Active Hope

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* Book: Active Hope. By Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.



"In the Agricultural Revolution of ten thousand years ago, the domestication of plants and animals led to a radical shift in the way people lived. In the Industrial Revolution that began just a few hundred years ago, a similar dramatic transition took place. These weren’t just changes in the small details of people’s lives. The whole basis of society was transformed, including people’s relationship with one another and with Earth.

Right now a shift of comparable scope and magnitude is occurring. It’s been called the Ecological Revolution, the Sustainability Revolution, even the Necessary Revolution. We call it the Great Turning and see it as the essential adventure of our time. It involves the transition from a doomed economy of industrial growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world. This transition is already well under way.

In the early stages of major transitions, the initial activity might seem to exist only at the fringes. Yet when their time comes, ideas and behaviors become contagious: the more people pass on inspiring perspectives, the more these perspectives catch on. At a certain point, the balance tips and we reach critical mass. Viewpoints and practices that were once on the margins become the new mainstream.

In the story of the Great Turning, what’s catching on is commitment to act for the sake of life on Earth as well as the vision, courage, and solidarity to do so." (


Part One - The Great Turning

The first chapter, Three Stories of Our Time, describes how our responses to world events are shaped by the story we look from. Each story, or version of reality, acts as a lens through which we see and understand what’s going on. In the story of ‘Business as Usual’, there seems little need to change the way we live. The second story, ‘The Great Unraveling’, draws attention to the disasters ‘Business as Usual’ is taking us towards, as well as those it has already brought about. The third story, The Great Turning, is about the epochal transition towards a life sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world. The central plot here is about finding and offering our unique contribution, which we describe as our ‘gift of active hope’.

In Chapter Two, Trusting the Spiral, we introduce some of the threads we follow to strengthen our capacity and motivation to play our part. One of these is the spiral of the Work That Reconnects, and the structure of the book follows the four stages this spiral moves through: Gratitude, Honoring our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes and Going Forth. The journey through these stages has a strengthening effect that deepens with every repetition. While each time round is never quite the same, the dynamic of this spiral reveals itself as a powerful and trustworthy structure of support.

With Chapter Three, Coming from Gratitude, we enter the spiral by starting with gratitude. Going much further than just counting our blessings, the oldest earth wisdom traditions identify thanksgiving as key to our survival. Through this we express our profound awareness of interdependence and recognition that without soil, plants and many other aspects of our natural world, we have no foundation in life. More modern traditions within psychology identify gratitude as a key to resilience, protector of mood and antidote to materialism. By deepening our experience and expression of gratitude we build a strong starting point to face the disturbing realities addressed in the next chapter, Honoring Our Pain for the World.

Chapter Four, Honoring Our Pain for the World, reframes anguish for our world as a ‘call to adventure’ that inspires us to get started on the road of the Great Turning. Drawing parallels with the ‘hitting bottom’ of addictions recovery, it describes how the experience of distress can open up motivational energy and determination. Wanting to do something, however, is just the start. We need to build our capacity to act, and the next part of the book helps us do this through four empowering shifts in perception. We describe these as the ‘four discoveries’: a wider sense of self, a different kind of power, a richer experience of community and a larger view of time.

Part Two - Seeing With New Eyes

If we think of ourselves only as separate, competitive individuals, it’s easy to believe there isn’t much we can do in the face of a large-scale, multi-facetted global crisis. Fortunately, we live at a time when spiritual traditions and contemporary science converge in challenging this limited view of who we are, opening us to the discovery of deeper levels of our identity. The first discovery is a shift in consciousness, as we learn to experience our profound rootedness in larger systems of life. Chapter Five, A Wider Sense of Self, describes this shift as one of the most exciting developments of our time, it being a spiritual process that is also fully in accord with the modern scientific framework of systems thinking and Gaia Theory. This deepening of self leads to the shifts in thinking and perception explored in the next three chapters.

