Dr. Britt Wray is a Human and Planetary Health Postdoctoral Fellow at the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health. Her research focuses on the mental health impacts of the ecological crisis.
Britt is the creator of Gen Dread, the weekly newsletter about “staying sane in the climate crisis” and author of Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis (2022). Britt has a PhD in Science Communication from the University of Copenhagen. Her first book is Rise of the Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics and Risks of De-Extinction (2017). She has hosted several podcasts, radio & TV programs with the BBC and CBC, and is a TED speaker.
She addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:
- The “profound moment of collective wake up” and the eco-anxiety we find ourselves in
- That processing the love and grief in these times will teach us, heal us and transform us
- The value of a heart-open approach and “deep canvassing” for behavioral change
- The impacts of the climate crisis on young people and their feelings of despair and betrayal
- The importance of acceptance and “leaning into that vulnerability and lack of control” for outcomes, while still taking action
Connect with Britt Wray
Hi Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right? a project of the Post Carbon Institute. We interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good; and social artists, people who feel deeply and act with courage in the face of uncertainty, as we all work to protect what we love and change what we can and learn as we go. Our awakened hearts are absolutely necessary partners for critical thinking minds.
Today’s guest is Dr. Britt Wray. She is a human and planetary health postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Center on Climate Change and Planetary Health. Her research focuses on the mental health impacts of the ecological crisis.
Britt is the creator of the weekly newsletter about staying sane in the climate crisis, Gen Dread (gendread.substack.com) and author of Generation Dread: Finding purpose in an age of climate crisis. Britt has a PhD in Science Communications from the University of Copenhagen. Her first book is Rise of the Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics and Risks of De-Extinction. She has hosted several podcasts, radio and TV programs with the BBC and the CBC and is a TED speaker. Here is Britt Wray.
Welcome, Britt Wray, to What Could Possibly Go Right? We started the podcast right when the pandemic hit. It’s been two years for me, of listening to people we call cultural scouts people who see far and serve the common good; as well as what I call social artists. It’s not just my term, I heard it from Jean Houston, but it’s people who feel deeply and have the courage to create in the face of the headwinds of our times.
Your book, Generation Dread, is out now. And you say, I’m going to read from your website: Climate environment related fears and anxieties are on the rise for everywhere. As with any type of stress, eco-anxiety can lead to burnout, avoidance or disturbance of daily functioning. In Generation Dread, you seamlessly merge scientific knowledge with emotional insight, to show how these intense feelings are a healthy response to the troubled state of the world. So that’s from your website.
Now I invite you to let go of the already spoken and to be in the moment. I know how easy it is when promoting a book to enter the groove of your elevator speech. So it’s okay, if you do it; it’s okay if you don’t, but maybe we’ll find something fresh for both of us. You don’t need me to narrate the headwinds, you are versed and articulate about the breakdowns upon us. I learned that we were both knocked off our moorings by reading Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation paper. But we’ve also both found on the other side of grieving, an ability to create with what is here to serve life more fully, without the burden or the effort to control; this sort of instrumental “I do this, in order for that to happen”.
Your mastery of this field of threats and possibilities is clear. I just want to give you free rein in this conversation, especially as a cultural scout, standing on the edge with grief but not disabled by it, surveying the landscape ahead, open to potential, knowing the science is dire, but the story of the future is not yet written. So here we go. I give you our one question: In the face of all this seems to be going awry, Britt, what could possibly go right?
Wow, what an introduction, and what potent questions that are just so fertile for thought. Thank you so much for having me here. Yes, I am promoting my new book, Generation Dread. But I really just want to keep it fresh and authentic, not saying things I’ve necessarily said before, so you seem like the perfect person to do that with.
What could possibly go right? I think a lot. I think that we are in a profound moment of collective wake up. We see that we’ve entered this psychoterratic state, as the philosopher Glenn Albrecht talks about it. This is the felt sensations from the earth that is hurting, that people can now understand through their own embodied experience. It’s why we have tidal waves of eco-anxiety and eco grief and people who have been living rather comfortable lives, noticing this disturbance within themselves, as well as of course, those on the frontlines of climate trauma who have been dealing with environmental devastation for centuries, through generations.
