clock. I'm curious. Can the people you're working with see the lights they'll see these things that are happening? What do you and what can you do and we do to help them see it again, to hold on to it? How can we do that for regular folks? Does any of that make any sense? It's entirely possible to-
Nikki Silvestri: No. It's such a good question. I'll answer that question with a little bit of context. Yes, I do think the people that I'm working with can see it. I feel that it's our job to protect those things but for some context. You just described that it's so much worse. It might be different with a different political situation.
Nikki Silvestri: One of the ways that I like to describe the past political situation with our current one is if we were inside the Neverending story, the previous administration was like we were flying on [Valcor 00:49:42] soaring above Fantasia chilling (singing).
Quinn: I'm so into this whole thing already, whatever you're going.
Nikki Silvestri: No, like [inaudible 00:49:54] happy and shit. Well, what's happening in Fantasia is that The Nothing is eating everything. Our current administration is we are in the cave with [Gmork 00:50:07] facing Gmork. Gmork is telling us to our faces, "Oh, yeah I'm helping the Nothing. Oh, yeah, because [inaudible 00:50:14] have all the power. What the fuck you got?" We're sitting there like, "Oh shit."
Nikki Silvestri: This whole time while I was flying on the beautiful dragon, you're saying that you were helping the Nothing destroy everything. I feel like we've been tearing ourselves apart since the beginning in this country. We were founded on genocide and slavery. Of course, the Nothing has been ripping us apart.
Nikki Silvestri: The point is that, now, I actually feel like we're in a more honest clear time than we've ever been. It's really dangerous because when you do shadow work and you start walking that journey with the wolf, the wolf can consume you. That's the point. That's why people don't start down that journey because it gets real dangerous. The way to mitigate that danger is to be super responsible with what's real, what we're seeing, having a consistent orientation toward transformation and skill, practical skill for how to create the transformation and doing what you're saying, always knowing, being super clear but practically speaking data wise.
Nikki Silvestri: We're living in the safest time in human history. There's more of us alive and are able to stay alive than at any other time in human history. The potential and the possibility is there. It is literally our orientation toward always seeing the bad things because of just the way humans have built that is killing us right now.
Quinn: Two things, one, you're right. I'm from Virginia originally and still spend part of the year back there and literally from Colonial Williamsburg which is right next to Jamestown where the very first British, permanent British settlement was, the fort there, where we originally started to take the land from Native Americans.
Quinn: I have friends who are archaeologists there and the whole thing. What you come to understand is like this incredible beautiful place on this river and all these things. The very beginning was a clusterfuck. That is what it has been built on from the very beginning. I mean it's where the first slave to continental US showed up in 1619 aside from what we did to the Native Americans who were not perfect themselves when you really dig into it, but at the same time, I mean what we came with and the things we wrought are just horrific. We just continued to do that.
Quinn: Then, we designed a whole system around it. We are now seeing and have seen for a long time and a lot of folks have been seeing this forever. There's a great ... Someone had a, I don't know, had a tweet online about like, "This isn't African-Americans first existential crisis."
Quinn: I'm so glad we're teaching you how to march in the streets which is just true. It's like, "Hey, it's been going on for a while. It's just a different flavor of it."
Nikki Silvestri: I also just want to interrupt quickly.
Nikki Silvestri: This point you said about how Native Americans weren't perfect either, I feel like it's important from a historical point of view to note that we all built this together. I am not a student of Native American history. I won't speak to that, but six years of African-American Studies, certainly made it clear that the African slave trade was booming and thriving and really sophisticated before the Portuguese showed up. It was Africans that chose to mark their own people from the interior to the coast so that the slave trade could be on a scale that it was.
Nikki Silvestri: It's not like white folks came to Africa and all of a sudden the beautiful kings and queens in Egypt did some shit which is an advantage of. That is not the story. The story, two groups of very sophisticated civilizations ... Two sophisticated civilizations came together and said, "We're going to build something together. We're both going to profit from it. There will be losers." It's time for all of us to acknowledge our own part in that and just stop fuckery and to create something different.
