Sustainable Putnam

Getting to Hope, Part II

In Getting to Hope Part I, Joe described two forms of hope: one passive, the other active, based on the book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. In Part II, Joe describes the stories we’ve adopted about the world and our place in it.

Active hope isn’t something that happens to you. It’s a mindset, and like all mindsets, it  requires practice. In short, there are three key steps to developing this mindset: 

  • Take a clear view of reality.
  • Identify what you hope for: the direction you want things to move in, and the values you want to guide us.
  • Take steps, together with others, to move ourselves and our situation in that direction.

So how do we push through the negativity and despair toward action?

Macy and Johnstone explain that we can begin to develop an active hope by “choosing a new story.” Particularly in the United States, we are raised with a story compelling us to think of our planet, our society, and ourselves in a particularly unhelpful way. That story reinforces the status quo, leaves us powerless to change it, and looking to others for solutions. But there are other stories.

Three Stories of Our Time

You can think of “your story” as a framework that is so central to your consciousness, you may not even be aware that there are other possibilities. Like a fish that doesn’t realize it’s in a bowl, this story is often all we know. Fortunately, Macy and Johnstone have identified three major “stories” of our time. They are Business as Usual; The Great Unraveling; and The Great Turning.

Business As Usual. This story assumes that there is no need to change the status quo, or that it is impossible to do so. We know that both of these assumptions are unsatisfactory. People who view the world through this story are either personally unaffected by the crises we face due to their position in society, or they don’t see the possibility for change.

The Great Unraveling. This story draws attention to the disasters resulting from Business as Usual. It is an account of the collapse of ecological and social systems, and the dysfunction of our economy. This one is a favorite of corporate media, because it draws eyeballs and sells advertising. While it recognizes the crises we face, it considers these to be unstoppable and discounts solutions. Those who embrace this story tend to criticize, discourage, and refrain from attempts at change.

The Great Turning. This third story is held and lived by those who believe that Business as Usual requires willfull ignorance, and The Great Unraveling, a resignation to doom. They will have neither. Their story, The Great Turning, embraces creative, ecologically-aligned responses to our crises. As Macy and Johnstone explain, The Great Turning offers a paradigm shift “from an industrial, patriarchal society committed to economic growth and domination over nature and humanity, to an ecological, life-sustaining, balanced society, committed to the healing and recovery of our world”.

The point isn’t that one of these stories is “correct” and the others “wrong.” The more important consideration is which story offers us the opportunity for a healthy response to our situation. In other words, into which story do you want to put your energy?

Choose Your Story

If you want to remain hopeful, the choice is clear. Find others who seem to embrace The Great Turning as their story. Work with them to build and strengthen it here and now. Over many years, Macy and Johnstone have laid out a path to do just this through a series of exercises and practices to guide and support others along their journeys.

And this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; there are many different ways to embrace this story. In the next post, I’ll describe the major options available and where you can learn more to take first steps.

2 thoughts on “Getting to Hope, Part II”

  1. Thanks Joe, like part 1, very well written. Encouraging people to build hope for inspiring positive change.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Yes, I would like to receive emails from Sustainable Putnam. Sign me up!



You can unsubscribe at any time by using the Unsubscribe link found at the bottom of every email.