Inner Sense, a private company from the Netherlands that offers leadership training, has become Earth Charter International’s newest affiliate. ECI Staff Member Douglas F. Williamson interviewed Inner Sense’s Director and Founder, Brigitte van Baren, about her work and her connection to the Earth Charter on June 10th, 2014.
DFW: First of all, Earth Charter International wants to welcome you to the inner circle of the Earth Charter Initiative as the newest Earth Charter International Affiliate and thank you as well for participating in this very meaningful way in the Earth Charter Initiative. It is a privilege to work with people like you who are experienced, have a great perspective, a big heart, and the willingness to take on some responsibilities for making the world a better place. Let me get right into the interview and ask you, could you tell me a bit about who you are and what you do with your organization?
BVB: I’m the Director of Inner Sense and also the founder. I founded it in 1992 with the intention to bring spirituality into management. That was quite new at the time. I started trainings with Shell and trained a lot of managers to cope with changes in that company, and I did spiritual reflection with them. It was very new but, nevertheless, reflection was accepted as part of the training and the participants also experienced the added value. And that gave me the courage to continue to develop trainings. In 2005, I started to bring spirituality more to the front, although it had always been in the background. I wrote several books about leadership and the importance of spiritual reflection on work. I developed methods for analyzing team potential and this is still very successful and also includes training on the job. Now, I’m expanding the training and seeing how I can adapt it more to the Earth Charter.
DFW: That sounds very powerful. I’d like to ask you how you found out about the Earth Charter and what does it mean to you?
BVB: I found out about the Earth Charter through my interview with Ruud Lubbers in 2008. I was very interested in knowing what the Earth Charter was about because I first understood it to be about sustainability and environment, but the interview with Ruud Lubbers revealed to me that it’s much broader, it’s a much broader perspective. So, that’s where my interest began.
DFW: So, after finding out about the Earth Charter and its broad perspective, how did that make you feel? How did that affect you?
BVB: For me it’s connected with my passion for the values of St. Francis. What I see is that the values that were central in his life are formulated within the Earth Charter, so it was a discovery and it has very much to do with my mission in life. So, it’s not because I find it interesting, it’s much more. The aspects that are in the Earth Charter relate to the essence of life for me. Everyone should embrace the principles of the Earth Charter, especially because of the spiritual dimension in it.
DFW: So, it seems to me that the Earth Charter to you was a confirmation of the universality of values that you had already embraced. That’s wonderful that you discovered that resonance within another articulated vision.
BVB: Yes, that’s correct.
DFW: Ok, so to follow on that question, would you talk a bit about what you find so appealing about Franciscan values and also tell me a little about your book?
BVB: First of all, it’s the connection with nature. I feel that nature is a mirror of who we are, our essence, and we have lost that. We are natural beings. I don’t know what the correct word is in English, but in German, they would say “enterdet” – disconnected from the Earth. I think it’s most important and essential if we want to continue to live on this planet that we reconnect ourselves with the Earth, because without the Earth we will not be here anymore. This is the first value that St. Francis brought, respect for nature and for all the elements of nature. The second thing is embracing simplicity. I believe we have to return simplicity to our lives. It doesn’t mean we have to embrace poverty, but to focus on less instead of more. That was the second important value of St. Francis. And the third one was his compassion towards his brothers and also towards the poor and the sick. I think it’s important that we don’t see ourselves as separate from one another. That what we do to others we do to ourselves. So, to reconnect with each other and feel and experience that we are one community. To see that if someone is not doing well, we have to take care of them. Those are the most essential values of St. Francis that are connected with the Earth Charter.
DFW: Absolutely. You’ve touched on three vital aspects of the Earth Charter in what you just said. The Earth Charter articulates very clearly in the Preamble that “Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life.” That embeds us in a natural setting. The first two pillars of the Earth Charter really speak to respect and care for the community of life and ecological integrity and to that aspect of being connected to and responsible for our natural environment. The second value you mentioned about less is more, or that we have too much and we need to live more simply, that is very related to the third pillar on social and economic justice and to another statement in the Preamble “We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more.” As well, Earth Charter principle 7 f. states “Adopt lifestyles that emphasize the quality of life and material sufficiency in a finite world.” And the third thing you mentioned relates directly to the universal responsibility. That we have a responsibility to care for other people, and future generations, and other species. Those are very core principles of the Earth Charter and those are echoed in the Franciscan values you spoke of. So, I want to return to what you were speaking about in response to the first question about Inner Sense. You mentioned that you were going to integrate the Earth Charter more into your training, so, I’d like to ask you about that work. Would you tell me how you see the Earth Charter impacting your training?
BVB: I see the Earth Charter as a part of my mission in life so I can’t ignore that within my training. I developed a format for an “EarthMind” Leadership program. For me, mind is not the brain, it’s the “heartmind”, the combination of your heart and your thinking capabilities. So, with “EarthMind”, I mean the Earth “heartmind”, you have to feel it. It’s important in the training that you don’t stay mental or conceptual, but that within the interactive process you also have time for reflection. That’s why it’s divided into three parts and in between the parts the participants make commitments to change things within their own lives. And to also bring the Earth Charter in the form of a dilemma because dilemmas don’t sound positive but in fact they are. They represent conflict, but also contain energy and this energy allows an opening and raises the challenge to make changes and ask yourself questions about the dilemma. Also, it allows for seeing where it develops, not looking to control the situation and find an immediate solution, but asking yourself questions and holding the energy of the dilemma. This allows for an opening. This comes from my Zen background, because Zen is focused on dilemmas and life is full of dilemmas. So, to transform a dilemma to something positive, is a challenge. And this motivates the participants to take action.
DFW: Could I go back and ask you to describe more explicitly how you’ll integrate the Earth Charter into your work?
BVB: It’s not the Earth Charter as a whole, because it’s too complete a document, but I will take parts of it to the EarthMind training and in my lectures both in the Netherlands and abroad. I always refer to the Earth Charter. I also make a note of the Earth Charter in my publications and my books. For example, in the book that I just published. I also want to make the spiritual aspect of the Earth Charter more explicit and give it wings!
DFW: I have only one more question. As part of our affiliation agreement, you have agreed to support Earth Charter International and specifically, we will be using your financial support to provide scholarships so students can come and take our courses. I wanted to ask, why do you feel that that is something you wanted to participate in and contribute to?
BVB: I think that’s one of the principles of the Earth Charter. If it is in my power to help young people to learn more about the Earth Charter and this is one possibility, why shouldn’t I do it? So, if it is in my power then I see it as, not as a duty, it’s not a rational argument, I feel that I have to do it.
DFW: That’s great. Thanks so much for this excellent interview and for being a part of the Earth Charter Initiative.
Learn more about Inner Sense here.