Marina Silva: The Transformative Power of Dreams [Transcript in English]

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Marina Silva

Dreams and ideals are the most concrete raw material we use to build the world. Dreams are not meant to trap us inside an illusion, they are forces that drive usto make our own decisions and act. Decisions and actions, without dreams, are usually meaningless. And if are meaningless they cannot be transformative.

Walter Link

Welcome to GlobalLeadership.TV, my name is Walter Link. I’ve always been fascinated by the question of how we move from our many challenges into our full potential as individuals, organizations and whole societies. In this television series, I enquire with some of the most innovative leaders from around the world about how they manage to move from inspiration to real change.

Please join us in this exploration, because we all make a difference and we all can get better at it. Therefore, in our website, we not only show other dialogues and publications but also the kind of practices that these leaders and their organizations use to move from inspiration to real change.


Introduction to Marina Silva

Today I speak with Marina Silva, who, twice already won 20 million votes in Brazil’s last two presidential elections. This makes her one of the world’s most popular politicians standing for real transformation. This year she is running again. She says of herself, she is neither on the left nor on the right but in front, wanting to integrate innovation and sustainability with successful economy and good governance.

Marina was born into a family of poor rubber tappers in the Brazilian forest and was illiterate until the age of sixteen. But empowered by her extraordinary capacity to dream about the future, she learned how to read and write and became a very impactful activist and union leader, senator and government minister.

During her time as Minister of the Environment, Marina engineered an 80% reduction in deforestation because she knew how to get the different ministries and sectors of society, who often are at odds, to collaborate for the common good. While traveling with her through Europe and Brazil, I witnessed what may be a key of this and other successes. After all these years in leadership, she still really listens and learns.

Please join me as I talk with Marina Silva about her vision for Brazil and the transformative power of dreams.


Making the Impossible Possible: Tackling Huge Challenges

Walter Link

Marina, you are a very interesting and rich example of the diversity of knowledge. You quote the bible, psychoanalysts, scientists and you also, sometimes, say that you have a PhD in life knowledge when you grew up in the richness of a living wisdom, of nature and traditional people in the place where you grew up, in the forest.

And you also have very pragmatic knowledge so that you could, for example, as a Minister of the Environment, put in motion the reduction of 80% of deforestation over ten years. So, there is a great integration of different types of knowledge: traditional and natural, pragmatic and intellectual and spiritual. How do you see this integration, how do you experience and live this integration?

Marina Silva

Ideals, dreams, values, and some philosophical and spiritual theories or principles are the wings that make something concrete fly when it is very heavy and difficult to move. When we started to implement the plan aimed at fighting against the deforestation of the Amazon, there were 27,000 km2 of deforested land in 2004. And to reduce such high and dangerous numbers, by the threat that it poses to the forest and to the planet itself, in a time that economic growth was around 5% to 7%, it was not easy to do.

But we were driven by a great number of ideas and people from many sectors of society; therefore, we were able to avoid thinking about this as something impossible to overcome. I knew we could change something that was extremely difficult into a challenge that would drive not only me, but the entire team.

We knew that this was the most urgent and important thing to be done. Even if there were many other important things that needed to be done. If we solved all the other issues and did not slow down the deforestation process, we might as well have done nothing. This became a problem to us. A problem that needed to be solved, because this would move and strengthen solutions to all other problems. Sometimes, when a certain thing is placed in a particular system, it can change the entire system. This idea is what drove us.

So, dreams can be translated into pragmatic actions. Dreams, ideas, and theories give us strength to overcome obstacles, and transcend concrete limitations that are imposed upon us. Otherwise we would all still be just sailing and riding horses. People kept dreaming and making these dreams come to true.

What is most important is not to see life, politics, and science merely as repetitions, but rather as living processes. In a living process, each situation must be analyzed and understood. Then we must deal with it using a corresponding set of actions that fit that living reality which is completely unique in each moment of life, and of history.

The Importance of Dreams to Innovate the World
Walter Link

You often speak of the great importance of dreams. And that dreams are not something impractical, unimportant for reality, but that they are in fact the ground for real innovation, not only on a social scale, but also very personally in your life, that if you would not have dared to dream and to follow your dreams, you would’ve ended up in a very different life.

