After serving for two years as a Director for the National Speleological Society, I got inspired to share some thoughts on what makes me super optimistic about the state of caving in America and globally. I wrote this with haste on the plane ride back from the Board of Governors meeting in March 2020.
Some unfiltered thoughts.
I was reborn the day I entered Bone-Norman cave. Cavers are born, not made. I had to wait until 26 to discover that caves are the one place that I feel truly safe. I stuck with caving because caves and cavers provided a window of joy during a dark time in my life. I kept saying to a new caver yesterday, “when you know you know”. When you know you know.
Why wasn’t the society able to locate me sooner?
When I chose to ask the membership to elect me to serve, I made this request because I believe there are hundreds of thousands cavers out there, but if they never step foot in a cave they will never realize this is what they were meant to do. Cavers know that caving is not something you choose to do, caving is something you need to do.
We have this enormous opportunity to rescue lost cavers. We also need to recognize that lost cavers may not look like us on the outside. They certainly look like us on the inside. One of our best shots is organizing together through the grottoes and the society. If we can seek understanding of where to find these lost cavers, we can meet them where they are. If we can make our content clear, they will understand why they would join us. If we can make our delivery memorable, they will understand why it makes sense to stay.
This is how we grow.
As a coalition of federated grottoes, our collective voice can stand for something greater within our country and globally.
Building a collective voice to communicate on the federal level and state level is the way we show caves that we are there for them when they need us. Being vocal about cave conservation and at times buying caves are concrete ways to ensure that caves will continue to be there for us when we need them.
If we don’t fight for caves today, who will?
Our founders designed our By Laws to ensure that the leaders in our society are always chosen democratically by members. To elect cavers that lead with purpose, we need caver participation, to keep your elected officials accountable. When your leaders are doing a good job, support and appreciate them. When your leaders are doing a bad job, provide constructive criticism. When your leaders do not make you feel heard, replace them by voting them out.
We need to elect leaders in the society that are purpose-driven, and prevent ego driven or power driven individuals to rise to the top. We do that by lifting up cavers that we believe exhibit upstanding behavior, get things done, and make individuals feel heard. In parallel, we need to squash cavers that like politics for the sake of politics, cavers who speak confidently with no follow-through, and cavers who value money and power over the voice of the people.
We ensure we elect purpose-driven leaders by familiarizing ourselves on who the candidates are and making educated votes. We do that by staying involved in what the society is accomplishing and asking our officials for more transparency when the information you are seeking is not accessible.
First, being a caver is about going caving. Second, it is about sharing our love for caves far and wide, inviting outsiders in. Third, as we grow in numbers caving is about keeping our community kind. If we stop caving, if we block outsiders from understanding our love for caves, if we tolerate unkind behavior in the group caving will stop being fun.
We cave because caving is fun. Caving stays fun when we work together to keep it fun.
To keep caving fun, we need the participation of all cavers.
Through the last two years of participating in the governance of the National Speleological Society, it is clear to me we need to be better. I need to be better. We need individual member support to make this society better. We needed to be better yesterday. We are here now, so let’s pave a path toward being better now.
As we head into our 80th year, let us appreciate the dedication of all the cavers that came before us. Our community is strong because our ancestors did their best to achieve what they could with what they had where they were. Now it is our turn to do what we can with what we have where we are. To preserve the resource that is caves and the community, today I am requesting your participation. Contribute to the society in whatever way is meaningful to you. Do not tolerate mediocrity in our community.
For many of us the caving community is our home away from home. Our society is the sum of its members. If we do not work together today to speak for the caves, we will bear the cost. Our children will bear the cost. Caves are not created overnight. They are generated drip by drip over many many many years.
If we don’t step up now and speak for the caves, caves won’t be there for us when we need them most.
We are the people we have been waiting for.