Quinn: I want to clarify. I do not seek to speak for Native Americans in Native American history. It is just again having lived there my entire life and studied it and tried to understand it, and there was nothing written down. Anything that was written down comes, of course, from the English journals, but also the oral history which is ... You watched the Disney Pocahontas movie, and everything seems wonderful. The truth is Powhatan was old and was barely holding together this kingdom that he had just put together. They frequently undercut themselves and were happy to handle for land in exchange for weapons to outdo each other.
Quinn: The point is like it was just fucking complicated because everything is always. Of course, their situation was different than the Northeast which was different than the West. Look, the point is there was nothing perfect, but, of course, our stance with moe things is white guys ruined everything. That's the overarching layer, but I don't know. Like you said, it's time to acknowledge all of that. I feel like we're all trying to do a better job of that to, like you said, to build something new from it.
Nikki Silvestri: Well and that's a big part of what it is that I do like when I say diversity and inclusion, I'm not talking about the 15 to 20 politically correct things that it's okay to say. [crosstalk 00:55:49] I'm talking about the data around history. What actually happened according to multiple sources, what's the complexity knowing that we cannot ever know what actually happened, knowing that different peoples are complex, how can we all take responsibility and how can we all have humility? How can we all grieve? How can we all extend a hand to ourselves and to each other?
Nikki Silvestri: How can we all forgive? How can we all acknowledge what we've lost? There's so much there, but starting from this place of humanity and humility is really the way toward having an open heart and being whole and healed and healthy because selective trauma is within everyone.
Nikki Silvestri: I think that's one of the things that come to is like I understand why people put their fucking heads in the sand like this is in any other situation on asteroid that's coming in 12 years. That's going to make a lot of people real sad and just figure like why do things and why do I need to do something or this is really hard or I've tried to crack how to blow an asteroid up or how to move in. I got a setback or this and this and this. It might make you decide not to have children or whatever it might be. That's not to forget again 400, 500 years of systemic slavery and racism or what we did to Native American peoples or all the other situations around the world which are all equally fucked.
Nikki Silvestri: That's not to say like just because the asteroid is coming like we should all hold hands and forget it all. It's just like the asteroid is coming and we have to find a way to build a new way going forward. We also have to include some of those things. That's why I appreciate one of our previous guests who I feel like you would love if you have [inaudible 00:57:35] right. She's one of the folks writing a lot of the legislation for the Green New Deal. She keeps having to defend over and over why it's so important to include equitable jobs and an equitable future going forward in it when people say, "We should save that for later." Her point is like, "No, we have to do it all now," like those things have to be included because it's the right thing to do, but also because those people can then contribute.
Nikki Silvestri: We need everyone to contribute. You don't have a World War II level mobilization without everyone contributing. That's not the way it works.
Brian: It's really a good way to lose.
Quinn: We can't lose this one. Slight pivot. I know we're stealing a lot of your time, but I couldn't be enjoying this more. Do you feel like now, Nikki, that you're on the right path personally? Do you feel taken care? How's your soil?
Brian: Who's watching Nikki?
Nikki Silvestri: Who's watching Nikki? Good question. After I had the breakdown in 2014, four and a half years of trying to have baby, I'll tell you, it'll make you ask all of the deep questions about your life and how you're living and what you need to thrive.
Quinn: I would just say I understand. It took my wife and I the same amount of time and tears and all the science and difficulties. I get it.
Quinn: I curated a life for myself that prioritizes my health and sanity. That's the only way I was able to actually come into my calling. I started my business doing consulting work, strategic consulting and doing basically the systems change work I had done before just only with the people that I thought were on the cutting edge. I wasn't able to actually fully pivot to the song of my heart and what I actually think more until I had really deeply stabilized my life.
Quinn: My husband watches out for my soil. My best friends watch out for my soil. I also not intentionally, but my friendship circle did a huge turnover in 2014 where friends I had for the majority of my young adult life went away. There was this new crop of people that ended up coming into my life. Strangely, the handful of it that I have is there's a handful of people that I keep very, very close to me.
