Plenary Panel Highlight:
Joanna Macy

 Left to right: Joanna Macy, john a. powell, Rudy Mendoza-Denton

Left to right: Joanna Macy, john a. powell, Rudy Mendoza-Denton

By: Sara Grossman

Joanna Macy, joined on stage by Rudy Mendoza-Denton and john a. powell, centered her speech not on the othering of other individuals, or even the othering of other groups, but on the ways in which we other ourselves.

We are at a time in history when life on earth has become so difficult, that it is easy and even understandable, to “step back and other ourselves from belonging to such a messy situation, such a despairing situation,” Macy said. “I’m talking about ways of othering where you just get too cool to care, where you get too scared to care”

In the United States, Macy said, with its sense of Manifest Destiny, and grounded in a messianic hope that this country will save the world, “the competent person is optimistic.”

“The competent person and successful person … [acts as though] everything is alright and nothing can distress or surprise [him or her],” Macy said. “This refusal to see and to know is blocking the feedback that any species and certainly any democracy needs to keep on going. We take refuge in our own powerlessness.”

We have to be able to see the results of our behavior, she said. "That is crucial feedback that can guide us. We take refuge in our own powerlessness,” she added.

Macy then told a joke her daughter once shared with her: “What’s the difference between ignorance and indifference?” She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

But people do care, and people do know, Macy said after the laughter died down. “They need permission and capacity and occasion to hear this from the one voice that they need to hear it from, and that is their own.”

We must “befriend” and honor the feelings of fear, sorrow, and outrage that come up when we acknowledge the tragedies of our world. “All that shows is that you are capable of suffering with your world,” Macy said. “That is the literal meaning of compassion.”

It is only then that you begin to see how big you are, and how far you can stretch beyond the social constructs of your isolated self, Macy said.

We all want to belong, she said at the end of her speech, and we experience belonging by “doing together.” By linking arms and getting out there and doing things you admire each other for, taking risks for the things you believe in.

Macy offered a comforting reminder in conclusion: “Think how beautiful it is that you don’t have to be perfect to belong,” she said, “in order to be one with the big belonging, which is our story in the universe.”


Watch the entire video below. 

Keynote Talk by john a. powell Plenary Panel Dialogue with Joanna Macy, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, moderated by john a. powell