For those of you who followed our 2020 events , you will have noticed Irina Feygina, who, through our GEN In Conversation event Communicating in Times of Polarity last November, explored the psychology behind polarisation and the deep identity processes that lead us to take strong positions and defend them vehemently, alongside co-facilitator Sandhya Dave. Irina comes from a mixed Jewish and Armenian family that has faced a great deal of struggle and mistreatment, which has inspired Irina’s commitment to social justice and integrity, and her work to address climate change and transform systems. We recently captured Irina’s thoughts on her GEN experience, which began when she attended the Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA) in 2018. Read about her journey here.
Tell us about your GESA experience
I really wanted to be connected to the international community that the Global Environments Network fosters. GESA draws together a unique and diverse blend of participants, and I was excited to learn from everyone and get to know each other. I also knew that GESA puts emphasis on Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI), and was keen to learn and explore it in an environmental context, in hopes to incorporate into my work as a consultant for environmental organizations. Also, since much of my work focuses on climate change, I wanted to learn more about conservation, biodiversity, and local food practices and movements. I wanted to explore connections between behavioral science and conservation, in the way that I bring behavioral science in climate change and sustainability work. When I attended GESA 2018, I was in the process of training as a facilitator and was excited about the opportunity to share those practices and offer a workshop for GESA participants.
GESA beautifully wove together threads of science, action, and spirit. For a long time, I’ve struggled to integrate dispersed pieces of my life that spanned a rigorous training in science, a personal journey of healing and spiritual connection, and a desire to bring my skills and capacity to serve in the world. I attended GESA at a critical turning point in my life, as I was transitioning from a more research-oriented approach to climate issues to one that focuses on personal, community, and organizational processes, and offers support and facilitation amidst conflict and change. And while I know that all the pieces not only go together, but their interconnection is imperative to acknowledge and support, it’s been a struggle for me to trust that intuition. Seeing my vision echoed in GESA’s approach to learning and to the challenging issues we addressed was validating, inspiring, and encouraging.
If you could share one story about what drives your work in conflict, what would it be?
I had just started at elementary school in Moscow, Russia and I was six years old. During a lunch break, a third grade student jumped up on a bench and proclaimed: “Today, America is going to throw a nuclear bomb on us!” and ran off. I didn’t know about nuclear bombs, and did not as yet have a coherent concept of nations nor America, but I was terrified into awareness of my mortality and the complexity of the world. This moment has been etched in my memory since. My way of dealing with it at the time was to decide that ‘if I survive this day, I will be grateful for every day that I am alive, and will dedicate myself to alleviating the kind of situation that was unfolding around me, and the fear, resentment, and polarization it creates’. Several years later the forces of history swept my mother and I up into the Jewish refugee wave from the Soviet Union and landed us, ironically, in the United States. I hadn’t thought of that childhood incident for a long time, but when I was reflecting on my path recently I realized how much that early event shaped me.
Your early experience in the Soviet Union and as a refugee to the United States has obviously played a pivotal role in shaping who you are today. We thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with the GEN Community. As you know, one of our core pillars lies in peer mentoring and we encourage members to step into facilitation roles. We would love it if you could share your key reflections as speaker and facilitator of GEN events in the hopes to inspire our GEN members to do the same.
It was great to see interest in learning about communication and facilitating tensions and conflict. When I did my short facilitation workshop toward the end of GESA I was so inspired by how much energy participants had for engaging in the exercises, how much they discovered and enjoyed the work, and held space for each other’s processes. Moving to an online environment, it was great to see that same energy and interest from participants. It was exciting to observe how these insights and learning resonate for people, and how much the skills of working with our polarities and challenges are needed and welcome. It also posed challenges of creating a safe space while coming together for a very brief time remotely, and being able to offer as much valuable material as possible within the time constraints, in the most engaging and personal way. A very important learning for this time when we are dependent on virtual environments for interaction.
I would like to suggest that GEN runs more online workshops and learning sessions that offer more time for in-depth learning in the many areas that pertain to conflict work, including understanding rank and power and developing one’s inner and outer leadership, and the many skills for successful communication and facilitation. In my work with organizations and clients, I tailor my trainings to their needs, first spending a considerable amount of time getting to know their strengths and challenges, and understanding what is most alive in the moment and needs to be addressed. We could bring that approach to developing workshops and programs – identifying what the community needs most at this time and exploring ways to offer that. And whenever GESA gets going again – I would be more than excited to contribute to it in whatever way I can.