In this moment, I think it’s incredibly powerful because it’s shaking people to their core. It’s touching a nerve. It is really heightening our sense of mortality salience. This awareness of death, confrontation with the end of the world as we have known it, so to speak, which really can frighten people and scare them or even conjure terror, as well as rage in the face of the injustice of it all and ferociousness from the animal within us.
But these emotions all are deeply connected to love and to care and to compassion. We can’t feel these things if we don’t also understand the profound threat to what we are alive for, our relations to others, to the earth, to other species, to our nearest and dearest humans. And two sides of the same coin, being the love and the grief, is incredibly powerful. It’s not just that the grief of this time is important because it allows for some kind of profound self-reflection, although it does do that. These emotions, when you explore them and process them and come to the other side of them; they teach you things. They change you and they heal you. They are truly transformative.
So the fact that we’re in this moment of collective wake up – and of course, it’s not equally distributed. It’s happening at different tempos for different folks – but it’s here. Every single media platform has done a think piece on eco-anxiety over the last year. Particularly if you wind back to 2018, when the IPCC published that report outlining a world at 1.5 versus 2 degrees of warming; that seemed to be this catalyst for many people to become in touch with their environmental emotions, who previously had only observed it intellectually, but not necessarily felt all that much.
This was an unleashing of a lot of anxiety for many people. Since then, it’s just grown year on year in profound ways. I mean, it was around that publication of the paper that I started pivoting towards exploring the mental health impacts of the climate crisis, and leaving my old field. But it is astounding to me as someone who’s mired in this day in day out, how much has even changed between now, we’re in April 2022, compared to April 2021.
This is an incredible surge of momentum and care around these constructs in people’s lives and them becoming irrelevant to the emotional experiences of many; even though of course, we still have lots of people distanced enough, eyes closed enough, to not be disturbed and their psychological defences are still protecting them and they’re kind of going on as though climate crisis isn’t a big deal. But we also know this is about more than just the climate crisis of course. It’s biodiversity and land transformation and water scarcity and food shortages and climate migration and stoking conflict and all the rest of it.
So I think that these turbulent waters that are getting choppier, that are also intersecting with synchronous crises, such as the pandemic, the glaring obviousness of systemic racism and marginalization, intergenerational trauma from the oppressiveness of the dominant systems that we live in, that are really complex. They’re all coming to a head. I think that that is incredibly painful, but also potent, powerful and radically hopeful time to be alive. Because we’re talking about shifts in complex systems, we’re talking about social tipping points as well as environmental tipping points.
I think that there is a huge well of resolve, courage, bravery, connectedness that is available, when people do go on their own existential journey of exploring what these feelings are within themselves, around our awareness to the environmental disruptions that we have to deal with. So I know from my own journey, of learning to come to terms with this sense of despair and even at times hopelessness, that these feelings are heavily underrated. People, of course, come out against them, that we must maintain hope, or we can’t fall into despair, and fatalism will be its own self fulfilling prophecy.
Of course, fatalism is not the same as hopelessness and despair. But there is an incredible wind that you can ride, when you actually go to the bottom of that U shaped curve when you descend and explore and get the support that you need to not stay there, but to learn from it and be changed by it and be transformed by it. You can tap into this existential valve within yourself that I truly believe, when you open, it unleashes a lot of love and connection and beauty, inner clarity, purpose and meaning; so that when you’re on the far side of it, all the other distractions and the miasma of stuff that really is not that important, but contemporary Western culture is laden with, gets brushed aside and you can hone in on what is powerfully meaningful to you, at this time that you are gifted enough to be alive to witness and experience as we go through all this change.
So I think it’s very difficult and it’s super beautiful, all at the same time, and it’s going to move people to action. It’s not just this external action that we also clearly need. I mean, that’s pivotal. We need the political and psychological will to make system changes, but it’s also about doing the inner work in groups and individually to relearn a lot of what we expect of the future, what we expect of ourselves and how we’re going to show up right now. So I think within that, if we’re just going to start there, is that being in this potential of the moment that’s pregnant with possibility. I think that’s a very special place that has a lot of positivity within it. That’s, I think, where we are.
