Indigenous people took care of their land with fire. People from Alaska to Hawaii and all over the world used fire to manage the land and add nutrients back into the soil. Whether clearing a patch of ground for their herds or using it to reinvigorate land for farming, these fires were ways to create and add to the space. Fire was used for growth, not to destroy.
These traditions of burning the land to heal it were left behind. I imagine it was somewhat fueled by fear. In Europe, fire often led to entire communities burning down. Several European cities experienced devastating fires in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and some burned repeatedly. The fear was reasonable. However, abandoning many of these techniques led to erosion. It created land that couldn’t thrive as farm land anymore. Hundreds of years later, environmentalists are still trying to undo the damage of not using fire to maintain the fertility of land.
Our communities today are trying to undo the damage of adopting ways of work that are hundreds of years old, too. During the pandemic when all of us were wondering what might happen next, we had a chance to dismantle all the things about work that weren’t helping us thrive. People proved that collaboration could happen remotely. That we were happier when we didn’t need to do that 2 hour commute. That hiring workforces of people with more diverse backgrounds would produce better results. These fires of change were fueled by new beliefs that added more nutrients to the world of work. New beliefs we only considered because everything changed. Why not change work, too?
As time passes, it appears that a fear of fire has returned. Instead of doing the uncomfortable thing of adapting to how the world has changed, folks are turning back time. It’s so damn disappointing to watch the erosion of this beautiful progress. Whether it’s returning to office or the disappointing DEI layoffs, I can’t believe we’re returning to the rules that never served us. We all knew our beliefs about work were killing us. Why wouldn’t we lean into the change?
Maybe people are too invested in the way work is. It’s easy to lose motivation when the headlines aren’t putting pressure on organizations to do something, I guess. Too much money on real estate and whatever else makes you think a return to work policy is necessary. But underneath that surface level excuse is the fact that most people are scared to challenge our culture around work. There are harsh consequences. We’ve seen people labeled as troublemakers. Or worse – get fired.
But I was reminded this week at the SHRM Inclusion conference that there are willing people out here. People who will challenge beliefs. People willing to start fires inside of minds that add richness into this world so that other people might thrive. People that add the nutrition we need to not just be more successful organizations, but to be a more successful society.
These small fires, the ones we can light inside of our own organizations and lives, can help us heal. It’s easy to think that one person might not change the world, but if we open the door for one more person? We changed the world for at least two.
That impact? I think it’s worth making a little fire.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.