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Jul 11

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Catastrophe Thinking

I am pretty sure my entire life has been lived under the hovering cloud of the apocalypse. Sure there were moments of possibility – the fall of the wall, the election of Obama, the end of apartheid in South Africa. But mostly the global events we hear about focus on the end of civilization as we know it, albeit in small chunks at a time. It is still framed as disaster…. we are losing what we had and aren’t moving into a better world (except in small isolated ways). From AIDS to Bird Flu, from Rwanda genocide to Sudan and Burma, nuclear proliferation, the Gulf Coast disaster 2.0 (and Katrina as 1.0), Haiti (and so many other earthquakes, mud slides, volcanoes, and other weather/geological disasters for humans) – plus economic crisis and climate change, the extinction of so many species, and the war on terror (which just grows fear and terror) all converge – even for those of us who don’t watch the news. There is overpopulation, sex slaves, and child mortality issues as well as deforestation, crumbling infrastructure, and coach potatoes living in suburban nightmares. There are activists working cancer into their bodies with their martyr-like dedication. There are those in sedated near oblivion – zombie-living. There are hedonic wealth-seekers facing doom with greed and opulence. This is the story of crumbling and disintegration. Our globalized post-modern world tumbling through catastrophes.

We tell this story, and we have been telling this story, for my whole life. And the fear-mongering started long before I was born – the the cold war threatening nuclear annihilation for half a century.

I am tired of this story. I am tired of seeing faces worn down with the contraction of fear. I am weary of the negativity and desperation driving people to hate, divide, hoard, and fight. I am sick of finding out my government is justifying killing people in order to obtain more resources (because, I guess, we are in such a state of lack!).

We victimize ourselves, and in that suffering, we victimize others with our trauma.

Enough. Put it down. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t fight for a world you already gave up on.

Look for the flower emerging in the sidewalk – life pressing through without complaint or blame to assert its urge for sunlight. Nature is incredibly resilient and adaptive. Work within the world we have to co-create the world we want. Focus on what is going well and right, and encourage more of it. Breathe and be the serenity prayer.

Do not deny the brutal facts before us, but know that you see those facts through a filter of the story you are telling yourself (and others) about the world. You can transform that story and see those facts in a fresh light – from a different vantage point. Turn on the thrivability light, and recognize that life gives rise to more life. Never before in human history have we known a greater wealth of possibility.

After three days in Philadelphia discussing philanthropy and philanthropic strategies for transformation, I feel deeply convinced and inspired by a model I can see of thrivable philanthropy. Gerard calls it evolutionary philanthropy, and there might be some subtle distinctions. However, let me explain. And then I hope it will be more clear why our stories about our world could shift to transform our experience of it and the world itself.

Let’s call charity the work that we do to address immediate needs of others who can not, for whatever reason, care for themselves. It is as if you are standing on a riverbank, see a baby floating downstream, and you rush out to save the drowning child. Only, there are not enough people pulling drowning babies from the river, and the babies have suffered from being in the river. Our hearts break open. Some savvy volunteer wonders aloud – “who is tossing babies in this river?” And a crew of helpers decide to go upstream to find the cause. And they discover a system out of balance allowing babies to land in the river. They decide to change the system and set up programs to help mothers and advocate for social justice. We call this social change and social justice work. Still, babies are floating down the river. The philanthropist supporting this work starts to wonder – huh, what impact is my giving having? I want babies to stop ending up in the river – this is madness! And the social justice worker says – well, we think we have decreased the number of babies in the river, but this is a complex adaptive system so I can’t name all the causes and effects! I can’t clearly attribute your dollars having saved babies without acknowledging other programs and the dynamic changes in the system in which our town operates, babies are born, the economy shifts, and nature takes her course. We might have even changed our baby counting practices in a way that changed how many babies we can account for, which skewed the numbers giving an artificial bump. But we are not sure.

Then a thinker stands up and says – it is the very culture and beliefs in which we operate that give rise to these systems that aren’t taking care of all these babies. And the philanthropist has to choose now – either fund better metrics to know whether there is an impact… or fund cultural shift. And there are still babies in the river, and everyone’s hearts break open knowing it and seeing it. And they are sad.

Transforming culture takes longer, it is harder to measure, the complex dynamic system of it all makes it next to impossible to attribute agency clearly. And, it is where the greatest possibility for creating a culture that ever more deeply transforms itself, cares for each other and the whole, and enables the world we want.

Change your story.