Tell us a little bit how your personal story evolved and how a jump into new paradigm happened with the help of your dreams.

Marina Silva

Yes, I usually say that dreams and ideals are the most concrete raw material we use to build the world. Most things that exist and happen in the lives of people or social groups come from dreams. If they are good then they lead to good things, if they are bad dreams then they lead to bad things. However, this is all in the realm of ideas.

It was very important for me to have ideals, as simple as they were. When I was a child I wanted to be a nun, I wanted to go to a convent, serve God and do good things for people worldwide. But, whenever I would say that to my grandmother in the middle of the woods she would always tell me that nuns could not be illiterate, that to be a nun I would have to know how to read and write. However, there were no schools where I was born; there was nobody, not even one child who went to school. That could have made me sad and give up; but instead, that created a new dream in me, which was learning how to read and write, so that I could fulfill my greatest dream.

Every time someone tells me I am too much of a dreamer or too much of an idealist, I think about what if I were a pragmatic and realistic person. I would have never done any of the things I have, which provided such great results in my life. There were not many elements in my path that allowed me to be practical or realistic. Up until I was sixteen, I could neither read nor write. My mom passed away when I was fourteen. I helped my father to raise my seven sisters. I got malaria five times and hepatitis three times.

Therefore, how could someone living in those conditions, isolated in a forest, pragmatically say: I will move to the city, I will study, I will graduate from college, then I will become a teacher, I will be a state representative, a senator, a presidential candidate, I will have ten, then twenty billion votes, and I will be the minister of environment.

All of this was undoable, pragmatically speaking. However, I had dreams, and one dream lead to another, thus helping me create and materialize these dreams. Dreams are not meant to trap us inside an illusion, they are forces that drive us to make our own decisions and act. Decisions and actions, without dreams, are usually meaningless. And if are meaningless they cannot be transformative.

Confronting a Crisis of Civilization
Walter Link

Marina, you speak a lot about the crisis of civilization that we are facing, not only in Brazil, but around the world. But you also address that there is an emergence of positive forces and changes that are under way. Please tell us what you see in that regard.

Marina Silva

My perception is that we are living in more than just isolated crises, or compartmentalized crises. We are living a systemic crisis which is comprised of several crises. Maybe the most important ones are the environmental crisis, the socio-economic crisis, the political crisis and the crisis of values. These five crises, in my opinion, are symptoms of a broader collapse, which I call a crisis of civilization, a crisis of the very civilization.

The crisis of civilization has two urgent aspects; the urgent need to intervene and try to reverse the process, and the urgent opportunities that are emerging inside the crisis to change the model that is stagnant, that has collapsed.

Five Crises the Global Community Faces

Walter Link

What are the crises that you see in these five areas?

Marina Silva

I believe that the three most important crises are the environmental crisis, the economic crisis, and the crisis of values because these three dimensions of the crisis feed themselves, and also, the remaining crisis. The crisis of values, in my opinion, is the cornerstone of the problem, because it causes the political crisis. The lack of values made us have a political view separated from ethics. It also made us separate economy from ecology and deliver a discourse contradictory to our actions.

Therefore, these five crises, as I have said earlier, have as their three pillars the political crisis, the environmental crisis and the crisis of values. For example, politics helps us make choices, make decisions, and adopt or not adopt certain measures. Unfortunately, politics is facing a great crisis. As Baumann would say, politics has lost its transformative power. It cannot bring about significant change anymore, because we have won the freedom to do and say whatever we want, but we have not won the freedom to change the system.

It is this stagnant system that has collapsed, and that threatens the progress of civilization. If we do not have a perspective that can change the values that have caused this crisis, it is possible that we cannot overcome it. Because crises of civilization do not arise due to failures, they arise due to successes. The excess of successes is what leads to a crisis of civilization.

Because when we do something that produces some positive results, that rewards us somehow whether emotionally, economically or aesthetically we normally tend to repeat this action, and the continued repetition of something that produces a positive result leads to stagnation. In addition, what produced a positive response ends up producing a negative response in the long run.

