So today, reading news articles online, I saw that the polar icecap in Greenland is melting which will raise sea level irretrievably, and Pakistan may be one-third underwater through a ‘monster monsoon’.
And then there is the ‘loneliness epidemic’, workplace despair, lack of meaning and purpose, and disconnection in our work and personal lives.
How can we hold this? What can we do?
For today’s Leadership Insights I want to share a powerful perspective from Buddhist scholar Dr Joanna Macy’s six-decade work in activism. I was lucky enough to study with her in person two decades ago, and I learn from her still.
Her work is useful because right now we are living through a very real existential fear that we are dooming ourselves and other species through ‘a catastrophe of our own making’. It can feel impossible to know what to do. And as for feelings? We numb ourselves with food, booze or distractions.
Macy identified three key elements needed to respond to the epic challenges we face: Holding Actions, Creating Life Sustaining Systems, Shift in Consciousness.
She calls this the Great Turning.
For sustainable, life affirming change to happen, each of these need 3 elements need to exist, and none on their own are sufficient to change the status quo.
You don’t need to do them all. You can choose which one speaks to you and focus there, because others are working in areas that speak to them. (Knowing this can be very helpful.)
This is the work to slow down or stop activities that are detrimental to a more equitable world. They stop things from getting worse. Holding Actions include campaigns, boycotts, and transitioning existing structures/businesses into a more life honouring activities. Examples of Holding Actions are health campaigns to stop smoking, and climate campaigns to reduce carbon emissions.
Holding actions are the clarion call of this must change. They bring attention, create solidarity, enlarge the conversation. They are not the only part of change, but they remind us of what’s important.
Creating Life Sustaining Systems.
Rethinking how we do things, and creating appropriate structures and systems to support us is at the heart of this element of the Great Turning. New technologies and inventions to transition us into a more sustainable world sit here. In your workplace, this could show up as a project to develop courageous leadership that might over time grow into something broader. It’s pioneering new ways in things like education, agriculture, the law.
Creating Life Sustaining Systems can be marginalised as too nascent and fringy. They need time and space to grow and take root. Yet they are critical as they point the way to a possible future. The work The Hunger Project does is a great example of this element.
A Shift in Consciousness.
In the past, changing the Self and changing the world were seen as mutually exclusive. You either sat in a cave meditating OR you were on the picket line. You didn’t do both!
But this has always been a false dichotomy. Awakening consciousness is required to mobilise the change we want to see. Personal and spiritual development is necessary.
Re-orient yourself in the larger scheme of things. Pay attention to our interconnectedness. This is what inspires us to take on projects that don’t immediately benefit us. Develop a longer term perspective. Move collective mindsets from ‘what’s in it for me’ to a shared humanity. Macy calls this our connected self, and it can be developed.
Mastery comes from living this in the action, and not as an idealised state or in isolation from the broader world. It recognises that I am the world – and this world is me.
I love that each of these 3 elements of the Great Turning has its place. It is all the same work – there is no hierarchy of importance. Do the bit that calls to you. Know that you are part of millions and millions of others also doing their piece. Build your sense of faith and hope in the future of our world.
Which of these 3 elements inspires you most? How can you embody it in the healing of our institutions, families, communities, selves, and world?
Thanks for being part of bringing a new world into being.
Till next week,