Permanent link to this article: http://thrivable.net/2010/07/catastrophe-thinking/

66 comments

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  1. Jean Russell

    Ranting about story telling and our catastrophe thinking: http://bit.ly/cGKxva #thrivability

  2. josh

    Couldn’t agree more Jean! This perspective of helplessness and negativity is really wearing thin…

    Came across a great interview the other day on Shareable.net… this guy Jesse Richards wrote a book called ‘The Secret Peace: Exposing the Positive Trend of World Events’, which offers an incredibly refreshing perspective on our social status at a global level… here’s a link: http://shareable.net/blog/the-speed-of-good-trends-jesse-richards-the-secret-peace-meetup

    cheers!

    -josh

  3. Bill Anderson

    Jean, thanks for this helpful post, which I do not read as a rant. For me the hardest part is acknowledging my own fear of the consequences of our collective behaviors, and marshaling my hope and enthusiasm for generating a better present and future. We need to help each other out in building sustainable social, political, and economic systems. But first, we need to listen to each other and come to terms with what we all have created. And these catastrophe stories are part of that creation.

    -Bill

  4. jhagel

    Stories matter, but need to inspire and motivate for positive action – great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn

  5. Bruce Waltuck

    RT Ranting about story telling and our catastrophe thinking: http://bit.ly/cGKxva #thrivability (via @NurtureGirl)

  6. Cris Popenoe

    RT @jhagel: Stories matter, but need to inspire and motivate for positive action – great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn

  7. dave booram

    Worth a read RT @NurtureGirl: Ranting about story telling and our catastrophe thinking: http://bit.ly/cGKxva #thrivability

  8. Dale Dougherty

    “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, she concludes. Inspiring idea for Detroit.

  9. Tim O'Reilly

    Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, she concludes.

  10. Sunil Malhotra

    RT @timoreilly: rt on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: gr8 post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change yr story, she concludes.

  11. Code for America

    @timoreilly I love that: "Don’t fight for a world you already gave up on." http://bit.ly/cU0ipn from @NurtureGirl

  12. Johann STAN

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn”http://bit.ly/9xBSEo

  13. Michael Jester

    good idea! Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/cGKxva

  14. Bob Eddings

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, sh …

  15. Bob Eddings

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, she concludes.

  16. Jeris JC Miller

    Right on so many levels RT@dalepd @jhagel: great post @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn Change your story, she concludes. /via @timoreilly

  17. Dorian Roy

    RT @NurtureGirl: Ranting about story telling and our catastrophe thinking: http://bit.ly/cGKxva #thrivability

  18. Matt Secoske

    "Don’t fight for a world you already gave up on." Change your Story. Brilliant. http://bit.ly/aW4plG /via @timoreilly

  19. TiparilloPDX

    RT @jhagel: Stories matter, but need to inspire and motivate for positive action – great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn

  20. EDF Innovation Exchg

    Reading: [from dwitzel] Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/bVNd5q

  21. Peter Jarosak

    RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, she concludes. (via @timoreilly)

  22. 0m4r

    "change your story" -> http://bit.ly/bmwuh8 (via @NurtureGirl)

  23. AdWords Consultant

    RT @NurtureGirl "Focus on what is going well and right, and encourage more of it." ~ http://bit.ly/cU0ipn

  24. Mads Klinkby

    RT @NurtureGirl Ranting about story telling and our catastrophe thinking: http://bit.ly/cGKxva #thrivability

  25. nell

    Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/cGKxva Worth a retweet!!!

  26. J Chris Anderson

    Must read on post on our disaster world by @NurtureGirl change your perspective http://bit.ly/cU0ipn via @timoreilly

  27. Mark Coleran

    Catastrophe Thinking
    @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn”
    Change your story, she concludes. (via @timoreilly)

  28. Cleo Kiernan

    Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking: Fearmongering. Stop it.. change your story http://bit.ly/9odF6t #P2 #tcot #tlot #hatriot

  29. Just Separated

    Great article http://j.mp/catastrophethinking My summary: Most things you cannot change so instead concentrate on those which can be changed

  30. Preston Austin

    .@NurtureGirl humorously skewers tedious doom narratives (suggests stories of success :) http://bit.ly/cU0ipn /v @timoreilly @dalepd @jhagel

  31. Billy Shipp

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, sh …

  32. Billy Shipp

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, she concludes.

  33. Rasced Oley

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, sh …

  34. BASloan

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, sh …

  35. BASloan

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, she concludes.