This is what a Brazilian psychoanalyst has called ‘The Principle of the Absurd,’ which is when something reaches and then surpasses its limits, it becomes its direct opposite. This explains why it is so hard to solve a crisis of civilization. We do not have experiences to consult, because the civilizations that collapsed before us did not overcome their crises. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, and some pre-Colombian civilizations
did not overcome their crises.

With one difference: their crises did not reach both geographically and demographically the entire world and the entire humanity. The crisis we are living now reaches the entire planet and humanity. We have nowhere to hide. Therefore, we are facing a global emergency, we are standing before the unthinkable, which is the possibility of something that can affect the entire process of life on earth.

Change and a New Paradigm of Civilization

Walter Link

Can you also please comment on the positive developments that you are seeing around the world that are addressing these crises and show the way into a new paradigm of civilization?

Marina Silva

As I have said, these emergencies are inside of the very crisis, because life always searches for life. Additionally, as Hannah Arendt used to say, “Even though they die, men were not born to die, but rather to start over.” Inside every stagnant, dying process, there is a new beginning.

We can observe those new beginnings worldwide, in several different places, in several segments of society, inside governments, inside companies, inside universities, and inside the very society. I believe that the type of change the world needs must be so enormous and have such a broad range, that it will not come through the processes we might think. Change comes from slow, long transformations or from abrupt ruptures.

It is a kind of mutation that biologists call enabling mutation, the process of change in which the very organism changes to protect itself using elements that once threatened it. This is why the very social, cultural, economic, artistic, ethical, and aesthetical fabrics of society are being mobilized to create a new way to be and live in the world.

For example, this process begins in the realm of conscience, in which people start having a great need to do something different from what is being done. “Processes are always intuitive at the beginning,” as the Italian psychoanalyst, Mario Alletti, would say.

Men have learned how to use the power of the wind to sail long before they have learned the laws of the dynamics of the wind. Numerous things that people have started doing were not as well understood as they are now. Several people became interested in producing energy from water, wind biomass, sunray, and alternative sources. These people started out as pioneers, but they foresaw what was already threatening them as organisms. Now, this is starting to become obvious to everyone. These initial ideas are becoming major trends.

Therefore, we can also see trends for sustainable consumption, and people concerned with educating their children, so that they have a new view on what it means to be happy to be prosperous, and to belong. These ideas that are being passed on are increasingly less focused on having things and increasingly more focused on the desire of being; of being less of a consumerist and more of a relationship developer; of being more in contact with nature, with other people, and with ourselves

This will become a new branch of business, in which, instead of offering things to people, we will offer experiences. It will be a new dimension, a new frontier, because we will leave behind these extensive limits, inside which we fight for things, ores and products. This process is important, but it is important only as groundwork.

We will then enter the realm of intensive limits, in which we will keep consuming what is necessary. We will keep searching for economic advantages, but only to consume what is necessary, and to profit in an admirable and respectable way. All our movements must be towards the ideal of being, because the planet is telling us that there are limits to having.

New Activism: Creating Diverse Changes with Shared Ideals

Walter Link

You also speak of a new kind of activism…

Marina Silva

I think that a new political actor is emerging in the world. A subject is someone who acts and interacts with reality and with possibilities of transformation, who has an intention, a knowledge of actions being taken, who has the prerogative of carrying out non-alienated actions. The old political actor, who has brought us here, is mostly a part of the stagnation process in the new model which has become unsustainable.

However, the new political actor is our only chance of overcoming this crisis of civilization, because they are people with very different demands and expectations. For example, most people today do not want to be mere spectators of politics anymore. Most people today do not want compelling leaders that will do everything for them. Most people today do not want rigid structures that will imprison them in certain circumstances. They want more adaptable, more flexible structures, so that they can move around between different opportunities and needs, according to what life presents to them.

This new political actor is also creating a new activism that is no longer driven by political parties, unions, religious leaders, business leaders or even charismatic and compelling leaders. It is an activism which I call authorial activism. It is no longer a guided activism, it is an authorial activism, of which people are not only the authors, but also the mobilizers and protagonists. Winnicot said something important, which was “You must be capable of being alone in the presence of someone available.” It is not that we are disconnected. We are supporting other agents so that they can contribute. In other moments, we will be the agents.

Political leaders and business leaders will also do this, because we have multicentered problem that requires multicentered leaderships. We will have to become increasingly more engaged in some paradoxical movements.

