As you’ve heard me talk about many times, whether you believe our world is healing or floundering toward disaster depends on which evidence you notice. Check out my Guide to Informed Optimism and podcast episodes featuring good news if you want help considering which markers of the state of the world are more true, or more worthy of our attention.
Relatedly, I want to bring your attention to our choice right now to either wilt or stand tall in the face of all that’s occurring in our world. I’ll describe the two options, then offer suggestions of how you can make the choice you feel is wisest and most helpful.
I’ll then tell you why I think it’s very important right now to be distinguishing between what I call 20th c. sustainability viewpoints that are now outmoded (and were only moderately or even minimally successful) and what I call 21st. c. regenerative viewpoints that are deeper, more inclusive, and have the potential to transform life on this planet into tremendous flourishing.
As we face a continual news stream of indicators of national and international political conflict, worrisome environmental and economic indicators, and stories of people’s cruelty to one another, some people are wilting: wilting into anxiety, pessimism, depression, blaming others, or making dire predictions. (Predictions, by the way, are odd things, because as history shows, human beings are not omniscient, variables often change, and many predictions turn out to be entirely wrong. So be watchful when you hear a prediction of disaster. Know it’s not necessarily going to turn out to be true.) People who wilt also may choose an angry, defensive posture as a response to fear and uncertainty. These are the people you hear blaming others for being wrong or being the enemy, whether in politics or in handling environmental or social issues. This blame and othering brings an energy of fight, war, or tug of war that is not ultimately productive. Polarizing and othering rarely leads to healthy, collaborative, inclusive solutions.
While some people are wilting and collapsing, others are standing tall. These are the people I feature in my good news episodes on this podcast. These are the endeavors I talk about in my Guide to Informed Optimism. These are the people who are collaborating to create recovery on the burnt coast of Maui in just ways that maintain space for native peoples and former residents, whatever their income level. Those who are standing tall are the ones creating regenerative agricultural solutions that can feed the world while healing our climate, soil, air, and sister-brother species. Those who are standing tall are the ones sharing food from their gardens, offering comfort to those who are anxious, switching their home electricity provider to a company that generates via wind and solar, or in any of thousands of ways, helping create renewal, regeneration, and healing.
Standing tall, of course, doesn’t mean you never wilt; not at all. Everyone wilts at times. What’s important about standing tall is that it’s a choice you can make, and it’s a stance you want to be in as much as possible: ideally, much of the time. We need more and more people to choose the Standing Tall stance right now.
It’s your free choice to discover what ‘standing tall’ means for you personally. Here are some ways to define it, and you may know of others. Standing tall can mean knowing what you believe to be true and what your own strengths are, and holding strong in those, but strong in a flexible way, with a focus on contribution, not on being defensive or right. Strength can appear as various energies: deep compassion, fiery leadership, incisive insight, potent kindness, visionary planning, nurturing life without getting depleted yourself; teaching others a kind of wisdom or skill they desire to learn; there are so many forms of strength. Strength can show up as patience that doesn’t shrink but holds steady. Sometimes strength shows up as the choice to rest or ask for support, to set a boundary, to be quiet, to listen to others. Strength has many forms, but it’s NOT depressive wilting and it’s not angry defensiveness. It’s NOT giving up, accepting defeat in our human-Earth project, or adding to polarization and conflict. It IS creative, heart-based, and courageous.
One thing I think we can all do better is to realize that our attitude, our posture toward life, the energetic stance we’re taking, is one we can choose. Yes, we can let it just happen to us, but we also have the ability to choose it. Here are 3 suggestions:
- NOTICE! Notice whether you are wilting or standing tall. Notice the energy, perspective, assumptions you are bringing to the world, and whether they incline you toward shrinking back or stepping forward in loving contribution.
- Once you’ve noticed whether you’re wilting or standing tall, ask yourself how that feels. If it feels good, aligned, harmonious, then you’re all set. But if it feels somehow uncomfortable or undesirable then
- Experiment with a different stance until you find one that feels wise and helpful for yourself and others. It’s your call whether, and how, you want to wilt or stand tall. If you’re already standing tall and you want to stand taller, you probably see how already. If you’re wilting and you want to try standing tall, you could:
- Read Dr. David Hawkins’ classic book, Power vs. Force
- Experiment with simply choosing to feel optimistic and trusting for even a few minutes to practice being in that state.
- Choose some particular way you want to stand tall—maybe helping in your home area with a conservation endeavor, a project that helps animals or plants or people in need, or creating a service that contributes in way you feel the world needs. Take it as your endeavor to practice standing tall. If you see any success at all, keep going! And if this feels really hard, you’re welcome to contact me for a coaching session.
I now want to give you some further examples of what it means to either wilt or stand tall in these times.
This past spring I had the opportunity to hear some of North America’s foremost leaders on climate speak at an event. There’s no point in naming names because what I want to share is about wilting vs. standing strong and tall, but I’ll note that these are very prominent author-speakers who are often cited as experts on our climate situation.
What made me very sad as I listened to them was that many of them were sad and disheartened. From this stance of wilting, they were offering the ‘wilting’ posture to the audience rather than offering guidance on how to stand strong and be a creative, visionary, collaborative presence. One said, “I have a dim view of hope” and then explained that only people who are not really engaged with climate issues are hopeful—hopeful because they are ignorant and naïve. I wondered as I listened what point there is in talking authoritatively about all the reasons things look bad. What is the point of that? While I don’t favor war as a solution, I do know that when the Allied forces needed to defeat Hitler’s Third Reich, Allied leaders didn’t achieve victory by talking about defeats, casualties, destroyed cities and lives, or how strong the Axis armies were. They achieved victory over an evil government by focusing on strength, moral conviction, and whatever victories they could count as victories. I’m not sure you can find any examples of truly meaningful achievements that were based on sadness, defeat, and hopelessness. So isn’t it irresponsible for so-called climate leaders to try to ‘lead’ from that wilting stance?