I think that’s so beautiful. It so reflects everything that’s been true for me over the last umpteen years. I feel that as well, I think, because my sensitivity is attuned to it. But I also feel that in the present moment, part of the choppy waters that we’re in, that we’re getting through, that some people are being conscious of and welcoming, is a maturation crisis. Other people are just going through the choppy waters.
I would also attribute polarization to this moment. This moment isn’t solving necessarily polarization, it’s driving polarization. It’s not solving the anxiety, it’s driving the anxiety. And when people are anxious, and they’re not conscious of what the source of their anxiety is, a lot of it is blame. “Let’s just find out who’s doing this to us.” So I don’t mean to be a downer, but there are so many possibilities; like some spiritual traditions say, every step you take, a whole array of new possibilities open up. You’re talking about one of them.
Can you just reflect a little bit on the relationship of those of us who are welcoming this crisis of maturation, and those who are in reaction to it and making choices that are antithetical? You only have to talk about the war in Ukraine. Making choices that are antithetical to what really must happen now. I watched all of that, driving refugees and blowing up things and sending all this stuff into the environment. I see it, my heart is open to that. But my mind also says, Okay, fine, this is a piece of what’s cracking and the effort to keep in control. Would you reflect on that? I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks about that.
You’re certainly not the only one who thinks about that. Then one thing that I do have a lot of concern around is just how far right we are going to swing as things get tougher as a global community. Because strong men with simple answers to complex problems are where a lot of people who feel their fear activated, can offload some of that worry and get a false sense of being in control. Of course, we see the people with power in that vein, clutching to what they can do to protect that authoritarian command over resources and dominant ways of relating. That’s what exactly what needs to be dissolved and reformed through an ethics of partnership. And that’s a lot to ask of a world filled with toxic petro-masculinity, running states.
Petro-masculinity, I love it.
I mean, it’s daunting, for sure. But I think that what is amazing about this moment and hopeful from some kind of collective unconscious place even, is that we’re being invited to relearn our own innate wisdom, to be able to tap into what we know to be true about why we’re here and what life offers us. The things that really bring us joy and fulfilment in terms of a culture of care. We’re being invited into reckoning with our own potential for emotional intelligence, so that we can reconnect to the parts of us that care and that take responsibility in life, as the psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe so wonderfully puts it in her theory of the climate bubble in her book, The Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis.
Of course, it’s like the film Don’t Look Up, if you’ve seen it. Instead of doing that deep interrogation and reflection on emotional intelligence, or what this inner wisdom could be, we’re distracted with celebrity culture and hot takes on social media. It feels all the more dark in its humor, that as we are being invited to do this meaningful spiritual, psychological work, we are increasingly getting tied up in an incredibly high profit industry that is paid to chop up our attention spans, in terms of the reign of tech and the endless distractions that we’re navigating, and so on, and so forth.
So it does feel kind of mythological, in terms of the times we’re in, what we’re being called to do, and the challenges that we face. Not only the real physical challenges out there in the biosphere, or the political systems, but the challenges psychologically. But then maybe because the sharper that the blade becomes that we’re dancing on, the more potent that potential is for change, that it feels like there’s some kind of momentum heading to a climax. Not that I’m saying there’s going to be some day where the world flips inside out, and we’re a new species and we’ve evolved; but it does stir these emotions in people, which cause them to do that work, and if supported and if open, hopefully help change in that kind of great turning away that Joanna Macy and others talk about.
I went through my climate grief, my species extinction. I spent as I’ve mentioned, 30 years of my life trying to stop the harm, and then went through deep despair, because nothing that I or anybody that I was connected to – and I built these networks around sustainability – it didn’t pierce the heart of whatever it is. We needed to pierce the heart of, so the harm was upon us.
