In their groundbreaking study involving more than a hundred thousand survey responses and hundreds of focus groups, social psychologists Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson describe the growth of a new subculture committed to ecological values, social justice, and holistic perspectives.
Extrapolating their findings, they estimate that tens of millions of these “cultural creatives” are leaving behind the old story of Business as Usual and creating something new:
When tens of millions of people make such choices in the space of a few decades, we are witnessing not simply a mass of personal departures but an exodus at the level of culture itself.
(The Cultural Creatives by Paul H. Ray Ph.D. and Sherry Ruth Anderson)
We Are At The Great Turning
This is the Great Turning. Yet it is not always easy to see, and as a result people often feel alone in their concern for the world. When reading mainstream newspapers and magazines, watching corporate-controlled television, or walking down a busy shopping street, we can have trouble finding evidence that others have noticed the planetary emergency we face. How can we cultivate a more supportive context at the level of our culture and society?
A major factor influencing our decisions is what we believe others around us are doing. Research shows that people are more likely to reduce their energy consumption when they know their neighbors are doing so too.
Reference Groups: The People We Compare Ourselves To
Each of us has a reference group of those we compare ourselves to in determining what is normal or appropriate behavior. We also feature in other people’s reference groups, so when they see us taking steps to live more sustainably, they are more likely to take these steps too.
The recognition of the power of example at a local level has led to a kind of community organizing that now involves hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. Developed through decades of action research, the “cool communities” campaign on carbon reduction brings together people from the same street or block in small “eco-teams” to bring about measurable reductions in their carbon footprint.
Working With Neighbors To Develop Sustainable Lifestyles
One finding of the cool communities program is that in spite of initial skepticism about people’s willingness to work with their neighbors on developing sustainable lifestyles, once the process got started, it developed a momentum of its own. As David Gershon, who developed this approach, describes:
I started with the point of view of thinking people won’t want to disturb their neighbors, they’ll be rejected. In New York City, where I live, people said, “We don’t talk to our neighbors and we’re happy about that. We like our individuality.”
This is not actually the case and it is a paradox. It is not so much that people don’t want to know their neighbors, it is that they don’t know how to connect with the people living next door and build community. As a result, we struggle as isolated and alienated individuals.
The resistance of “I don’t know my neighbors, we’ve never done anything like this, I’m afraid I’ll be rejected” is something we’ve experienced everywhere we’ve worked. But once we get people through this using the organizing tools we provide, they come out the other side feeling incredibly excited to have that connection. Again and again, people say that what they like most about the program is getting to know their neighbors.
Common Desire: The Healing of Our World
When volunteers were recruited, trained, and supported to knock on the doors of their neighbors — inviting them to join small local groups making lifestyle changes to reduce their carbon footprint — the participation rate was over 40 percent. The level of concern, as well as the willingness to become involved, was much higher than was anticipated from initial appearances. The desire to take part in the healing of our world seems to be just below the surface, waiting for an opportunity and outlet for expression.
Whenever we bring the desire for the world’s healing out into the open, whether through our individual actions or through the groups we are part of, we help others do this too. The power of example is contagious. This is how cultures change.
Copyright ©2012 by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.
Reprinted with permission from New World Library.
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in without Going Crazy
by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.
The challenges we face can be difficult even to think about. Climate change, the depletion of oil, economic upheaval, and mass extinction together create a planetary emergency of overwhelming proportions. Active Hope shows us how to strengthen our capacity to face this crisis so that we can respond with unexpected resilience and creative power. This process equips us with tools to face the mess we’re in and play our role in the collective transition, or Great Turning, to a life-sustaining society.
About the Authors
Ecophilosopher Joanna Macy, PhD, is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A respected voice in movements for peace, justice, and the environment, she interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. The author of a dozen books, Joanna travels widely, giving lectures, workshops, and trainings in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Visit her website at www.joannamacy.net.
Chris Johnstone is a medical doctor, author, and coach who worked for nearly twenty years as an addictions specialist in the UK National Health Service. He trains health professionals in behavioral medicine and runs courses exploring the psychological dimensions of planetary crisis. He is author of Find Your Power: A Toolkit for Resilience and Positive Change and co-presenter of The Happiness Training Plan CD. Chris has been working with Joanna Macy and running facilitator trainings in the UK for more than two decades. Visit his website at www.chrisjohnstone.info