Quinn: The three of the five of them are older. They're like a generation above me. That wasn't intentional, but I feel like there was an acknowledgment of what I'm moving into in my life. I feel like my support system ... I go to church every Sunday like I haven't been to church every Sunday since I was like 12. But having a kid, I was like in order to not kill my husband running a business and doing all the things, I truly need someone every Sunday being like you have a God force within you. Act like it. I'm like, "Okay. That's right. Right. Okay. That's right."
Quinn: When I see that metaphor, I have metaphors around personal cover cropping and internal composting and I do all of these practices myself. When I noticed myself rotting or when I notice that I've been extracting the nutrients for myself without doing cover cropping or any of those things, I will actively put things in place including the people around me who have more perspective [inaudible 01:00:59] than I do.
Quinn: Yeah. That's timely for me. My wife literally found me about a week ago. She got all the kids down which usually I love to contribute to. Then, she wandered into living room wondering where I was. I was hiding under a blanket with a pullover my head going, "It's all too much." She was like, "Oh, boy here we go," like you haven't been doing the meditation, the exercise or whatever. It was both logistical just too much because we're bootstrapped and small over here, but also just the heaviness of that all and not putting those things into practice that just keep ...
Quinn: I'm never going to be like high-flying with this I've come to terms with, but keeping a healthy head above water was not the case in that moment. Like you said, with your husband and those people close to you, it is important to cultivate those so that they, like you said, they have more perspective on you than you do and can notice and say like, "Hey, man, you got to ... whatever your thing is, take a step back, go to nature, get some ice cream, whatever the thing is," because, otherwise, you can't help people, right?
Nikki Silvestri: Exactly.
Quinn: Besides that moment drinking in DC with these folks, is there a specific relationship you can point to that was a catalyst for your actions to get you where you are today?
Nikki Silvestri: When I think about relationships, I think I'm going to say black women. I'll explain that. My board chair when I was a young executive director at a local organization was black. My board chair at the national climate organization was a black woman. They were both black women. I spent a lot of my younger career resisting and being defensive and combative with the black women in my life that were trying to help me.
Nikki Silvestri: I feel like a lot of my professional journey can be seen as this spark of me rejecting certain parts of myself so hard that I actually couldn't stand to be around strong black women in some ways. They were strong black women in my life that I deeply loved that helped me through that, but the ones that resembled me most couldn't stand them. I feel like now to be in this place of my life where I have black women in my life that I just adore so much and I've come to love myself in a way that's really different.
Nikki Silvestri: I think that relationship, that archetypal relationship with the "black woman" has changed me more than anything else I can describe. Black women have been the ones who've been able to tell me about myself in ways that I wasn't able to hear and that I needed to rattle around in my brain for two years before I could hear it and take it on. Black women have been the ones to hurt me the most. The women I've hurt in my life the most are black women.
Nikki Silvestri: There's been a lot of pain. There's been a battle. There's been incredible healing. I feel like I'm looking forward to for the rest of my life just honoring and being humble and in service to black women, myself included.
Quinn: What was your turning point?
Nikki Silvestri: Around that or just in general?
Quinn: Around that. What was, I guess, the realization? Was it an intervention from someone or people close to you? Was it an eternal thing? How did you make that transition?
Nikki Silvestri: It was a part of my breakdown in 2014. One of my best friends, my board chair and my mother, all black women. I had these insane falling outs with them that same year. My coach, my executive coach at the time was super clear that like, "Well, wherever you go, there you are. The common thread here is you."
Quinn: That one who is always such a kick in the balls, man.
Brian: Oh shit. It's me.
Nikki Silvestri: When I was doing my internal excavation around all the things, that one was a core one because I am a black woman. I just needed to face this thing about how I couldn't advocate for social justice. I was carrying so much pain around my love for my people and feeling so attacked and so judged and so shamed and all of these things that I grew up with. I think I just got to this point where I realized I wasn't going to be whole unless I looked at that. I looked at it in the face and really took it on.
Nikki Silvestri: The turning point was me, honestly, just taking some space from leadership for a second which is why I really advocate for that with other leaders that we get to these points where the deeper excavation work we have to do with ourselves we can't do in public. We can't do it while holding a team of 40 people. We can't do it while having to show up on TV and be coherent and with five hours' notice on the topic we've just learned about like the pressures of being in leadership like that means that we only have finite time.