Seeming Paradoxes and Empowering Progress

Walter Link

You work a lot with paradoxes and with putting together words and concepts that are not typically addressed together like democratize democracy or the richness of culture, that are fundamental values to your idea of politics and societal development.

Marina Silva

We will have to use many tools to help us understand and change this incredible world. At the same time, we will have to leave the pure and limited Cartesian realm and walk more on the realm of paradoxes. Let go of materialistic views and learn to engage in a dialogue with mystery. These things may sound incompatible, but they will increasingly expand our view and our actions.

When we use the word democracy, we feel that this word by itself is enough as if it were an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient unity. However, democracy moves. It can move forward or backwards. We must understand that both of those things can be integrated in a systemic view on the meaning of democracy.

When the Greeks created democracy, it was not quite democratic. Democracy did not apply to women, children or slaves. Later, that very democracy helped to end slavery and it is increasingly more inclusive now for women and children who, in turn, make their unique and necessary contributions. In western society, democracy as we know it has been gaining strength since the French revolution. It replaced monarchies, but now it has stagnated and cannot meet the needs of current reality.

We have to democratize democracy. I would say that we are living in a prospective democracy, because democracy could expand in the past. But, it was restricted to those who contributed to improve the quality of democracy. Governments, scholars, business and religious organizations. Unions and non-profit organizations joined that group afterwards.

Today, however, individual citizens have demands and want to improve democracy. Billions of people worldwide are working on democratizing democracy. They are creating new ways to establish democracy, both regarding their vision, and the process of development and creation of that vision, as well as the structures that will be the base for their vision and their processes. Therefore, I would say that we are living at a time of fostering like we have never seen before the democratization of democracy in social, economic, cultural-artistic and spiritual fields. It is an abundance of things regarding people and contributions made by each individual.

The greatest challenge is to know how to use this rich and diverse moment, and not lose it to fragmentation and individualism. It is impossible to build something that is fragmented and automatized, because humans depend on one another. There will be no transformation without a public, collective or communal project. We will face disaggregation, a disaggregative dispersion. We need to change this process into an aggregative dispersion. This is democratizing democracy.

Human Health is Dependent on the Health of Our Planet

Walter Link

Another crucial field of policy making and of politics is the health care of people and sustainability, which is the health care of the natural systems. How can we advance the health of the planet and the health of people and how are they related?

Marina Silva

For a long time, we believed that we could be healthy while we made the planet sick. While we were fighting to eat better, to have more comfort, we did not realize that we were also making the planet sick in many aspects. Today, science is showing us that not only humans, but also other species cannot live a healthy life in a sick planet. Therefore, human beings and all other beings can only have good quality of life if the planet is healthy. We must promote the idea of preventing health issues, instead of treating them.

We have found out that treating health issues is too limited. We have taken this second step; Now we will prevent health issues, but we still need to take a third step. We must promote healthy practices. If we do that, we will need less investments in prevention and treatment. We would only invest in certain situations, because we cannot control all the
variables of a situation, it is impossible. We should take these same steps when dealing with the planet.

We must promote a healthy culture that cares for the planet, for its vital functions, a culture that protects its water, its biodiversity, to protect its glacier, that preserves the fertility of the soil, because that is what is going to support life. The world has these things that support life. This is all comprised in one single thing. Maybe the most wonderful
and unique result from all those things is the existence of life.

Life, I dare to say, is the reason why stones seems to be idle. Life is the reason why plants produce oxygen and carbon dioxide. Maybe, life is why we have a great need for water in our bodies and in the planet’s body. It seems like everything points to life.

Diversity is Essential to Sustainability

Walter Link

In the innovation work that I support around the world, we often say that diversity is one of the most important aspects that helps to increase innovation capacity. What is the role of this richness of diversity and how do we get there considering that it is also difficult to deal with differences.

Marina Silva

Diversity is something we need a great deal of honesty to handle, because we need to recognize that diversity and differences are unsettling for us. It bothers us. It can be unsettling to be in certain situations or near people that are very different from us. However, we are also bothered by an environment that only has people exactly like us. This creates an ambiguity.

