Act: Inspiration

Our Time Balm

January 22, 2020

The temperature of anxiety is rising. Scratch the surface of more and more “normal” people and they spill out their concerns and how they are trying to cope. I wish I had some balm to offer for our times. A time balm. In the past I would have offered solutions based on careful diagnosis of the issue and a skillful application of the right salve. But I no longer believe in the problem –> solution model.

By relinquishing “solving” I’ve arrived at a quiet clarity. I can finally see the outlines of our design flaw without getting in there with a screwdriver and wrench to adjust it.

What ails us

Humanity and the earth is suffering from a worldview disease leading to a voracious self-destruction. It is a set of values or qualities, held with religious conviction that transforms all novelty into itself: economic growth, control over circumstances, progress, individualism, exploitation of nature, domination of strong over weak, and freedom-as-entitlement.

It is so pervasive it cannot be dislodged without tumbling the whole infrastructure of how individuals inside it survive. Indeed, individuals must adopt the worldview to survive. Turn life-ways into products for sale in the marketplace. Turn our lives into products to be sold for money to buy the products… and on and on.

This voracious worldview is enabled by fossil energy sources, but not caused by it. Carbon neutral will not address the disease, only mitigate its effects. This worldview’s values are enabled by tools, especially tools of war, but not caused by it. Banning sales of automatic weapons won’t address it. And these tools of war, when owned by the military, won’t ever be banned. How money and financial systems are designed facilitates the worldview, but aren’t the cause of our dire condition. They are the handmaidens.

Yes, let’s work for all those changes and more. Let’s work our butts off to change everything we can. It’s smart and compassionate to minimize harm and maximize justice. Yet it doesn’t get at the heart of the matter.

The voracious nature of the worldview that has us by the throat is actually one facet of Life’s complex genius, crucial at times when survival is threatened. The qualities of the worldview are tools of the psyche, and even muscles, organs and bones. To live, we must secure the territory we need to survive – all creatures must defend our hunting territory, our foraging territory, our farming, our habitat construction. All creatures need territory. And need to defend territory. When threatened, perhaps even seek to expand territory.

Embedded in our worldview is a sense of threat. Every moment your survival is on the line. People are coming for your stuff. Expand or die. Stop and someone gains on you. Get more or you won’t have enough. Survival anxiety. Problem to fix. Get more. Fend off competition.

Now, this worldview seems reduced to a a big mouth without a brain and without a stomach. It is an eating machine that is never satisfied, that cannot choose to eat differently or more wisely as the appestat – the part of the brain that recognizes satiation – has been disabled. We rail against consumerism, but this voracious mouth without a mind or a stomach must consume, it’s only job and role and identity is to consume.

Connective tissue

There are another set of inbred qualities that are also pro-survival, the ones that allow us to form groups and bear and raise children, and tell stories and learn. They mirror the set that has us in its total grip. Steady state financial and social systems, love, sufficiency, cooperation, sharing, freedom-as-interdependence. These values don’t need to dominate human life, eliminate the worldview that’s gotten us into trouble. They must, however, have a place at the table if we are to survive. If we want to kill domination with cooperation, we are part of the voracious worldview. While millions of us, through hundreds of thousands of organizations, are trying to empower connective values, give these their rightful voice, none have found a way. Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, beloved meditation and religious leaders, people in all professions that touch the lives of others – healing, mediating, parenting, teaching – carry these values day in and day out, but the mouth keeps eating.

To date, however, love, honor, decency, character are losing ground to the worldview – what Daniel Quinn called the Takers. Who is the “we” anymore that can face what so has us in its grip that it looks out through our eyes? Who is “us”? If the Maw, the mouth, has no brain and no stomach, how do the cooperative values even speak to it? I’m serious.

If Greta and the Sunrise Movement and Fridays for the Future – our children – can’t touch the hearts of this worldview, can’t slow down the mouth with no brain, no stomach, then perhaps the collapse of the food source for the worldview is all that will stop it. “Good to the very last drop” the Maxwell House coffee commercial said. Maybe the mouth will lick its lips and then keel over.

The minds of our hearts

Research shows that our hearts think. Our hearts, if you will, have a brain. So I wonder if our hearts are the heart of the matter now. We won’t kill the hungry maw, but we can wonder how it feels to feel that starved and threatened when you have eaten ten times the little people’s share of food? We can have compassion for all in the grip of the worldview, ourselves included, having to sacrifice our dignity to live another day. If gloating and hating and taunting and trying to kill the overlords who temporarily occupy seats of power would stop the mouth without a brain or stomach, we could have done it. We need compassion for ourselves. For the innocent creatures with no territory to survive. For the functionaries who maintain the whole worldview architecture, including the media.

Opening our weary and scarred hearts in the face of what this worldview has wrought may be the one resource the mouth without a brain or stomach cannot consume. Maybe, just maybe, it has a beating heart, can feel pain that is deeper than its own desperation.

Our biblical moment

Maybe this is why our moment feels biblical to me. A time of floods and fires. A time when what we have worshiped proves to be the wrong god. Baal. A time of recognizing that the worldview that got us here will never heal us – and turning over our lives to a higher power.

Maybe grief – the falling on your knees kind of grief, the ‘longing for the loved one now extinguished and the facing the future without their love’ kind of grief – is the gateway to the empathy the Maw needs to pause and consider its insane, failed project of eating it all. Anyone who has grieved mightily knows how hard it is to grieve. If this is a doorway to healing the worldview disease that ails us, holy sh*t. We’re in for an emotional tsunami. I don’t think we need to only recall the pain of it, though. We-the-willing need to recall how real it is, how it gave us compassion, how it enabled us to live again, to let go of all that had died for us along with the loved one. Grief is like an elixir, a drop of which will enable us to bring our hearts to our activism. And work like never before to disable he voracious worldview, with compassion for its starvation and its insanity.

One of my guiding myths is the story of Inanna. This is the interpretation that helped when cancer took me down into my own underworld. A key to the story – without draining the story of all the necessary drama – is empathy for the pain inside rage inside the queen of the underworld.

A drop of grief

All posts this long require a prescription. Mine would be to see if you can taste just a drop of the grief you felt when you lost a love and bring that to your hard daily work of treating the victims of the voracious worldview and marching bravely into the halls of power, wherever they are. And keep our own values intact: compassion, proportion, enoughness, humility and love.


Teaser photo credit: The Goddess Inanna.

Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin is a prolific social innovator, writer, speaker, and host of the What Could Possibly Go Right? podcast. She is coauthor with Joe Dominguez of the international best-seller, Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Viking Penguin, 1992, 1998, 2008, 2018). And author of Blessing the Hands that Feed Us; Lessons from a 10-mile diet (Viking Penguin, 2013), which recounts her adventures in hyper-local eating and what she learned about food, farming, belonging, and hope. Vicki has lectured widely and appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” and National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” and “Morning Edition.” She has also been featured in hundreds of magazines including People Magazine, AARP, The Wall Street Journal, Woman’s Day, Newsweek, Utne Magazine, and the New York Times. She currently lives on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound and is active in her community on a range of social and environmental issues including affordable housing, local food, and community investing. For fun, she is a comedy improv actress, sings in a choir, gardens, and nurtures a diverse circle of friends.

Tags: building resilient societies, climate grief, Worldview