I have returned from a brief holiday in Melbourne and am trying to settle back into a routine. We were on the move so much on the holiday that it wasn’t viable to keep up the posts, apart from a few pictures that found their way onto Facebook. It was good to get away and be a “traveller” absorbed in the basics such as working out how to get to places, find food and drink, and locating our beds for the night.
Before I went away I had embarked on the task of learning more about a few issues that are of concern to me, such as climate change and the refugee situation in Australia. The experience of working on a polling booth handing out “how to vote cards” taught me that although I understand what I think is important and why, I’m not able to explain my position well to others, particularly if they are coming at the issue from a different perspective. I couldn’t quote facts or direct people to resources that would explain the issues, and I wasn’t adept at parrying questions and deflecting jibes. It seemed like a good idea to get better informed.
What I quickly found is that while there is a lot of information available on these topics, its impossible for me to approach this as an intellectual exercise. Reading about threats to biodiversity and the risks of climate change is very confronting, and can be really discouraging. Engaging with the problems faced by refugees is also very troubling. Having seen the pendulum swing back towards a more conservative government in Australia, there is a feeling of discouragement and dismay amongst those involved in the environmental and social justice movements that can be overwhelming if you aren’t feeling strong yourself.
Rather than brave this onslaught of seriousness head on, I decided to take a side track and read something by Joanna Macy. Joanna is an author involved in the movements for peace, justice and ecology who approaches her activism from a Buddhist perspective. I had tried to read one of her books before, but abandoned the attempt because I wasn’t ready for it, and found it too heavy. This time around I came across a new book “Active Hope” by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone which provided some encouragement that its possible to use a spiritual foundation to steady yourself while facing up to some of the big issues of our time.
In Active Hope, the authors acknowledge that we are facing major problems due to increasing human population and patterns of excessive consumption which are overwhelming the resources available to us. Rather than being overwhelmed by discouragement, the book encourages us to act to bring about what we hope for, even while the future is uncertain and we don’t know what is possible. “Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for.”
One aspect of the book that I found helpful was the Three Stories of Our Time. The first is Business As Usual, which assumes that there isn’t a problem with the way we live. This includes the belief that economic growth can go on forever without any consequesnces. The second story, The Great Unraveling, points out the disasters that Business as Usual is leading us towards by ignoring and abusing the finite resources available to us. It tells a story of the collapse of ecological systems, changes to climate, and the potentially disastrous consequences. The third story is “held and embodied by those who know the first story is leading us to catastrophe and who refuse to let the second story have the last word”. The book is about how to get behind that third story and work towards a life sustaining civilisation.
This book was the right thing for me, because it acknowledges that we have a problem while offering a hopeful way to cope with the situation and be involved in working towards a positive outcome. Barraging people with frightening facts isn’t successful, because its just too much to take in. Most people, myself included, need a more positive picture that they can embrace that makes change seem not only necessary and possible, but desireable and meaningful.
I was in the tour bus at Werribee Zoo in Melbourne, driving through an open range area where the large animals roam. We could see other visitors staring in at us from the viewing area. The tour guide pointed to the human visitors and said “look, there’s another endangered species”. I don’t think he was joking. Jokes like that make me sad.
Its a weird feeling to be contemplating the future of humanity whilst going about my own form business as usual. I am enjoying the warm sunny days, knowing that it is not normally so hot this early in the Spring. Its hard to know what to think and how to respond. Yet it seems important to be open to what is going on around me, while at the same time remaining grounded and take care of myself through the process.