At The Confluence: A Conversation With Barbara Jefferson

I met Barbara Jefferson at a Bioneers conference where she shared a story of transforming grief and pain for the world to empowerment and action through the Work that Reconnects. Barbara continues to embody this transformation through work as a facilitator of the Work that Reconnects and Generation Waking Up, as well as other leadership and diversity trainings.   To learn more about her work, visit

 How are you contributing to the Great Turning?

I work as a facilitator for the Work that Reconnects. One of the roles I play now is helping people see that they are a part of a story and that it’s their choice what story they’re a part and what story they continue to help write with their life. And, I do my best to usher them into choosing the story of the Great Turning. That happens at different levels, such as working with high school or middle school students, teaching them permaculture or urban agriculture. (That helps) them understand the story around the food system and (…) the skills to actually write a different story. Or, with the Work that Reconnects, helping people get to their own story but also helping them see the greater story that is not being told. In some ways, I think I’m part of the story telling, and also the invitation to tell the story with their life.

What led you to this work?

I was in bed for maybe two months after the greatest heartbreak I had experienced in my life, and one day I was like, ‘okay, I’ve had enough. I’m going to do something good for my body today.’ So I decided to go to a yoga class. And, outside of this studio, I saw a flyer for the Generation Waking up training in Seattle, WA, which is where I was at the time. A few of the words in the flyer popped out: sustainability, leadership, social justice, young folks. It wasn’t something that I had been explicitly passionate about, but all of those things excited me, so I showed up. I strongly resonated both with the message and with the actual method and started volunteering as a facilitator. I quickly moved to being a trainer and then I moved down here (to Oakland) and joined the staff full time.

And, from working with Generation Waking up, how did you end up facilitating the Work that Reconnects?

 I have always carried around a ton of despair. Sometimes I say that I was depressed, but it wasn’t so much that I was depressed, it was that I was suppressed. And, all of this sadness that I was carrying as a young person, I couldn’t make sense of it. When I tried to I was told that something was wrong with me. So, when I came to the Work that Reconnects I thought I was just really sensitive. And, I had already started to get really engaged and active about sustainability and starting to teach young people about urban agriculture but I still hadn’t had a space yet for the despair that I was carrying around. Then, (in coming to the Work that Reconnects), I watched myself crumble month after month. I was given permission to completely fall apart. Then, on the other side of the crumbling, was increased clarity and power and determination and focus. I felt sharper and lighter. I felt like mesh. I had firmness, but anything could pass through.

Your message seems to be at the intersection of social justice and environmental issues, which are often viewed as two separate issues. How are the two connected?

I think one of the fundamental problems in this society is that we separate human from animal from nature.  Though we may classify certain things as social issues, or environmental issues, they’re not separate. I think that the environmental justice movement does a beautiful job of displaying that because it’s highlighting how what’s happening with the environment is affecting people and it affects specific people more than others.

This system that we are in is held up by exploitation of resources. That includes people. The destruction to the environment and the harm to the people are one in the same: it is simply the externalization of the cost of whatever it is that is being created. And, I think that the environmental movement has perpetuated the idea that there’s a separation, even though I know that is not the intention. There are seemingly separate things that are really separate aspects of the same problem. When we really look closely and start to dig deeper and look at the foundation of the society that were in, we’re just focusing on different aspects of the same beast. And it’s the same beast that sustains and grows on the harm and exploitation and destruction of life.

If social change isn’t intersectional, then it’s not really social change. The environmental and social and spiritual are three different things but really the environmental is the social is the spiritual. There are so many cultures for whom that is their world view, that connection, home and spirit and self is all in one. The system that we’re in is one that separates in order to dominate. (Because of that) our work (of) the Great Turning, absolutely has to be intersectional. It has to be a multicultural, ecological, shift that doesn’t appropriate but really honors.

You attain a greater level of unity when you go through difference, not through sameness. When you go through sameness, it looses it’s energy, it gets boring after a while. But, when you disagree with someone and start getting into an argument, you feel all that energy right there. You never feel that energy if you completely agree! And there is such a fear of going through the difference and really acknowledging it. But, there is a great love when you can love difference, when you can love through the difference. So, the Great Turning has to be intersection and it has to go through difference.

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