My teacher at the ski-hiking course didn’t stop repeating it to avoid us triggering a fatal avalanche. “If the snow conditions are worse than expected, or if the weather changes, giving up to reach the top can be the beginning of a wonderful journey as you will inevitably discover a new route and new viewpoints.”
When the planned departure day for my sabbicycle was approaching, the temperatures started to plunge. The day was forecasted to be the coldest of the year (-14 to -8 °C; 7 to 17 °F) with strong wind from the north. Giving up long prepared plans is, however, psychologically very difficult. Will they seem me as a looser? Will they laugh at me? It took me several days to decide that it could be dangerous to sit on the bike six hours in that conditions. I decided to give up and put the bike on a train for the first segment of the route down to Graz where Renate Ortlieb will be so kind to host me.
At first, I was down. I had conceived the sabbicycle as a strong sign of determination. To show that as business and management academics we are responsible and aware of the impending avalanche of climate change and that we care and walk the talk. The bicycle as a metaphor for a transformative change in our disciplines and in our societies, such as stated in the vision of RRBM (Responsible Research in Business and Management). Marginal adjustments are not enough. The adjustment is so radical, metaphorically, as the difference between flying and cycling.
But then I remembered the words of my ski-hiking course teacher. First, as soon as I announced that I would postpone the departure, I received so many messages from family, friends and colleagues being preoccupied and now relieved. Feeling such wave of concern and love is surely beautiful.
Second, and less personally, I realized that departing under such heavy conditions would undermine the message that the sabbicycle is meant to give. Determination, yes! Extremeness, no! The sabbicycle also contains the idea of a slow approach to academics, where, like in the Slow Food movement, pleasure should have central stage. Engaging in responsible academic work and lives should not be seen as extreme. Giving up carbon-intensive ways of life does not mean going back to live like cavemen and cavewomen. Slowing down is living up, as more time is left for what is really important, i.e. personal connections.
Third, giving up also reminded me of another central tenet of our times. Transforming our societies, economies and organizations in a way to save our democratic way of life from climate disruption means giving up on many things that we now consider natural, normal and even necessary. There will be some mourning over the daily Schnitzel, or the carefree jumping on a plane for leisure and work. Burian, the Italian name of this chilly wind, wanted me to remember: It’s all about how we give up, stupid! Giving up while discovering new values.
Last year, on the first self-organized ski-hiking tour with my friend Georg Zeller I decided to give up 100 meters below the top. I waited for him at the pass, in the sun, enjoying my lunch and a beautiful view on the Austrian Alps. A week later two people died there under an avalanche (weather conditions were different and much more dangerous).
Now, is up to us to avoid the avalanche of climate disruption.