One of my favorite quotes, a mantra I often repeat to myself, my children, my friends, comes from the Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi, who once told his students: “You are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.” I found myself going back to that guiding piece of life wisdom when I sat down to write about how Elevation Outdoors, and I as a person, could do a better job of integrating more diversity into our pages in an authentic way, a better job making this magazine feel like a forum that accepts and encourages many different viewpoints and people who the outdoor industry and outdoor publications have ignored in the past. The lesson I kept going back to? I have to stop and listen. We have done an outstanding job being a diverse and accepting publication and company, but we could still use a little improvement.
This reality hit me hard recently when I was touting just how outstanding this magazine and this company has been when it comes to creating gender balance. Women run our company, they write our stories, they edit our prose, they grace our pages right alongside and often above men. This is something to be proud of, but it’s also simply the way it should be. When I pointed that out in a public forum I was met with congratulations but also with a voice that pointed out something obvious and disappointing. “These are all white women. White women do not speak for all women.”
My first reaction was defensive: I ran down all that we do to try to promote diversity in these pages, in our company and in the industry at large. I am proud of that record and I feel that we are leading the way as best we can. We consider and discuss how we can be more diverse and inclusive with every story we plan and poll we publish. Inside I was frustrated: I have taken pepper spray in the face protesting for social justice and environmental activism, have dedicated my life to what I feel are just and inclusive causes. Then I got apologetic. I know that we can still do better. A lot of the problems with diversity and the outdoors stem from far beyond these pages. We can only cover what the industry is, and we don’t want to overcompensate and be guilty of a type of fake tokenism by pushing diversity too hard. But we have to do something.
Later, it occurred to me, that even though I did a very nice job of defending what we do, I did not really listen. To really understand how to make the outdoors a better, more inclusive place, I have to let go of my own ego and try to see and hear beyond my own experiences. Despite all of our noble efforts, I looked at the covers and pages of back issues of EO (and even this issue with so much focus on reimagining that outdoors as more inclusive). Yes we have done well, but we can—we need to—do better.
As someone who has worked in the outdoor industry for almost two decades, I have heard a lot of circular talk about growing diversity in the outdoors. Things finally feel different. I credit that change to people who are willing to speak up and out. I hope that we can do something to actually be leaders. I hope we all can try to be better listeners.