But I got to acceptance. The phrase that turned it around for me was sort of a little bit like the Serenity Prayer. I can accept the unacceptable, not because it’s acceptable, because it is NOT acceptable, but because it is. Now, I think I’ve had the same sense of the war on Ukraine. It’s like, Oh no, I thought we were beyond this. This too? You got to be kidding, folks. We just did two years of pandemic and were sent to our rooms; we were supposed to think about it, but here we are. So I can accept the unacceptable, not because it’s acceptable, but because it is what it is.
It’s like you said, there’s this authoritarian takeover, because people are so stressed, can’t make sense of things. Maybe that, too, is, as you say, part of that knife edge. Maybe I got caught up once again. The resistance is important. You’ve got to make yourself visible and say what’s wrong, et cetera, but internally spiritually, day by day denying the validity, the fact that this is happening. So, unless you want to talk about the people who are sort of falling into the fold of autocrats, we don’t have to go there. But if you had some thoughts you wanted to say…
I think it’s a really big and perplexing question as to how we can more effectively relate to people in our family, the people in the grocery store, the people at our kids schools, people we might work with, who are, let’s say, on the other side of the seesaw if we’re talking about polarization and how to reach them. There is a lot that can be explored in terms of not telling so much and listening, rather.
Listening is a mode of connecting and trying to understand other people’s aspirations and desires and values and beliefs about what’s going on. The work of people like Renée Lertzman who’s a climate psychologist and others who focus on compassion based techniques for going beyond divisive splitting, when it comes to how we’re talking about these times, really stress that we only raise people’s defences when we try to get a certain point across. Of course, that’s true, and all the science communication research that I’ve studied in my PhD back that up. Basically, hitting people over the head with facts or coming up with some kind of moralizing grandstanding, being priggish about this stuff, is definitely only working against your interests.
We need to have a heart open approach, which is kind of like what you’re talking about with acceptance. Finding ways of accepting, not because it’s acceptable, but because it is here, it’s about not being attached to the outcome. You can’t be attached to the outcome of other people’s relating to this moment, which is very hard to do when so much is at stake, because when you’re attached to the outcome, you start immediately into that mode of being the persuader. You’re trying to convince, you’re trying to bring someone on your side. That is inherently manipulative. And it also is something that they feel and will get them to dig their heels in harder, right?
What it becomes is this power tug of war over something very important, like dealing with this moment and transforming towards it positively. So that’s a really strange mental gymnastics exercise right there, is how to let go of attachment to the outcome of how other people in moments of hyperpolarization are actually responding; then being compassionate about what they think and what they believe. And hopefully, being able to have enough of a conversation at depth that you can unleash some of their own ambivalence, the parts of them that aren’t just in line with a single voice, a unifying self that knows all and acts accordingly, because that doesn’t exist.
We’re all made up multiple differing selves, and sometimes those selves are in conflict with each other. It could create cognitive dissonance or the feeling of ambivalence and general discomfort. You want to be able to allow enough space for that person’s ambivalence to be heard, and then maybe they will explore it themselves, because they feel like they’re authoring it. And we’re fickle; it’s really not going to stick if it’s not our own story, if we don’t feel like we’re trying it on for size of our own volition.
We have the body of work around deep canvassing, which is a way of doing canvassing, door-to-door canvassing, and that is really heart-based, compassionate, open, and really takes a lot more time when you’re trying to talk with people about political issues that you might not see eye to eye on. Similarly, motivational interviewing, which is this anti-intuitive force of behavior change when talking about difficult issues, developed originally to try and get people off of harmful behaviors like smoking and drinking too much, but it has been brought into the climate psychology space as a way to talk when, of course, behavior change is the goal, but you cannot cling to persuading someone because it’s not going to work.
I think there’s a lot to be said there, which brings out our capacity for emotional intelligence and different types of relating. I think it’s Bayo Akomolafe, who says something along the lines of like: The times are so dangerous, that we can’t afford to go too fast. Right? You really need to slow down and not slap the same old approaches on to the moment but rethink this relational crisis. It’s a crisis of connection. I think we need to attend to those connections and in very thoughtful and caring ways, which means trying very different things because, I mean, especially in in, let’s say, contemporary North America, but many other places too. The hyper individualism has done a lot to rip us off, from that ability to be caring and tender with connections. I think that’s where we need to put a lot of focus.
