Bringing It Home

How are people living the new stories? We asked a few friends to share their sources of inspiration, worry, and fun
How are people living the new stories? We asked a few friends-- Heather MacAndrew, N. Bird Runningwater, Jamison Ervin, Jay Walljasper, Pramila Jayapal, Guy Dauncey, and David Korten-- to share their sources of inspiration, worry, and fun

Heather MacAndrew
Canadian documentary filmmaker
When I was 18, I saw a documentary by Donald Brittain on the life of Norman Bethune, a brilliant Canadian doctor who served first in the Spanish Civil War and then later in China on the battlefield for Mao. The documentary so moved me that I couldn't speak for what seemed like an hour after. It was as much a spiritual and existential story as a political one. Bethune pushed aside his own ego to work for some greater good. His story touched my 18-year-old being profoundly and connects to what I am doing today.

One of my main projects is a documentary video, Paths Are Madeby Walking, about a Guatemalan Mayan man named Wenceslao Armira. He is one of those unknown heroes whose life, not unlike Bethune's, was dedicated to working for the greater good of his people. He had to make some wrenching personal and political decisions in his life - some of which cost him dearly (he lost two children to death squads because of his decision to join the armed opposition). In my mind he knew what many of us strive for and few of us achieve: he knew who he was, he knew his purpose on Earth, and he lived his values.

The issues I struggle with begin with the contradictions in my own life. I'm trying to figure out my own materialism, my wants and needs, and how to truly live my values without turning my life into a morality play. I'm interested in where joy and humor intersect with politics, right living, and spirituality; where Monty Python meets David Korten if you like.

To track possibilities and prospects, I listen to my 17-year-old son, his friends, and my partner, who reads everything! I try to talk to everyone I can -- especially those with opposite opinions -- so that I don't fall into the trap of thinking everyone thinks like me and my friends!

N. Bird Runningwater
interim executive director, Fund of the Four Directions
My mother is Cheyenne and my father is Mescalero Apache. I was reared on my father's reservation in New Mexico, with ceremony and language passed on to me as part of my responsibility as a member of the community.

Three books I read when I was in college in Oklahoma had a profound impact on me: Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko, House Made of Dawn, by N. Scott Momaday, and Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie. Ceremonyis a lyrical, powerful book about a man who returns from war and finds that he is at home and in a foreign world at the same time. As a person of two tribes with a mainstream education and several modes of thought, I identified with that situation. But more important, reading these books made me realize that there is no single "native experience" and that through my own life and writing, I can contribute to this multitude of experiences.

After decades of romanticized, stereotyped images, indigenous peoples still have no authentic presence in the electronic media. I work hard to gain native representation within the mainstream media -- public and commercial. I also run the Fund of the Four Directions, dedicated to revitalizing indigenous languages in North America.

Now, as I visit the projects we've funded and talk to people in native communities across the country and around the world, I see the beginning of a whole movement acknowledging the importance of native language and culture in building communities.

Jamison Ervin
mother and community organizer
Half a century ago, Aldo Leopold wrote, "The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, water, plants and animals, or collectively, the land." I find his vision and his challenge of redefining community boundaries to be the most important conservation question of our time. Leopold lived in a world in which fragments of natural communities were being lost one by one. We live in a world in which the entire fabric of our natural community is being torn asunder, through unprecedented resource mining and the sprawl of our cities. To me, the challenge is to broaden our sense of community to include not only the land, but the landscapes in which we live.

I volunteer with a local land trust and work with other organizations within the Northern Green Mountains to develop a landscape-level conservation plan. I've noticed, and am heartened by, new connections that cross old boundaries. These new connections include landscape habitat planning, cooperative management among private landowners, community-based wildlife monitoring initiatives, and collaborative projects between public and private sectors.

Jay Walljasper
editor-at-large of Utne Reader
Remembering back over years of eager and joyous cultural consumption, two works stand out as the ones that completely changed my life. The first was Jack Kerouac's On The Road, which I read at 17 in almost one sitting in my Urbana, Illinois, bedroom. Finishing the last page and getting up from my chair, I became immediately aware that the universe would never seem the same again. Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, and the other wildly alive characters in the novel opened up a whole new universe of possibility and promise into which I knew I was going to plunge — leaving behind the suburban house and secure community where I had grown up. Many years later I sat in a movie theater for 16 hours over four evenings watching Edgar Reitz's epic Heimat, a chronicle about life in an ordinary German village from World War I to the 1980s. This pulled me in exactly the opposite direction as Kerouac did, inciting a long-burning passion to settle into one place and make a commitment to the landscape, traditions, and people around me.