Nikki Silvestri: There are times that we need to spend that precious energy that we have on ourselves and not spending on other things. I took a step back before I started my business. I did some work. That work was the turning point acknowledging that I needed to do that and acknowledging that I was going to be in more pain on a day-to-day basis for a little while until I learned how to carry that and transform it in a way that was functional and constructive for me.
Nikki Silvestri: But at first I would just have to acknowledge that I was going to have to let it in and not try to do anything about it. I needed some space to do that.
Quinn: It's a lot. It's a lot. That moment when you acknowledge you have to let it in. You're not allowed to do anything about it for a little bit. It's going to hurt.
Nikki Silvestri: It is a lot.
Quinn: It's a lot of work. I mean having been in the same place for different reasons and everyone has their different reasons and hopefully people can get to this kind of place and, obviously, hopefully, the people you're working with can get this kind of place with all of your incredible help. Hopefully, at that moment, and I know if I had a glimpse of, but I can see why this is an important thing to do because it's the only way forward in truth and in the most productive way which is-
Nikki Silvestri: [crosstalk 01:07:44] and it's cyclical when it comes to leaders being responsible for money and people and resources is the quickest way to show us where I desire. I don't think it's responsible to take on leadership that pushes you right to your edge and shows you your assessment and supports you with practicing, showing your ass in public for a period of time. There's this turning point where we get more destructive and constructive as leaders when we're at our edge.
Nikki Silvestri: The leadership has to be cyclical. That's why the four-year election cycle is what it is, is because you can't take that kind of pressure for too long period of time, but so many of our leaders, so many of us do not cycle. We don't set back in a meaningful way for a meaningful stretches of time. We're breaking shit. That's not cool.
Quinn: Yeah. That's not helpful. Man, I can't thank you enough for this today. It's truly been enriching and profound. I hope it helps people. I hope it makes a difference and, obviously, I hope people can see and understand what a valuable human and resource and, yeah, that you are and you're providing to these people.
Nikki Silvestri: I just messaged Quinn that I hope everybody like this better be the most listen-to podcast that we've ever done.
Quinn: Or the podcast ever or not even just [crosstalk 01:09:17] ours, just everyone's.
Nikki Silvestri: [inaudible 01:09:20] sweet. I'm having one of those vulnerability hangovers right now. I'm like, "Wow." I just went into like the closet of my black identity thinking I was going to talk about environmental [inaudible 01:09:35] saving the people [inaudible 01:09:36] planet. That's how it is. It's saving the people, and I am included in that. I have a lot of love and respect for you two for being able to hold this conversation as gracefully as you did. Thank you.
Quinn: We're trying. I'm grasping at straws. I'm flailing in the water, but I'm just desperately trying not to fuck it up. That's the goal at this point. Brian, why don't you take us home [crosstalk 01:10:04]?
Brian: Let's go home. Let's get into some action here. So many people, our listeners and our readers and everyone else with so much to deal with and then this. I fully understand why they turn it off. God, I always wanted to turn it off.
Quinn: Yeah. That's easy answer.
Brian: Yeah, because it's so easy. What progress have you made in helping people look forward to keep making progress fighting the good fight? How can those of us who are not nearly as skilled or trained in this as you do the same?
Quinn: I guess best practices.
Nikki Silvestri: Best practice.
Brian: Tell me what to do.
Nikki Silvestri: [crosstalk 01:10:59] If you are an environmental or social justice leader, catch yourself before you slip into the kind of hopelessness or apathy that is difficult to come back from. Do your work. Just surround yourself with enough joy and pleasure where you are triggering your nervous system in the best way possible so that you stay on the good side. When you feel like you're at your edge in a way that's not good, take a break. That's what you can do, and get some help.
Nikki Silvestri: For everyone else, the beauty of building social fertility when I look at it around soil fertility is that I mean there's more organisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on the planet. The level of complexity required to build fertility isn't massive. Literally, every single person if you do your part to spark imagination, creativity, and innovation with whatever it is that you care about, you are doing your work to be the best kind of microorganism in our social soil.