I want to also just pick out this thing about as we are learning deep canvassing and motivational interviewing, and this, we’re learning that we’re also being taught and I think we’re being taught compassion. I think that, going into the conversation with a different technique, but a similar outcome. At the end of the day, I guess I want to connect with you, but I really want you to change. I just desperately need every conversation to result in one fewer car. Right? And even that, people can smell it.
I think every moment of learning to love better, actually contributes in some way to the the capacity of other people to accept what’s going on. Maybe we’re not promoting fewer cars, we’re promoting acceptance, in some way. It’s pretty far deep down the inner transformation, your rabbit hole, that thing of giving up control, and then giving up control again, and then giving up control. Yeah. I also say, my work has led me to this thing for my tombstone, which is, it’s a relational world. It’s not a world of things. It’s not a billiard ball world, where one ball is not going another ball is not going another ball, that is a very painful world with winning, and winning is knocking everybody off the field, right? But it’s a relational world where somehow or another, the very nature of nature is relational. Yeah.
Maybe I’m just observing my own process. But it’s this feeling of being asked again and again, to let go of yet one more layer of my concepts of rightness, even though I’m right. I mean, even though I’m right about it, I’m not right, spiritually. I might be right in terms of data. But if I break connection in order to push somebody, I don’t know how this turns out, Britt, but I’m just saying that this is what comes to me as I listen to you.
Well, that makes a lot of sense to me, because vulnerability is the most powerful place to arrive. I think with all of this stuff. We wouldn’t be able to live the way we do if we could feel the pain of the animals in the slaughterhouses and the sea-shelled animals in marine ecosystems that can no longer produce their shells because the water is acidifying and all of the people in war-torn, horrific circumstances, all of the migrants who are terrified, don’t know what it’s going to be like when they can wake up in the morning.
If we could feel that, if we were opened through our capacity for vulnerability to then access other people’s vulnerability in that relational way, everything would be different, right? Denial is so profound because it is the giant steel wall that allows us to not feel and to turn away and to turn away. Of course, there’s the corporate malfeasance, ideologically inspired type of denial that we often talk about, but there’s the soft denial that we all have, that allows us to get through the day in the face of devastation, without crumbling from how painful it is to be in touch with all that.
But the kind of vulnerability spiritually or the acceptance of letting go of control and knowing that in the face of nature as well, it’s an emergent, complex system. We can’t control it; we keep trying to, we’re dominating, but hey, we accidentally light the ocean on fire when we do, as happened not too long ago, with a pipe bursting, or the huge BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or any other mega engineering project, that at a certain point, nature emerges, things go wrong. And we see we aren’t as clever in our attempts to dominate anyway.
So really leaning into that vulnerability and lack of control, I think is spiritually right, because that’s the way things are, but also it allows for deeper compassion and orienting us towards the pains of others, which then means that we ourselves act differently. I think what you’re saying makes a lot of sense, and tons of people are clinging with white knuckles so hard to anything that prevents them from feeling vulnerable.
Exactly. I think, when you were talking the other thing I thought of was, that to feel takes time. To think is much faster than feeling. I think with enough time, we could feel all the things you mentioned. To feel is to heal. It’s another little motto of my podcast, what I’ve learned from my guests is, we can’t heal the world, if we can’t feel the world. We’re going to try to fix it. But we’re actually, fixing is not what we need to do. It’s, it’s healing.
I’m going to back up, because I have one other question I have here. Do you see that teenagers and down have a different orientation to this climate crisis, than people who were schooled in a sort of a technological solutionary era?
Yeah, I’m glad you bring that up there. I think there’s no shortage of technical, technological solutions that are still used in education of young people today. The power of startup culture in Silicon Valley, and innovation and all that is still very much with us, which comes out of those ideas and visionary solutions for the moment. I think it’s the young people cannot afford, spiritually and psychologically, they cannot afford to not be focused on this. It’s causing them huge distress. I’m extremely concerned about it.
