The Primal Scream


Environmental leadership exercises for teenagers involve games. There is a game where 20 teenagers attempt to stabilize a giant seesaw with only one person allowed to speak.  There is a game where students attempt to steal a toy from behind the back of the leader and move it over a line 100 feet away without the leader identifying the thief.  There is a game that involves each group member walking across a rope 2 feet off the ground.  These games are designed to build unity, teach cooperation, consensus, teamwork and communication skills.

Yet one of the most effective games teaches none of these important values.  Dubbed “Primal Scream” the game starts with all participants staring at the ground.  On the speedy count of three, they must look up and stare at another person’s face.  If your target is looking at someone else, you put your head back down and continue to the next round.  If however you meet your target’s eyes, both players step into the circle and release the loudest, most powerful primal scream they can before stepping outside of the circle.  The game continues until only two players are left and increases in speed and intensity.  Instead of teaching compromise, this game teaches the value of identifying, acknowledging and releasing your frustrations.  Through one primal scream students may find an outlet for the anger, pain, sadness and frustration they are holding in so that even for just one moment they can put it aside and focus on working together.  The Primal Scream plays an important role in the leadership toolkit. Educators find that a shared physical and emotional release is a necessary part of the negotiation and collaborative process needed to reach a common goal.

At the COP ministers and negotiators appear to be playing a similar game.  They are staring each other down through 20 hour days of plenaries, technical meetings, open dialogue sessions, bilateral and multilateral discussions and text revisions.  Each nation or group of nations is attempting to convince others to budge ever-so-slightly from their firmly entrenched positions.  Their eyes lock, there is a palpable air of sleeplessness and frustration, but there is no release.  As nations sit together civilly discussing the future of our climate, it may be time to take a page from the teenage environmental leadership playbook.  If 194 states would rise, stare each other down and let out a primal scream, perhaps they could let go of their long-held frustrations and, for even one moment, move closer to working collaboratively.

While it’s possible that such a game’s only result would be laughter, it is hard to imagine how a room full of world environmental leaders can reach a common goal without some form of shared physical and emotional release.