Apathy versus taking action
To the editor:
Joanna Macy is a scholar and author who nudges her readers into a more active and healing relationship with planet Earth. In her book “World As Lover, World As Self,” she writes, “We are bringing on destruction ourselves, mindlessly consuming, ignoring the consequences of our actions.
Worse than the threats we face is the deadening of our response. Apathy, the inability or refusal to suffer pain, is the greatest danger.”
Nobody likes to experience pain — it makes us feel weak, depressed, stupid, afraid, guilty, hopeless, angry, unloved – so we avoid it.
Macy points out, however, that our pain for the world is healthy because, when we learn that our actions are killing us, we change.
It’s only when we repress or deny our pain that it becomes dysfunctional.
Macy suggests we spend some time in a damaged place and notice the life struggling to heal itself. I imagine everyone who has ever participated in a highway cleanup knows how good it feels to assist with the process of healing.
There are some encouraging signs:
People are working, individually and through many organizations, to lessen our negative impact on the earth.
Scientific breakthroughs are giving us the tools we need to move from an Industrial Growth Society (fueled in the past 100 years by the earth’s blood, oil), to a Life-Sustaining Society.
Universal access to ancient wisdom is helping us see that we are all part of the same web of life and that viewing ourselves as separate from nature is a recent and destructive idea.
One cause of our apathy, according to Macy, is abusive power that makes us feel our efforts are ineffective.
Power-with (synergy) is far better than power-over (domination.) A good leader recognizes talent in others and fosters cooperation to solve problems.
Active involvement in some positive and worthwhile cause is the best antidote to apathy.
Macy tells the story of a Tibetan monk who, after years of exile, returned to Tibet, where a temple, destroyed years before, was being rebuilt.
Feeling discouraged at the magnitude and unlikely success of the project, she admired the pluck of the monk. “There was too much at stake to let the past lure him into bitterness. No one had better reason to be angry, but he found better uses for his mind.
In the long run, it is persistence that shapes the future.”