It is so much worse for young people who are feeling eco-anxious and grieving and angry. Not just because the environment isn’t doing well and they’re upset – naturally, because of the breakdown in our life support systems, which then becomes an embodied response if they feel that’s true, and young people are also very close to nature in a way that adults often kind of grow out of, because of all the other distractions and commitments to things that are not right, so to speak; status climbing and domination and all this stuff.
But it’s so much worse for young people, because they feel like they’re living in a culture where the adults don’t care, where the adults have left the building, where they’re being gaslit by political leaders who either deny it outright or say that they’re taking adequate action and don’t worry, but then obviously, they’re not. So that feeling of betrayal that so many young people carry with them really leads to despair; despair that is not easy to just move through after a couple of days, but despair that is coming with so much other heaviness.
Of course the pandemic, we know, has been terrible for young people’s mental health and people’s mental health everywhere, but especially young people. Then the detrimental effects of social media that requires a different conversation to talk about with the nuance it deserves, but I’m very concerned, of course, about the skyrocketing anxiety, depression, suicidality of young people. And when you do the calculations, I mean, the climate crisis is just clearly a part of it. It really is. We’ve got the research on that as well, but often, we’re still having these siloed discussions about young people’s despair right now, especially in America, that is not factoring the climate crisis in.
The New York Times just did this huge piece about teenage suicide because of the pandemic and social media, and they did not even mention the word climate change. It’s just so glaringly obvious, plus we have the research, but we need to stop splitting them off with separate issues as though this is only the climate concern is only affecting a few. It’s a foreboding sense of betrayal, and moral injury that young people are living with, because of the inaction of adults who are saying, don’t worry, we’re here to protect you, and then absolutely not showing the receipts for it.
I think that’s different from people who are older who have been really nicely groomed by neoliberal rhetoric about individual solutions and technological fixes being able to provide the kind of onward upwards human progress; “Don’t worry, we’ll always find a way because of our ingenuity.” I mean, it just was not the same with my generation. I’m a millennial and of course, I’ve known about climate change for a long time. I used to go to rallies and marches and all that when I was 17, but none of my peers were relating to the climate crisis in the way that Gen Z youth are today.
I think that there are lots of reasons why that it’s just about not being able to fend off the obviousness of climate disasters now, but it’s also intersecting with these other crises that are connected to the larger source of all of this pain; like colonialism and systemic racism and the unequal effects of the pandemic and the climate crisis. Young people are seeing all of that and also being able to connect it to, why can’t I afford a house? Why won’t I have a right to a pension? What on earth is it about the systems that older people have partied with, that they’ve been able to enjoy their lives with, that are now breaking down so much so that it just feels like they’ve cannibalised my future entirely?
It’s a gradual process, and my generation was starting to get squeezed by it. The millennials were always the ones first talking about the not being able to afford a house and no job security and this and that, but if you follow the trend line, it becomes more acute in those who are younger. So now I’m not even able to recall exactly what your question is…
It’s okay. Yeah, generational differences. So I’d love a wind up just something where people are asking, always what can I do? Of course, because our hearts are moved, and we want to do something. So I’ve heard in here that feeling is doing, actually feeling is doing. So what else would you leave us with this idea of appropriate doing in relationship with where we actually are accepting the unacceptable because it is. What would you leave us with?
Feeling is doing is a very powerful way of summing up a lot of my beliefs, but that’s because the doing part of feeling means that you find new orientations in terms of how you’re going to be at this time. I think that a huge issue of importance is climate justice, and really understanding who is most vulnerable, not only in the future, but now and already; and how those of us who might be doing by feeling can really pay attention to their unique needs and work to partner with their journeys that they’re on, respond to their calls for support, in ways that don’t recenter our own needs.