However, the difference between being surrounded by people exactly like us and being surrounded by people different from us is that in the later there is the possibility of exchange. Among those who are exactly like us there is no such possibility. Therefore, it is a homogenous environment that makes us stagnate in a sense. Exchange is only possible where differences exist.

Therefore, learning how to live with people who are different from you is the key to live in society, it is the key that unlocks creative and productive processes which are also free. The challenge is finding common ground so that we can feel closer to each other even when we are different. What creates that encounter, what makes it possible, is something that we all have in common. We are all human beings. This binds us all.

Even when we are different, we are still human beings; therefore, we can establish productive, creative and free connections with each other, even if each of us wants to follow our own paths. Without the support of this exchange, it is impossible for me to choose the path I want.

Human Creativity and Civilization Change

Walter Link

So, it seems like you are discovering and describing what many of the change leaders that I’ve been working with and talking with, around the world, are discovering. That we need to go into the depth of our individual and shared humanity, to both discover the creativity and innovation for us, but also to live with difference and turn it into this richness of diversity.

Marina Silva

Yes, because in the depths of our humanity there is everything that supports this very humanity. There is no such thing as a pure humanity. Humanity has other ways of existing comprised in itself. Therefore, there is an enormous universe of creativity inside ourselves.

I usually say that we are a part, a small part of nature that can say what it feels with words. Other parts of nature use other means to communicate what they feel. We are maybe the only part that can use words, and words are difficult to create, because they must translate the nature’s language. Nádia Bossa, a Brazilian educator, has said something that touched me deeply. She said that reality answers in the language in which the question was asked. I really liked that sentence, because it made me realize that reality is multilingual.

Therefore, if we do not become multilingual too, we will have a very limited
dialogue with reality and a poor understanding of the answers it gives us. I believe that artists, spiritual people, designers, can have a much wider conversation with reality, and can decipher its language with greater ease. This is why they are more creative and can predict things that we will experience and experiment in practice later on.

In this field, creativity is also a collective process, and not purely individual process. Inside of me is, a good amount of what has already been created and will be created. Therefore, I can either reinterpret experiences from the past or plan things for the future.

We think too much about ignoring the past and seizing the future. The present becomes just a pretext to move from the past to the future. Sometimes we go through this process only to reinterpret or repeat the past. We can either repress the past or make it emerge. We can either deny or accept the past. However, we do all of this in the present, but the past that emerges in the present is different. It emerges in another way.


The Role of Youth Propelling Change

Walter Link

When you recently spoke at Chatham House Global Climate Conference, one of the most important information I thought we heard was that, in a global research, young people that are twenty years old have a greater agreement on fundamental values than they have with their respective parents. And these values are very much oriented towards this new civilization, towards more social and environmental sustainability, towards more values.

Marina Silva

The youth always drive great changes. Normally, adults and the elderly have an important role in spaces of stabilization. When we are hit by a crisis, the youth drive change, because they are not committed to what took a great deal of work to build, they are not aware of that, and are not attached to those things. Therefore, great changes are propelled by the strength of the youth.

This may occur in small periods of temporary changes, and it may occur in large-scale, just as what we are living today, a global-scale. The youth are those who feel the greatest threat in their bodies, and in their very thoughts and feelings, even if they cannot put it into words. They are no longer relating to the stagnant way, because they see that it will provide them no future. Therefore, they act and create thinking communities amongst themselves.

It is a smart way of making great changes, because they are no longer guided by those who are associated with the stagnation forces, but rather by experienced people, professors, businessman, politicians who also stopped relating to this stagnation and became mentors to these youth, and to people that support them. However, the youth are the ones who have the vison of change.

Normally, we think the most experienced people have the vision, and the youth have the dreams. However, during great change, the youth have vison, and the elderly have only dreams. It is an inversion of things. I really like an excerpt from the bible which states that there will come a time when the elderly will dream, and the youth will have vision. I believe that time has come.

It is not a matter of disrespect, it is a matter of performing their historic role. This is not denying something to the most experienced, it is an offer made by the youth. Because, if they have vision, then they can better develop processes and create new structures, which is what creates a new cycle of prosperity.

Walter Link

On our website, you will find additional footage, other dialogues with innovation leaders from around the world and also the hands-on practices that help them and their organizations to move from inspiration to real change.