The importance of speaking up

A couple of days ago I got an amazing gift from a person I did not expect. A classmate.

We were sitting in the hallway during lunch break, chatting, and she said how my presentation about sustainability and planetary boundaries the week before "made her understand why we need an environment class". I almost felt my jaw drop.

It's exactly the result I had been aiming for. But! 1) I didn't know if it had worked - on anyone - and 2) even if it did, I didn't expect someone to say it out loud to me. Yet, she described how before my presentation she had wondered why we, as quantity surveyors and architectural technicians, even need this class - and how after the presentation she not only understood why, but she wanted to learn more about it. Hearing me explain the ideas behind sustainability sparked her interest in it.

I sat there, thinking, wow. As in - holy sh*t wow!

I felt humbled. I still do. It feels incredible to me that someone would have said that about my work, that me speaking out would have actually had such an impact on another person.

Speaking out is hard. As I keep raising my hand and raising issues, and being the first to volunteer for just about anything at school ("Anyone want to volunteer the answer they got to this assignment?" "Anyone want to go first with their presentation?" "Anyone want to be first to introduce themselves to class?"), I still feel the physical reaction to being uncomfortable in front of other people. I still get hot, I still keep a water bottle handy to soothe my throat, I still feel an elevated heart rate in my chest.

...but I do it anyway because I know it's important to have the skill to speak in front of other people, and the courage to simply speak up when I feel it's important to speak up.

That environment presentation was spurred by what felt like a lack of context given by our teacher, and how he let the boys make those very uninformed arguments about climate change without countering any of it. I felt that by letting our class just continue on, there was going to be a big, gaping hole where, instead, there should be context. We should understand why there is a need for environmentally-friendly building practices, and what sustainability means in the context of our study. Our teacher was not going to fill that hole and, because I saw the need in filling it, I did it myself instead.

Making that presentation was not an easy experience. I was not sure about my role in front of that class, and what others were going to think about me afterwards. I felt hot, clammy. I needed to drink water. I felt my hands shake a little.

But it did it anyway, because I felt it was important that someone did.

And now to have received that gift of a compliment from a classmate who did not have an ulterior motive in saying so, who said that my presentation put our study into context for her and explained why we're doing it, I felt blown away by it. That classmate said that I should really be a teacher instead and I replied that, first, I need to build up my skills before I start teaching other people how to do something. (Which is, obviously, not how our department functions, going by the quality of some of the teaching we are receiving this year, but I'm not going into that hole now.)


A couple of says ago I, actually, ended up doing the same presentation again. In another class we needed to make presentations on any topic - just for the benefit of public speaking practice - and when my partner wasn't willing to talk and no-one else in class was willing to volunteer with 20 minutes still left to go, I asked if I could do that instead. The teacher said yes, and so I did.

Afterwards, they applauded. A man from Fiji came to me, clasped my hands in his and said, "Thank you." He asked that I send some of my Powerpoint files to him because he wants to look more into the information I shared.

Humbled. I feel humbled, but also proud that I did something which did not come easy, and then to have received such a reaction afterwards.

PS. If you'd like to hear a short, interesting interview then "Hottest summer on record wreaks havoc on native wildlife" ( is worth a listen. Is explains how an entire breeding season of little blue penguin chicks got swept away into the ocean, and how kiwis got dehydrated because they couldn't get their beaks into the hard-baked ground. Albatrosses struggled, eels did.


Diversity of wildlife builds a resilience into an ecosystem. Stable weather allows species to thrive. When they thrive, they can sustain bouts of hardship because of that built-up resilience, but at the moment "extreme weather events" are starting to happen with such a frequency that they really are becoming the new norm instead. Loss of biodiversity removes that in-built resilience.

To learn more, please listen to Johan Rockström - planetary boundaries at

1 comment:

  1. Kui maailmas oleks rohkem sinusuguseid inimesi, oleks see palju ilusam paik.

    Mul on nii hea meel, et sa jaksad kõigi oma tegevuste kõrvalt blogida. Ma väga naudin su elust lugemist. Mõjutab mind ka heas suunas :)