On October 13th- as rain began to drizzle over the Banyan trees outside the Women’s Club of Coconut Grove- Bridges Unite, in partnership with FOX Media, had its first social impact event, Beyond the Self: Women of Nat Geo Changing the World.
Inside the venue, the amber-yellow flowers and wide, green leaves decorating the halls set the scene for an unforgettable night. Maggie Steber, Maria Fadiman, and Jennifer Adler, three Nat Geo explorers, shared stories of perseverance, womanhood, art, science, and the undeniable connection between humans and the natural world.
One could almost see the questions forming above people’s heads as our three speakers walked on stage. There was that familiar look of wonder and admiration, with a new sense of adventure, often seen at our panels. Beyond the Self, and the three women who so graciously shared their stories with us, brought to our attention something, not new, but essential in understanding why Bridges Unite exists. Like Maria, Maggie and Jennifer’s work, our work goes beyond us, beyond the fact that we are women, even. It extends to something more human, more essential, and maybe even genderless. That something is curiosity.
We’ve all experienced it. That infamous, burning itch to know. When conservation photographer Jennifer Adler talked about her experience underwater, we all felt it. “90% of people [in Florida] get their water from the aquifer, but don’t ever see it,” she told the audience that night, “I’ll take pictures of our springs and aquifers to communicate the science that is happening in these ecosystems, so that people can connect emotionally.”
Curiosity is the source of empathy; the more we ask about, and experience, other people’s realities, the more willing we are to accept them and embrace them. As an ethnobotanist, Maria Fadiman’s work, is about allowing people to reconnect with their own natural world, and bring stories about these spaces and their people back home, so that those that are far can care. “So that people can feel what someone’s reality is, even if they don’t meet that person,” she said.
By asking questions and surrounding ourselves with people who do the same, we can get closer to the truths that truly define us. “When I photograph people, what I try to do is show you a different image, a different picture of what you see in the main newspaper…” documentary photographer Maggie Steber said. What we usually see represented in newspapers are images that then begin to define people, she continued, when it reality “that's just a small portion of what happens to them.”
It’s important for people to feel like they have a space where they can share and question ideas. Where they can be “vulnerable” and wonder why or how. Whether it’s the connection we have with nature or the one we have with each other, what matters are the conversations we’ve helped kick start after the mics have been turned off and everyone’s gone home. We might think of curiosity as something internal, but it’s also about the external motivators, the daily stimulants of curiosity that surround each individual. If we can become that, for at least a moment in someone’s day, we’ve already done more than we could hope for.
Towards the end of the panel, when the speakers were receiving questions from the audience, a young girl stood up to ask hers. Maybe seeing these women talk about their lives and work encouraged her to ask, maybe it was a natural reaction to the rising curiosity that is much more palpable in children. Whatever the reason, she had listened, she had thought, and she had-courageously- asked in front of a room full of adults. So, when we’re asked what’s in it for us, all we need to do is point to the girl raising her hand, asking three women to teach her more.