As I listened to these supposedly expert speakers, I found myself wondering what is the contribution in showing off one’s knowledge about the many measurements of social injustice and environmental devastation if you cannot, at the same time, be a leader who points listeners toward creative, wise, collaborative, regenerative solutions. Those exist all around us: read Paul Hawken’s books or websites Drawdown and Regeneration if you want examples. So why are we listening to famous people giving talks about how desperate things appear when instead we could read Drawdown and Regeneration and find our own way to ‘stand tall’ in service to collective healing on this precious planet?
Other questions in my mind as I heard these talks were, how dare any of us have the hubris—the mistaken pride—to believe that human civilization doesn’t change, can’t change? The entire history of our species is one of continual change, development, evolution, upleveling. How dare any so-called expert or leader talk only about what’s severely discouraging and fail to help others see how we can choose a better pathway together? How dare anyone fail to believe in all that is GOOD in humanity? How dare anyone ignore the millions of people globally who are engaging in millions of actions that nourish other people, animals, plants, and ecosystems? When Paul Hawken tried about a decade ago to count the number of global non-profit endeavors seeking to improve conditions on Earth, he happily had to give up because these endeavors are so numerous all of the world that it’s impossible to count them all. How dare anyone disregard this global endeavor to serve and help by choosing a wilting posture of despair instead?
We can all notice the climate justice legal cases being brought forward by teenagers, college students, and senior citizens and wonder why mid-life adults seem to be wilting more than leading.
In a recent case in the US state of Montana a group of young people claimed the state’s fossil fuel policies are a danger to their health, and the judge agreed, setting a precedent analysts are saying could be ‘game-changing.’ I’m sure people of various ages were involved in the case. THIS is standing tall instead of wilting.
Another way I’d like to describe this is to distinguish between what I think of as 20th century vs. 21st century responses to sustainability. Note that in my view, many people around the world are still holding to 20th c. views.
20th c. responses to sustainability have focused on measurements of all that’s wrong in our environment, advocated tweaks that were inadequate, and described sustainability as difficult and involving sacrifice and struggle.
I see truly 21st century approaches as emphasizing regeneration and the ways it can benefit everyone by creating ways of living that are more joyful for people as well as nourishing for plants, animals, and ecosystems. These views help people see that caring for Earth IS caring for ourselves, and it’s not a sacrificial path but a delightful one.
20th century responses were or are hierarchical and dictated by so-called experts who were usually white men.
21st century approaches are being led by people of every race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, and affiliation because people around the world are realizing that while the knowledge of intellectual experts can be valuable, only local people truly know their environments and cultures and what is needed, feasible, and appropriate in their community.
20th c. sustainability viewpoints assume that the developed, industrialized world is in charge, and technological change is what’s needed. 21st century regenerative viewpoints assume that regenerative sustainability needs to be chosen in each region of the world in ways that are appropriate to its geography and culture, that it’s profoundly collaborative, and that a change of hearts, attitudes, and understandings about the human role on Earth are primarily what is needed.
20th c. approaches often have been tweaks: fix how we produce energy and everything else can stay the same! 21st c. approaches think in terms of major systems change so that humans return to living in environmentally sustainable and regenerative ways while also creating social and economic systems that are life-nurturing and inclusive rather than hierarchical and exclusive, leaving many at the bottom or on the margins. They aim at systemic TRANSFORMATION for whole-planet healing.
20th c. approaches see ‘sustainability’ as something undesirable that we HAVE to do. 21st c. approaches see it as an invitation to enter into an era of flourishing that we co-create together.
20th century approaches assume that when you show people the numbers on climate (and either scare them enough or persuade their minds), they’ll do the right thing. 21st century approaches are founded in the belief that when you help people fall in love with humanity and the Earth, and their own wellness, they’ll absolutely do the right thing.
20th century approaches emphasize danger and threat; 21st century approaches emphasize our opportunity to revitalize all life on our planet—they are grounded in the inspiring possibility of creating extensive thriving.
20th century approaches emphasized solving our energy and climate problems. 21st century approaches to continually acknowledge that deeply and regeneratively solving our energy and climate problems also can address socio-economic inequality through the adoption of solutions such as regenerative agriculture, local energy economies, and job training in regenerative technologies such as wind, solar, and local food production.
20th century approaches have been disciplinary and harsh, sometimes shaming people and creating an us vs. them mentality regarding those who are doing the right thing and those who aren’t, those who ‘get it’ and those who don’t. 21st century approaches are an invitation into transformation and greater thriving: an inclusive invitation that welcomes anyone who wants to participate. Anyone and everyone with vision, skills, or interest is welcome.
20th c. approaches activate our limbic, fear-oriented brain and can leave us feeling scared and helpless. 21st c. approaches speak to our wiser forebrains and their ability to consider calmly, plan, be creative and innovative, and collaborate with others.
I hope I’ve helped you consider whether you’re wilting or standing tall right now, and how to stand taller and stronger. I hope it invites you to notice the difference between outmoded approaches to sustainability and exciting approaches to regeneration of all our systems, for the good of all species and our planet.