Our beliefs about what we’re capable of are linked to our concept of who we are. Seeing ourselves differently changes our assessment of what’s within our power, allowing us to move beyond old limiting views of what is and isn’t possible. Chapter Six, A Different Story of Power, introduces the concepts of synergy and emergence, showing how these lead to new ways of appreciating, developing and using our power to create change. The shift here is from the domination model of power-over to the surprising potential of power-with. Opening to this co-operative and participatory expression of power is the key to countering the sense of futility many feel when facing the massive scale of our planetary crisis.

With an expanded sense of identity comes a richer experience of community. Being joined in The Great Turning with millions of people throughout the world, as well as with our neighbours down the street or hallway, gives us a shared purpose and journey. Recognising how our survival is linked to that of other species, we can experience a sense of common purpose with non-human entities too. Chapter Seven, A Richer Experience of Community, explores how a spirituality of connection with life widens the web of our community, bringing a deeper sense both of belonging in the world and of being supported by it.

A family extends over generations and has a lifespan of centuries. It can be thought of as a community existing through time that includes ancestors, people living now and those yet to be born. In this larger temporal context, which we call Deep Time, we step beyond our personal, or even familial, lifespan and see ourselves as living within a far wider timescape. Tracing our ancestry, we can follow an unbroken thread of life that extends back billions of years. Thanks to our moral imagination, we can let future beings become more real to us: their lives and health depend on us. Chapter Eight, A Larger View of Time, illustrates how expanding our view of time opens us to new sources of solidarity and support, and offers exercises that workshop participants have found profoundly inspiring. At a time when many experience time pressures and hurry, this awareness brings a sense of spaciousness and ease.

Part Three - Going Forth

Equipped with these four discoveries, we move into the Going Forth section of the spiral, which focuses on how we find our role in the Great Turning and offer the gift of our unique contribution. Most projects of significance begin as fleeting thoughts that were caught and then acted on. In Chapter Nine, Catching an Inspiring Vision, vision catching and vision holding are introduced as learnable skills. Practices are described that help us catch inspiration, as well as be caught by it. The concept of co-intelligence is introduced, looking at how we develop common visions with others and cultivate inspiration that is shared.

You can feel highly motivated to act, but grind to a halt if you don’t believe your actions will make any difference. Yet all of us may have examples of things we’ve achieved that we’d earlier dismissed as unlikely or even impossible. Chapter Ten, Daring to Believe It Is Possible, describes historical and current examples of people facing and challenging disbelief, offering tools that help us do this too. Practical action planning tools are introduced, as seeing ourselves acting on our visions is a powerful way of adding to our belief in them.

For a project to take root, a key factor is the degree of support it invites and receives. In Chapter Eleven, Building Support around You, we describe how to use support network mapping as a tool to increase awareness of the support around us and as a prompt to draw in what we need. Different types of support are examined, including personal practices that reinforce our commitment, dietary and lifestyle factors that bring out our best performance, spiritual support through being in alignment with our deepest values, mutual support agreements, and the structural support of groups, communities and organisations. Like a spider’s web, support is envisioned as having many different strands.

Action for positive change has too often been seen as a dutiful pastime for a committed minority who run a high risk of burnout. Yet is it possible to have an approach to activism that is enjoyable? And can we be ignited by our passion for life without driving ourselves into exhaustion? Chapter Twelve, Maintaining Energy and Enthusiasm, looks at how to keep our inspiration fresh by adopting an approach to action that has renewal, rewarding relationships and personal sustainability at its core.

When we embark on this Great Turning adventure, there are no guarantees that we’ll be able to turn things far or fast enough to safeguard our civilisation, or indeed, to ensure the continued existence of conscious life on Earth. We will probably not know in our lifetimes whether we are serving as deathbed attendants to a dying world or as midwives to the next stage of human evolution. The final chapter, Strengthened by Uncertainty, acknowledges both the inescapable nature of this uncertainty and its capacity to awaken and ennoble us at this turning in our human journey.”