commented that, ‘If you want to do something positive for the world, you have to be glad to be here.’
In a world in which so many things are going wrong, it
may be tempting to react with anger or despair. In contrast to these reactions
Joanna Macy’s observation is an astute and radical one.
Many in the environmental and social justice movements
act from a place of anger, born perhaps of frustration at a lack of political
will. Acting from such a place may seem to be an obvious response as it appears
to place the blame for the mess we are in where it belongs – at the top of the
political, corporate, and industrial hierarchies.
However, for Macy, this is a mistaken starting point.
For Macy the better, more grounded, place from which
to begin is in gratitude. Jacques Cousteau, the famous oceanographer,
recognises a similar starting point. He succinctly notes that ‘People
protect what they love.’
Gratitude in this sense is more than a sensual delight
resulting in a sense of gratefulness. We may feel grateful when we watch a sunset
or smell a rose. Although that sense may linger for a few hours, maybe even for
the rest of the day, the sense of gratefulness brought about through sensory
experience can fade and disappear.
Gratitude, however, is a continuing, ever present,
state of mind. For Macy, and others, this is critical, as it helps ground us,
and allow us to find balance in our lives and in how we see and act in the
Thus grounded, Macy
asserts that it is possible to honour the pain for the world, without crumbling
into despair, confusion, or apathy. A grounding in gratitude also enables us to
honour that pain for the world (some refer to this as crying the tears of
the world) without descending into anger, finger-pointing, name-calling,
and (all too often) violence.
Only once we are grounded
in gratitude and able to see the tears of the world are we able to act
in a positive way.
It is important to note
that Macy talks about doing something positive – she does not add the
word change. She is well aware that although we may act in a positive
manner, there is no guarantee that our actions will make a positive change.
Which brings us back to gratitude and being glad to be here.
With gratitude, it is
possible to remain equanimous, even amid seeming futility, and the possibility
I am glad to be here. I wish
for you to be so as well.
1. Joanna Macy (now in her mid-90s) is a long-time
writer, activist, and creative thinker offering her insight to the pain and
despair of the world. She has written numerous books and guided dozens of
workshops helping people to find ways of being and responding in the world.