Nikki Silvestri: If we all do our part at the same time, we will have social fertility and be able to then by accident fix all the problems that we have because that's what healthy soil does. It grows nutrient-dense gorgeousness by accident. We can do that if we all do our part.
Brian: That sounds pretty good to me. All right. Looking outward a bit more, once people have taken care of their soil and they feel as settled and ready and as prepared as they can be acknowledging that none of us ever gets back to perfect, to square one, how can and this is a new question we ask everyone and so they vary, how can folks use their what we like to say their voice, their vote and their dollar?
Brian: Starting with their voice, what do you feel like are the big actionable but specific questions the rest of us should be asking of our representatives?
Nikki Silvestri: Why are you really not doing this?
Brian: [inaudible 01:13:28].
Nikki Silvestri: That's the key question.
Quinn: Cut the shit. Why are you really not doing this?
Nikki Silvestri: Yeah. What would it take for you to actually do it? Tell me the truth. I can take it.
Quinn: That's about as honest as it gets, right?
Brian: That's pretty good. What should we be asking. Can you tell me the truth? Pretty good one.
Quinn: Right. What are we doing about X and then why are you not doing this? Like you said, give it to me straight. I'm ready to take it now.
Nikki Silvestri: Yes.
Quinn: That's good. I feel like we can stop asking this question of people now, Brian. I think-
Brian: Yeah. We have the answer. [crosstalk 01:14:06]
Quinn: I think that's a good one.
Brian: I took 70 fucking first time to ask it.
Nikki Silvestri: But you know what? I will just say it's not like you're going to call your representative and ask that question and get a reasonable answer. It's all about going to the aides being like [inaudible 01:14:24] real talk, what's going on-
Nikki Silvestri: ... what they need, what's happening?
Quinn: Someone around them has to fucking get it and has to be like [crosstalk 01:14:37]-
Nikki Silvestri: Oh, somebody in that office knows. Somebody know what's happening. Somebody can tell you what's happening. You know whether you need to do a smear campaign ... Like then you at least know what to do. You know what I'm saying?
Quinn: Yup, right.
Nikki Silvestri: You don’t waste time.
Quinn: We're done with the time wasting. [crosstalk 01:14:57] Everyone's got a thing. What is the what is the thing? If that means that person's not it, great, get the fuck out.
Nikki Silvestri: Exactly.
Quinn: I feel like that's our next one which is like what do we do with our vote which is just, I don't know, usually comes down ... I feel like we can eliminate this a little bit because it's like, "We'll do the right thing. Put the right fucking people in."
Nikki Silvestri: Well, no. I mean I think, honestly, one thing I've seen is this rabid obsession with the federal level of government. That's not where it fit. Most of the people I've talked to don't know what the fuck is happening in their own city when it comes to like, ""Wait-
Nikki Silvestri: ... run for city council." It's like, "No." When it comes to your vote, pay more attention to the local levels than the national levels. National levels, [inaudible 01:15:44] well-paid people are doing that analysis, lots of really good stuff for you to read. Local level, when you ask that question, what do you actually care about, what would it take for you to do this, you actually get a real answer.
Quinn: Yeah. You talk to a person. [crosstalk 01:15:57].
Brian: ... this motherfucker in the grocery store. You can actually be like [inaudible 01:16:03] right now. I had seen this thing in the newspaper. I had been wondering [crosstalk 01:16:08]. That's where actually things can change at that municipal, regional, state level. [crosstalk 01:16:15] that.
Quinn: It's not some broad abstract question or answer that you're asking or looking for because you both drink the same fucking water.
Nikki Silvestri: No, of course. Ask direct questions, like I see you grew up in X way. Do you not like labor? Ask a direct question. If they deflect reclaiming my time, do you not like labor?
Brian: Yeah. Super important. We talk about that a lot on your way. We just talk to ...
Quinn: Yeah. A couple of great conversations. We talked to-
Brian: Catherine Vaughan.
