Transitioning to life-sustaining society: The Great Turning

April 24, 2016

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy’s invitation to cultivate active hope in challenging times is energizing the Sisters of Mercy’s justice coordinators’ work of unmasking and addressing the underlying causes of our main justice concerns and the interconnections among them.

The Sisters of Mercy are committed to protecting Earth, standing in solidarity with immigrants, practicing nonviolence, responding to racism and embracing our particular concern for women. We are increasingly realizing that at the roots of all of these is an economic-political system that is destroying vulnerable people, communities and cultures and Earth.

We find Macy’s framework for engaging with challenging issues extremely helpful: first grounding ourselves in gratitude, then honoring our pain for the world, and out of that “seeing with new eyes” and taking action.

Part of “seeing with new eyes” is acknowledging the three realities that Macy asserts are operating in our time: (1) Business as Usual, in which people see little need to change the way we live; (2) the Great Unraveling, which can be paralyzing as people dwell on the resulting disasters they see all around them; and (3) the Great Turning, which involves engaging in the.

We are choosing to be part of that Great Turning.

To get a glimpse of what that might involve, at a recent meeting we analyzed who benefits from and who is harmed by Business as Usual and the Great Unraveling in the global extractives industry, immigration to the United States and the United States’ seemingly never-ending war. For each issue, we looked at the underlying political-economic system, socio-cultural norms and core spiritual values.

What we recognized is that, regardless of the issue, a privileged few are reaping financial benefits and power from unjust systems while the most vulnerable are exploited and the rest of us are manipulated into consumerism, a false sense of security and fear of “the other.”

So how do we even begin to grapple with these realities?

Joanna Macy suggests that we need to work simultaneously on three dimensions of the Great Turning to ever achieve that more life-sustaining society:

  • Holding actions, which are designed to hold back and slow down the damage being caused by the political-economic system underlying Business as Usual. These include moratoriums on fracking, reducing deportations of undocumented immigrants and supporting victims of human trafficking.
  • Life-sustaining structures, which re-imagine everything from where we shop and what energy sources we use to how we design healthcare and transportation networks. Examples include supporting local banks and local economies, integrating peace-making into our schools and building welcoming communities for immigrants.
  • Shift in consciousness, which involves nurturing compassion and other values that deepen our sense of belonging in the world and inspire us to work for this life-sustaining society.

This process could be helpful for all working toward a paradigm shift in mindset and values; public policies for an economy of right relationship; an economy of thriving and resilient communities; and a return of corporations to their proper place in society.

You may find more about Joanna Macy at

By GCCM Steering Committee Member Marianne Comfort