  36. trish

    Catastrophe? Change your story. *love* this RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn

  37. Sweden United

    Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/cGKxva

  38. Shane Murray

    RT @klinkby: RT @NurtureGirl Ranting about story telling and our catastrophe thinking: http://bit.ly/cGKxva #thrivability

  39. Shane Murray

    RT @NurtureGirl: Ranting about story telling and our catastrophe thinking: http://bit.ly/cGKxva #thrivability

  40. Evelyn Jabri

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, sh …

  41. Sean O'Reilly

    RT @trishlet: Catastrophe? Change your story. *love* this RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn

  42. Mike Llewellyn

    I loved this, it is voices of intelligent optimism like this that spread hope for a better future! We can and we are improving the culture, and one day we will discover that there are no more babies in the river.

  43. Mike Llewellyn

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, sh …

  44. WordBoom

    Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/9nacWn

  45. Dustin Goerndt

    Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/9nacWn

  46. RWOACUS

    Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/9nacWn

  47. steve

    Excellent stuff Jean!

    We have always had a stream of challenges and the easy way out seems to be attempting to motivate people with fear as well as forces who demotivate using pessimism and misinformation. Realistic optimism can be a powerful force. That’s what I look for and try (imperfectly) to impart. I have rarely been unexcited by the possibilities and even if my contributions aren’t efficient, there is always another sunrise to try again with what I have learned.

  48. Deanna Zandt

    Must-read: "Enough. Put it down. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t fight for a world you already gave up on." @nurturegirl http://bit.ly/8XfldY

  49. gregorylent

    here is my story ..

    there ARE unchangeable things. including change itself.

    and, transformation is the work of nature, being, the transcendent moving force of existence. who is making no mistake at all.

    relax. nothing to be achieved, nothing to gain. all is well. everything is as it is for a larger reason than any mind can conceive of.

    do what is in front of you to do in the best way that you can do it. it is ALL you can do, and it is enough.

    enjoy.

  50. 6th Mega

    RT @jhagel: Stories matter, but need to inspire and motivate for positive action – great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn

  51. Mia Judkins

    RT @randomdeanna: Must-read: "Enough. Put it down. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t fight for a world you already gave up on." @nurturegirl http://bit.ly/8XfldY

  52. Tom Maillioux

    Glad to see I'm not the only one thinking in this direction these days. http://nurture.biz/2010/07/catastrophe-thinking/ (via @_june)

  53. LeonorCristinaSantos

    RT @timoreilly Right on so many levels…. RT @dalepd “@jhagel: great post by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, she…

  54. Agnese Z?rne

    St?sti ir svar?gi, bet vajag iedvesmot un motiv?t pozit?vai darb?bai. Lielisks raksts! Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/cGKxva

  55. Ingus Ostrovskis

    RT @ZerneAgnese: St?sti ir svar?gi, bet vajag iedvesmot un motiv?t pozit?vai darb?bai. Lielisks raksts! Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/cGKxva

  56. IndianOrg BTH

    RT @SwedenUnited: Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/cGKxva

  57. Mushin

    Catastrophe Thinking http://bit.ly/cGKxva

  58. Mushin

    I love it, Jean, I really love it! Thank you for going this way!

  59. Toufic Absi

    "Work within the world we have…. Focus on what is going well and right, and encourage more of it." http://j.mp/aqSRfB /via @timoreilly

  60. Roger McNamee

    According to Moonalice legend, it's time to stop worrying impending catastrophe. http://bit.ly/bjd930 (via @timoreilly)

  61. Roxali Sarasua

    RT @timoreilly: Right on so many levels..RT @dalepd “@jhagel: gr8 by @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn” Change your story, she concludes.

  62. Eugenio Moliní

    RT @rsarasua: cambiar la narrativa catastrófica @NurtureGirl http://bit.ly/cU0ipn”

  63. Helen Titchen Beeth

    "Work within the world we have to co-create the world we want." http://bit.ly/bxLbrk

  64. Michael Scarmack

    by far one of the top five days finding in one’s own short human existence, with connection to liked minds with thoughts like thrivability and restorative environmental design

  65. Amy Jussel

    @CodeforAmerica Goes for #media messaging too! "Don’t fight 4a world U already gave up on." http://bit.ly/cU0ipn v @timoreilly @NurtureGirl

  66. Paulo Godoy

    Nurture » Catastrophe Thinking
    http://bit.ly/cGKxva

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