Quinn: Katherine Vaughn who runs Flippable which is now part of Swing Left. They've been hyper focused on the state stuff and the [inaudible 01:16:59] run for something whose same thing which is like.
Nikki Silvestri: [crosstalk 01:17:01].
Quinn: Yeah, which is just like then fucking run. Run for city council. Run for mayor. Run for state legislature because that's where you're going to make a fucking difference.
Nikki Silvestri: Also, don't sleep on those important decisions.
Brian: Yeah, stop only ... We've only been fucking vote for anything anyway, but a few of us that do stop waiting every four years for just the president. [crosstalk 01:17:24]
Quinn: All right.
Brian: Hey, I know we said it already, but I feel like I'm just going to keep saying it all day long even just to myself. Thank you so much for this. This has just been incredible. Thank you for chatting with us. We really appreciate you really.
Nikki Silvestri: Thank you.
Quinn: Last couple in there quick. Always with the criticism, that was the point today, Brian. Give it a rest. Nikki, when was the first time in your life when you realized that you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?
Nikki Silvestri: When I won my first oratorical contest in elementary school.
Quinn: I need to hear more about that clearly.
Nikki Silvestri: I come from an entertainment family. I mentioned that. I was on stage at my elementary school at pretty young age doing ... I don't know if you know The People Could Fly, but it's a tale of African folks. It's a collection of African folk tales written by Virginia Hamilton. I would do a dialect like a West African dialect in the first grade and tell folk tales, West African folk tales in costume. I won like an oratorical speech contest doing that and poetry and different things.
Nikki Silvestri: I think being like eight or however old I was holding 100 people in the palm of your hand and being able to see the influence, I was like, "Okay, this is legit." Then because my parents ran a foster family agency, they would always get free tickets to stuff to take the kids to. I was seven at a Beach Boys concert backstage, like called to be on stage because they saw that I knew the lyrics of Barbara Ann. It was like a huge stadium. I'm like seven onstage, Barbara Ann with the Beach Boys. Experiences like that, I think, just taught me the power of that.
Quinn: That's incredible. I feel like this could start an entirely new conversation. Does it blow your mind a little bit that your kid is only a few years away from you and first grade?
Nikki Silvestri: I mean ... It really does.
Quinn: It's weird when you go back that far and you think like, "Oh, that's when it started." When you've got kids and you're like, "Fuck that's six months from now."
Nikki Silvestri: Seriously. Seriously.
Quinn: Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?
Nikki Silvestri: In the past six months, she's been influencing me for four years, but she was the one that came up the strongest. [Sally Calvin 01:20:04] who is one of my clients, and she's an investor philanthropist who has a ranch and an investment firm and a foundation who's trying to rebuild the agricultural soils of America. In the last six months, I facilitated several convenings at her ranch. I think just to see someone like her who made her money in Silicon Valley who's like, "Yo, we have gained financial capital at the expense of ecological and human capital. We need to stop that shit. I'm going to bring other investors and philanthropists to my home to be like, yup, stop that shit. Here's how you do it."
Nikki Silvestri: She just inspired me so much around what it looks like to tell the truth because she tells the truth. She inspires me every day.
Quinn: That's awesome. It's a fuckin revelation when you've got somebody like that in your life.
Nikki Silvestri: It really is.
Brian: Quinn, you're my bet.
Quinn: Don’t do that. Don’t do that.
Brian: The last here a little bit quicker. This one, we asked everybody on every episode, but it's so perfect for today's topic. What, Nikki, do you specifically do when you are feeling overwhelmed, when you needed to take a step back from the leadership [crosstalk 01:21:28].
Quinn: What's your break in case of fire self-care?
Nikki Silvestri: Karaoke and dancing to really loud music.
Quinn: Karaoke go-to song?
Nikki Silvestri: For both, yes. For the dancing, A Tribe Called Red, which is this trio of native folk from Canada who do like drum and bass power music.
Brian: Cool name too. [crosstalk 01:21:53]
Nikki Silvestri: It's ridiculous.
Nikki Silvestri: For karaoke-
Brian: Wow, so pumped.
Nikki Silvestri: Oh my god. I want to say this. Azealia Banks 212.