Like if you’re privileged, if you have the capacity, because it’s really life or death for so many millions of people. There’s so much that we can do with this spiritual transformation to focus on that and understand the unequal aspects, and then bring our talents towards trying to close the gap with this massive existential inequality that we have. I think that there’s so many ways to do it, of course, depending on where you’re at in your life. You can change your work, you can do something different in your day to day that focuses on this, you can donate, you can spend your time making art that you think channels the right kind of energy towards the issue.
There’s tons of ways in which one might reinvest the emotional energy that comes with feeling these intensities. So I just want to put that out there, because I think there’s a danger in talking so much about acceptance. It depends on what we mean by acceptance. If it’s about accepting that these times are incredibly dangerous and the world is changing, massive, turbulent changes are ahead, whether we like them or not, and there’s going to be a lot of bloodshed and misery; I can accept that, because I know that’s what’s going on.
But acceptance doesn’t mean, so then I accept and I reflect on it as it happens. Acceptance for me requires then knowing and harm can be reduced, and it doesn’t need to become as bad as it will otherwise become. So what can I do to reduce that harm and reach out and repair those relations that you’re talking about? The world is relational. What can I use, whatever power and talent I have, to help create a platform where others can join me?
I think that I get a little confused, sometimes when I talk with people who seem to really resonate with the idea of the earth as hospice, which is really acceptance based. The idea that this is all happening, and there’s not much that we can do to meaningfully change it; I find it very dangerous, if that’s what acceptance means. But except if acceptance means AND you can step into your power for doing harm reduction work, then I think that’s great. So I wonder what the communities that you interact with the most, I’m sure you’re familiar with this idea of Earth as hospice? What does acceptance fully entail?
Well, I’m glad you asked, because my friend, Lynne Twist speaks often about this idea, which I actually think might have been generated by Dwayne Elgin, who maybe took it from somebody else, but it’s like we’re in a dual process. We’re hospicing that which is dying and must die because it’s reached senescence, but we’re midwifing what’s coming into being.
It’s like, when you look at Joanna Macy, I think that her picture is there’s one curve that’s going like this, but there’s another curve that’s coming out of it. This is the midwifing part of it. It’s not that as a midwife, you’re not inventing the baby. It’s not that you’re controlling a situation and you’re making a baby. You are noticing where the change is emerging and you’re nurturing that. I think it’s very aligned with what you’re saying about intersectionality and that once you get it, actually the work is to midwife. It’s like to listen for the voices of not only the voices of pain, people who are at the butt end of the problem, but to listen to the wisdom of people who have endured through the pain, which is very much African Americans, Indigenous people.
When I listen, I’m more amazed by what I’m hearing, as more and more Indigenous and African American leaders are allowing us to listen into their conversations. I just feel like, Oh, that’s truth. I feel like I can smell truth. It’s not that I can speak what they’re speaking, but I can sniff it. I love your term about reinvesting, that basically everybody thinks about that in terms of money, but you’re reinvesting your life energy in the midwife part of the cycle.
A lot of it is, I do feel that this whole process can get aborted with people my age who either have a spiritual gloss on it; Oh, we’re transforming, isn’t this great? As though once again, it’s an individual.. Definitely individually, we have to take responsibility, but we are individuals in a system that’s in crisis. So our healing is not just that we can make it through, it’s the healing of the collective is happening through us. There’s a lot. Individualism can grab us, again and again. We’re just about to get it, and then it’s like, Oh, look how smart I am.
So, it is a perilous path. But talking to you, your level of clarity and the depth of your scholarship on this is such that it’s easy to listen to what you have to say, because it’s accountable and reliable and well thought through. I come from two generations back and I mostly was like, my hair’s on fire, I’m screaming. I didn’t have the scholarship, because the scholarship wasn’t really there yet, but you have it. I guess what my wind up would be is just, all blessings upon you. All blessings upon you, Britt. It’s a big bowl of a pain and possibility that you’re carrying and it’s full, full, full. With your book coming out, that’s a big job, and you finding your way to stay at ease and grounded as all the expectations and challenges are coming towards you. So, thank you so much. Blessings, blessings, blessings.