Tom Atlee: Our Responses to Existential Threats

Cultural Intelligence, Earth Intelligence
Tom Atlee
Tom Atlee

I explore here the diversity of responses – my own and others’ – to existential threats like extreme climate change … and I offer one way to map and make sense of those responses.

This essay makes an interesting companion to my earlier essay
Crisis Fatigue and the Co-Creation of Positive Possibilities

Dear friends,

In my last post I said that in this post I would “discuss some of my own strategies for affirming life in the strange circumstances in which we find ourselves… in the face of the possible end of civilization or of the human race itself.”

Working on this has turned out to be more complex, interesting, challenging, and productive than I expected – especially since my own responses to our “strange circumstances” have been changing so often, even day to day and hour to hour.

It turns out this is not unusual. For example, many studies of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grieving and loss – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – note that people can experience these in any order, in any intensity, and for any length of time. For this reason, these supposed “stages” are perhaps more usefully understood as “dimensions” of the grieving process.

So it is with our responses to huge existential threats*: We can find ourselves in twenty minutes of intense anger or transcendent peace before moving on to some other response. Or, at the other extreme, we may settle into a routine of activism – or depression – with only minor variations for months or years on end. Such reactions are shaped by internal and external influences unique to each person and situation.

In my own case, I have been exploring the dynamics driving our existential threats intensively for over a year while in the last few months I have also been exploring the transformational vision of my friend Miki Kashtan. Miki is a leading practitioner and trainer of Nonviolent Communication who has articulated her worldview in two book manuscripts about which she asked my feedback. Through her and my friend and colleague John Abbe (another NVC practitioner), I’ve been exploring the personal, social, and evolutionary implications of what I now summarize as “life energy” – that which motivates and guides our choices and actions. This life energy takes many forms, including our needs and desires… our passions and callings… our urges and drives… our values and principles… our dreams and aspirations… our vitality and exuberance… and our feelings about everything that matters to us, everything that is important and precious to us.

Our individual and collective life energies are both indelible realities and resources for possibility. I’ve been imagining what movements and societies would be like that were explicitly and effectively grounded in meeting the needs of that energy by using that energy.

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