Quinn: Hit it.
Brian: That's fantastic.
Nikki Silvestri: (singing) especially after I have a hard like anything. (singing)
Quinn: Sure. What is your hard anything?
Nikki Silvestri: My what?
Quinn: Your, like you said, after you've had a hard ... You're saying ... I thought you meant like a hard drink. You're saying after a hard time.
Nikki Silvestri: No.
Brian: My mind went to drink too. What's wrong with us? We're monsters.
Nikki Silvestri: Or hard conversation.
Brian: Got it. Yes.
Quinn: Of course. Just sorry about that.
Brian: Quinn, look, we ruined the whole thing.
Quinn: It was going so well. Son of a ...
Brian: Nikki, how do you consume the news?
Nikki Silvestri: The Week. I have a subscription to The Week. I read it pretty religiously.
Brian: The Week, awesome. Here's a question for you. If you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what book would it be?
Nikki Silvestri: Oh my god.
Quinn: We have an Amazon wish list and our listeners can go there and send the books our guest recommendations. We've gone everything from coloring books to the Constitution to just a wonderful range. What would be your gut instinct?
Nikki Silvestri: My god. Does he look?
Quinn: I have to say this to a number of people.
Quinn: I don't think it's unclear at this point, but the point is maybe someone will read it to him. I don’t know.
Brian: Maybe somebody whose ear he has will read it and-
Nikki Silvestri: He doesn't read. The thing that's coming up for me, there was this book on my mom's shelf called I hate You Don’t Leave Me. I haven't read it but I'm pretty sure it's a therapy book about like the things that kids go through. I hate you. Don't leave me. I think that's he's been stuck there for a while. I'd probably send that one.
Quinn: Let's do it.
Quinn: Throw it in there, Brian.
Brian: Done deal.
Quinn: Nikki, where can our people follow you on the internet? Where's all your stuff?/
Nikki Silvestri: Mostly on Instagram nikki_silvestri. I will respond if you DM me and nikkisilvestri.com is my website. Then, if you want to see the consulting part of my work that I'm scaling down right now, it's soilandshadow.com
Quinn: Brian, do you have anything you want to say to the lady before we go?
Brian: What? What why did you say? Why are you putting me on the spot like that?
Quinn: I'm just asking.
Brian: I mean I'm just forever indebted that I just got to talk to you. That was incredible for me. I was, I would say, quieter than usual. I'm usually pretty quiet just because I was having a very, very good time listening to you. Just thanks.
Quinn: Pretty transformative.
Brian: I really hope everybody hears this episode. I'm not kidding.
Nikki Silvestri: Thank you.
Quinn: Thank you, Nikki, for your time today, for all the ... You've literally put in months of consideration into what we were going to dig into today. I really appreciate that and, obviously, for all that you're doing out there, for all these people and for the world. There is a light and every person you send back out there is another person that's going to get us there. We need you. We thank you.
Nikki Silvestri: Thank you.
Quinn: Well, we will definitely have to do this again at some point.
Nikki Silvestri: Yeah.
Brian: That'd be awesome.
Quinn: But we're going to let you go. I know you've been trapped in there for a while. Thank you. I'm going to go pee now.
Brian: Great. Thanks for telling us that. I'm going to listen to 212 on blasts while you're in there.
Quinn: Good, good, good.
Nikki Silvestri: I think it's great.
Quinn: I have an incredible weekend. We'll talk to you soon. Thank you so much.
Brian: Thank you very, very much.
Nikki Silvestri: Yeah. Thank you very much.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today. Thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dishwashing or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
Brian: You can follow us all over the Internet. You can find us on Twitter at importantnotimp.
Quinn: So weird.
Brian: Also, on Facebook and Instagram at Important Not Important. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. Check us out. Follow us. Share us. Like us. You know the deal. Please, subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. If you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple podcasts. Keep the lights on. Thanks.
Quinn: You can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website importantnotimportant.com.
Brian: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blame for our jam and music, to all of you for listening and finally most importantly to our moms for-
Quinn: Making us.
Brian: Have a great day.
Quinn: Thanks, guys.
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