My Experience: Jacob Alder and the Young Leaders Award Retreat


Changing the World: Wonder, Conviction, and Community

My experience at Walking Softer’s Inaugural Young Leader retreat provided me with much-needed respite. I am often overwhelmed by the insurmountable devastation that climate change, biodiversity loss, and rampant global inequality pose to each of us fellow travelers on our worldly home––Turtle Island, Spaceship Earth. Yet, for two grateful days at Riverbend Ranch, I found peace and gratitude in the sage, pine, aspen, birdsong, and flowing Weber. Each of the participants at the retreat filled me with wonder. I experienced a deeper conviction for the shared capacity we have to foster genuine community and challenge disastrous economic paradigms. I left feeling that we can––indeed, each of the participants is striving to––pave a brighter future. By pave, I don’t suppose I mean to cover the way with bricks or asphalt. I mean: “to unpave the way to a brighter future. To walk softly on our first mother, together.”

In this post, I cover three topics: the importance of filling our hearts with wonder, the timeliness of regenerating our economic system, and the significance of finding community. Thank you for joining me as I delve into these themes.

1. Filling Our Hearts with Wonder and Conviction

Before inviting each participant to enter the ceremonial circle, elders Grandmother Lané Sáan Moonwalker and Auntie Anita Sanchez, asked each person to let go of our past (exhale and shake the breath off to the left) and our future (exhale and shake the breath off to the right) so we could inhale the present and exist in the sacredness of the moment. They instructed that we must fill our hearts before proceeding.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale again and hold the peace of the moment.

In the stillness of the ceremonial circle, Grandmother surprised me when she called out the arrogance of the Young Leaders and mentors alike who intend to change the world. In order to change the world, we must start by cultivating a sense of wonder and conviction within ourselves. Wonder allows us to see the world with fresh eyes and to imagine new possibilities. We may be arrogant to intend to change the world, but our arrogance ignites our curiosities and motivates us to seek answers to the complex problems we face. We must cultivate this arrogance with humble conviction.

The conviction that we can change the world provides us with an unwavering belief in our ability to effect change. Yet it is a humble conviction that recognizes our interconnectedness with all living beings and our total dependence on the nonhuman world. We humans are the younger siblings here on Turtle Island, and we have much to learn. Though naive in many ways, we also have much to contribute. As we exercise our humble conviction to contribute in meaningful ways, we will act with sincere respect towards our first mother—Mother Earth. Humble conviction fuels our determination to walk softly and gives us the strength to persevere through obstacles. We must approach the world––each other, human and nonhuman––with humble conviction.

2. Rethinking Our Economic Paradigms

To bring about real change, we must regenerate our relationship with the earth. Now is the time. To many, if not most of us in the Western world, this means challenging the economic paradigms deep in our minds. “Never enough!” bellows the machine. This insufficiency propels us to continue driving our hyper consumptive economy. Yet, decades upon centuries of inequality and exploitation cause us to reconsider our relationship with sufficiency. “We must believe in Enoughness,” one Young Leader told me.

Capitalism's relentless pursuit of growth causes the depletion of natural resources. It exacerbates social, racial, and wealth inequalities. Ultimately, it disregards the well-being of individuals, human and non-human. We must shift our focus from endless accumulation to the pursuit of a just and equitable society.

The poet Taj James remarked, "Let capital flow like water." This suggests a more fluid and conscious approach to our economic mindsets. By budgeting for what we truly need and releasing the excess, “capital stewards” can direct resources to “community stewards” who best understand who needs relief. In my native homeland of the West, I am watching, weeping with my family and friends as the literal water dries up behind dams that are ceasing to function. Many have claimed this breakdown is a fault in the system, a function of poor design. Yet, with my eyes opened, I understand that the capitalistic weight of exploitation is functioning exactly as designed; each “consumer” takes more than her fair share year after year. Though not as poetic as Mr. James, I echo his sentiment and say, “Now is the time to release the dams, let the water and the capital flow like the resources they truly are to the people who need them. We must treat everything as sacred, water and capital alike, and therefore take only what we need.”

3. Finding Community and Carrying It Forward

The connectedness we forged as humble, convicted travelers during a two-day retreat has left––and I hope will continue to leave––a lasting impression on my life and work here on earth. Amidst the challenges I face, and each of us faces, I am inspired by the genuine community we formed in a few days as we focused on inner strength, support, and conviction.

We came together united by a shared purpose to regenerate our world. I believe each of us left with a deeper conviction to support one another and to mindfully foster equity in the communities in which we live and work. This inspires me to use the transformative power of empathy and collaboration with all of my colleagues who did not have the privilege to attend the Young Leader retreat. I want to use the groundedness I felt with each of my friends (old and new) at Riverbend Ranch to collectively build a more compassionate, empathetic world.


I hope this brief post reminds you, whether you attended the retreat or not, to appreciate wonder, humble conviction, and community. By filling our hearts with wonder and conviction we can challenge the destructive economic paradigms that impair our relationships with our first mother, Mother Earth, and with one another. By doing so, we can nurture an empathetic, grounded community. Let us strive to “walk upon her with gentleness, gentleness,” and “walk in his light with humility, humility” to reimagine our relationship with sufficiency. I have a humble conviction that if we “let our hearts beat as one with the All,” we can unpave the way to a brighter future by walking softly on our first mother together.

About the author: Jacob Alder recently graduated with a Master’s in Public Affairs from Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He uses public finance to address issues of environmental and energy injustices, with the goal of improving the distributional equity of our society’s interwoven climate and economic systems. Jacob is currently the Lab Manager for the Energy Justice Lab and an Environmental Justice Fellow; in October, he will join Deloitte as a climate strategy consultant in Washington, D.C. Prior to graduate school, Jacob worked as a consultant on energy access and affordability through consumer advocacy for low-income customers in New Jersey, Washington, and New York. Jacob is proud to claim Salt Lake City, Utah as his hometown. He loves family, faith, cycling, skiing, cold-water swimming, and fermented foods. He is grateful to Walking Softer and the outstanding Young Leader cohort for their leadership and is pleased to join this Utah retreat, close to home, to make new friends and learn together.


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