Reflections from Tom Atlee–We Beg One and All to Read and Contribute-and Join Us in Louiseville!

Tom Atlee

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Dear friends,

This will be a very unusual fundraising letter.  If you wish to support my work in general, without getting into details, there is information at the end of this email explaining how.  If you'd like to hear what I've been doing and what it has been teaching me, read on.

You have not heard much from me much in the last six months.  For most of that time I was caring more than full-time for my partner of 24 years, Karen Mercer, who I met on the cross-country Great Peace March in 1986.  After three years of cancer treatments of various kinds, she was declared terminal back in April.  On Earth Day she joyfully chose assisted suicide at home under Oregon's “Death with Dignity” law — but she didn't die.  She emerged from three days in a coma to have more than three more months of eventful, loving life before finally dying in hospice care on July 29, still with my 24/7 engagement.  It has been a very intense time for me, in many many ways.  You can read the dramatic story, if you want, in the downloadable “Updates” on

In this letter I want to share several inquiries that I've been exploring for years, which I found greatly intensified during my months caring for Karen, during which I neglected my world-work almost entirely.

1. How does caring for ourselves and our loved ones relate to caring for humanity, the earth, and future generations?

2.  What can we do that can actually have an impact, when we don't have a lot of time to spare?

I was introduced to the first question when I read the 1989 book NEW WORLD NEW MIND which discussed how we evolved to respond to what's personal and immediate, but are ill prepared to respond to what is invisible, long-term, systemic — in other words, those qualities that characterize our emerging mega-crises like climate change, population explosion, depleted topsoil and oceans, toxicity, dangerous technological developments, etc..  This issue became personal when Karen was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer a couple of weeks before the 2007 Story Field Conference.  I talked about this challenge to me and us all in a closing statement at that conference, available on video at

During the last five months I have personally felt both powerful inner callings and strong social support for attending to Karen.  I was excused from practically all other obligations and good wishes and help flooded in.  This is natural and good.  Caring for Karen has been a life-immersing, heart-warming, spirit-deepening activity (which I describe in detail in the Updates linked above).  I went with the flow, observing myself and the situation as I went.

All during that time I was painfully aware — and fascinated — by the fact that I found virtually no support for prioritizing my world work over attending to Karen; it felt almost inhuman to consider it or mention it.  I see this as tremendously important and troubling.  Here's why.

As our social and technological systems generate more suffering and destruction (from cancer to oil spills to climate change to war), the dynamics of NEW WORLD NEW MIND will kick in and more of our attention will be drawn to attending to those EFFECTS — the pain, suffering and destruction — rather than addressing their systemic and cultural CAUSES.  That dynamic does not bode well for our collective future.  If unchanged it would naturally result in an precipitous rise in harm and horror until all resources are gone and we spiral into darkness and extinction.

Two approaches I've explored in the last five months to ameliorate this effect are (a) the development of activist communities of support and (b) the search for high leverage interventions.  On the former, Karen and I have called on support from friends and relatives, and it has been extremely helpful.  I suspect she and I were both kept alive for months because of this assistance.  However, all this care, as tremendous as it has been, did not significantly free me to do my work for the world.  I suspect that this would only be elegantly possible if I were part of existing intentional communities designed to support each other's transformational world-work throughout the vicissitudes of life.  I am interested in locating or helping form such communities.

This brings us to the inquiry about high leverage interventions.  What do I as a social change agent do when the demands of life threaten to eclipse my change work?  The approach I've used during the last five months has been to stay in touch with the evolutionary networks and “collective field” I'm involved in and engage only where a small amount of effort that uses my special gifts well could have a significant impact.  Here I've been more successful that I thought.

The evolutionary fields I'm particularly attuned to are efforts to awaken wise democracy, to grasp the evolutionary opportunity of our rapidly-emerging crises, and to spread the evolutionary perspective.  Here are some of the evolutionary agents I've been working with and our activities and results.

1.  The Coffee Party USA who, with activist Ben Roberts, I've helped to link with the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) and The World Cafe (TWC) network to create more transpartisan forms of citizen dialogue.  Since then, one thing has led to another and In their national convention they have a number of transpartisan dialogues, especially “Across the Political Divide” involving leaders of the Tea Party and Coffee Party as well as leading GOP and Democratic stragegists, moderated by my longtime transpartisan colleague, Joseph McCormick.

2. Four Years GO (4YG) who I have assisted in thinking about strategic questions to guide and inspire their network of hundreds of organizations working to shift the direction of civilization within four years.  I've also consulted with organizers of a late-September conference with similar ambitions, which I will be attending soon as my major re-entry back into my world-work.  I've engaged in pre-conference conversations with attendees and submitted a number of papers, some of which are posted on my blog at

3. Thank God for Evolution (TGFE) — and its principals Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow — whose writings I have edited and with whom I have discussed strategies and foundational ideas, as well as contributing to their blog.  Their evolutionary work is becoming increasingly visible among scientists, religious leaders, skeptics and the general public.  Also, through previous work with a remarkable colleague of ours, Craig Hamilton, an interview with me on evolutionary activism was heard by thousands of people.  You can listen to it and many other evolutionary interviews at

4.  Peggy Holman — I've been a thinking partner in her work on her watershed book ENGAGING EMERGENCE: TURNING UPHEAVAL INTO OPPORTUNITY, now available from Amazon and bookstores.  I can't recommend it highly enough, as it helps us powerfully use what may be the most potent lesson from evolution:  Disturbances mean something new is trying to surface.  How do we welcome and use it with compassion and wisdom to serve needed transformations?

5.  Frances Moore Lappe — I've been a thinking partner and have critiqued her manuscript for LIBERATING ECOLOGY: REFRAMING SIX DISEMPOWERING IDEAS THAT KEEP US FROM ALIGNING WITH NATURE — EVEN OUR OWN (which has recently been retitled ECOMIND: SEVEN THOUGHT-LEAPS FOR THE PLANET and is still in the writing process).  WIth this book Lappe creatively challenges some of the most dear — and problematic — assumptions of progressives and environmentalists, in the process unleashing a brilliant new worldview that will empower those folks as well as everyone else.

6. Healthy Democracy Oregon, which has just organized the first citizen deliberative councils ever to be officially sponsored by a government in the United States — in this case two Citizen Initiative Reviews (CIRs) authorized as an experiment by Oregon's State legislature and governor.  The results of these citizens jury-type deliberations about two ballot initiatives being presented to Oregon's voters in this November's election will be printed in the voter information booklet.  It has already received fairly good media coverage, and is being watched by officials and activists elsewhere.  Co-Intelligence Institute president John Abbe and I — and former CII board member Kevin Reidy — attended one of those CIRs for two hours in the midst of rushing to empty Karen's apartment by the end of August.  Healthy Democracy Oregon's CIR initiative is the realization of a democratic dream I've promoted for more than a decade.  One of the lead organizers is the former president of the Co-Intelligence Institute, who I introduced to this work back in 2000.

Most of these activities have been “light touch” — involving only a few hours of my time here and there between my work supporting Karen.  Now that she has died, I am taking the space that her care and death opened in my life to reflect more deeply on my direction and my work, while at the same time stepping into my work more fully once again.  I would greatly appreciate your support (see below) as I navigate this new territory for myself and for the transition which is underway for us all.




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