But that commitment would have been a hollow one without the years of exploration inspired by On The Road. For one thing, I settled in a different place - inner city Minneapolis, not the town where I grew up. The commitment to that place has led to many changes in how I lead my life, deploy my energies, and dream my dreams. Local politics absorbs far more of my attention than international affairs. Hours once spent in movie theaters and nightclubs are now more often passed in community meetings or drinking beer with the neighbors on the front porch. I still love to travel, but I also love coming home to that place in the world where I know I belong. That's not so far from the world of everyday European villagers depicted in Reitz's masterful film.

Pramila Jayapal
writer and consultant
All of Gandhi's philosophies and ideas have had an enormous influence on my life. Reading his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, made his accomplishments personal and provided the inspiration that each of us can make a difference in any variety of ways.

More recently, Lewis Hyde's The Giftdescribes the true meaning of giving as the outcome of societies and people who are responsible for each other and the Earth. Imagine how different the world would be if we all viewed our presence on the Earth and our responsibility to the Earth as a true "gift" the way Hyde discusses it.

Writing, both published and unpublished, is for me critical to the fostering of imagination. And the power of imagination is what I believe will allow us to make a difference in the ways that we choose; it will allow us to see beyond what is around us, to believe in possibilities that seem distant, to nurture the children in us, to support not just our intellects but our souls.

I also work as a consultant to foundations and organizations that are trying to understand and create truly healthy communities of all types, from geographic neighborhoods, to ethnic communities, to families.

Outside of work, I am absolutely committed to living life with passion and compassion, to learning about joy and the wonder of life from my three-year old son, and to paying attention to my soul and spirit, not just to my mind. I do this through time spent with my family and community, through poetry, reading, and music, and through time spent outdoors. In all of life, I struggle to maintain balance and centeredness - a particular challenge for me in a very tumultuous time.

Guy Dauncey
author, environmentalist, and community activist
The people whose lives and writings inspired me were Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit priest and scientist, and Sri Aurobindo, the Indian sage. As they saw it, the process of evolution does not stop with matter, but includes the growth of consciousness toward a unity of spirit. Each time we dream of something higher or more beautiful or take some courageous action, we express evolution's deep yearning to realize wholeness here on the Earth and in the cosmos.

My lifetime project involves being an "encourager" constantly working to show people how we are making progress. So many things are achieved by small groups of thoughtful, concerned citizens who are inspired by a dream, and work their butts off.

Right now, being an encourager means several things: (1) I have just completed my latest book, Earthfuture: Stories from a Sustainable World. (2) I publish an environmental newsletter serving my community. (3) I'm working to get approval for a cohousing village and other sustainable land-use initiatives. (4) I'm launching a project to form "Street Circles," getting neighbors connected here in Victoria, British Columbia. (5) I'm writing a new book called Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change.

When it comes to leisure, we live in the country, where my lovely partner runs an organic nursery, so there's plenty of physical work to balance the headwork.

Most of my current information comes via newsletters and lists I subscribe to on the Internet. I love magazines, however - the key ones are World Watch, Solar Today, In Business, YES!, E Magazine, and (from Europe) the Guardian Weekly and Positive News.

David Korten
writer and board chair of the Positive Futures Network
My association with Willis Harman first awakened my sense that our survival as a species might depend on our embrace of a new story that gives a sense of meaning and purpose to human existence. Later, Thomas Berry's Dream of the Earthso greatly increased my sense of the need for such a story that I came to feel I could not properly complete the writing of When Corporations Rule the Worldwithout further insights into its basic elements. Then in 1993, Duane Elgin's Awakening Earth was the source of an intellectual and spiritual epiphany that ultimately framed the epilogue to When Corporations Rule the World. I subsequently read Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, The Rainbow and the Worm(see page 20); Elisabet Sahtouris, Earth Dance: Living Systems in Evolution; Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned; Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos; and Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, What is Life?These books bring together the contributions from theology, physics, and biology that inspired and grounded my exploration of economic alternatives in The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism.

I now feel more strongly than ever that the insights into human purpose and potential offered by the new story provide an essential foundation for negotiating the institutional and values changes ahead as humanity finds its place of service to the whole of creation. Now that the historic Seattle protest against the WTO has brought the failures of economic globalization into the light of public consciousness and dialogue, I see new need and opportunity to draw attention to alternatives grounded in the vision of human possibility suggested by the new story. To this end, I am dividing my time between writing, speaking, and supporting the Positive Futures Network and YES! magazine.

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