Fire of Emotion - reflections on our inner transition work

"The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force."
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Americans sit in stunned silence as we watch the melodrama of the country's political leaders unfold over recent weeks. The bald naked truth of the self-destructive force of greed is on full display. Republicans risk the entire economy to enforce an ideology of privatization and inequality. Most of the country wants Congress to focus on job creation. Yet, Democrats join Republicans in cutting back retirement security, even though a majority of Americans lost pensions, 401Ks, and much of their home value.

While Wall Street bankers get bailouts and bonuses, health care costs continue their steady rise and college aid is cut. Our “leaders” jockey for position, protect their elite corporate benefactors, while crisis deepens. Nero fiddles while Rome burns.

I predict that soon our anger will erupt. The future will be shaped through this fire of our emotion.

It is this understanding of the fire of emotion which I find lacking in so many analytic descriptions of our future. Novels sometimes do better in exploring the power of emotions. Kuntsler’s A World Made By Hand, a somewhat quirky tour of several patriarchal societies post-collapse, describes a placid state of despondency in the people of Union Grove. As survivors of epidemics, terrorist attacks, peak oil and climate change, they had all been through some traumatic losses. Although they had a preacher, they apparently lacked a shaman to help with their “inner transition”. Thus the book is the story of how one man rekindles his passion for life – feeling grief and finding joy – and inspires his neighbors to rebuild their town.

In a truth-is-strange-than-fiction contrast, Rebecca Solnit’s study, A Paradise Built in Hell, tells of the tremendous sense of purpose and camaraderie among survivors of catastrophes as they work to rebuild their worlds. Over and over again she documents heroic acts of altruism, people risking their lives for each other. Will we react to coming systemic shocks with despondency or renewed purpose? How will our neighbors react?

I do believe it is possible that in times of crises many of us uncover hidden strengths. Rob Hopkins describes his “End of Suburbia moment” in the Transition Handbook, a moment of intense introspection and emotional reconciliation with the fact that “normalcy” is unsustainable and certain to end. I recognize myself in these musings, and resonate with the importance of doing my own "inner transition" work ahead of time. In Transition communities, perhaps numbers of us have explored our grief and loss and are ready to help others do so as well. We value this inner healing work as we take action to build resilience.

Deeply unsatisfied with the choices offered by our American consumer-capitalist system, many of us have rejected the life destroying culture we were born into. Still, we do not pretend to have “the solution.” Instead, we have earnest questions, hopes and dreams. We matter, our feelings matter and shape what we seek to do. Those who claim to know that we are destined for collapse are overlooking several important aspects of the future:

    * Ignorance – Despite grand advances, we remain ignorant of many of the forces of change and their interactions.

    * Surprise – Higher order complexities give rise to emergent phenomena that were not earlier present and could not have been predicted from the qualities of component elements. Something truly unprecedented may yet happen. Always.

    * Volition – The future is not someplace we are going, the future is something we create, together, through our choices every day. Most importantly, the future will be created through choices we have yet to make.

So while the future remains inherently uncertain, the possibility of a Great Transition to a planetary form of civilization in which we all live well, and the Earth remains healthy for generations upon generations, is very much alive.

Transitions are a messy business. As Lewis Mumford once said, “I am pessimistic on the probabilities, but optimistic on the possibilities.” If we do not rise to the occasion and strive mightily for a world we can believe in, then we will create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which our failure to act is the very essence of our civilizational breakdown.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
— Martin Luther King Jr.


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