When the Truth Hurts

How to have an honest conversation about the future without losing hope


| May-June 2011



when-the-truth-hurts

josh keyes / www.joshkeyes.net

We live in the midst of multiple crises—economic and political, cultural and ecological—posing a significant threat to human existence at the level we have become accustomed to. There’s no way to be awake to the depth of these crises without emotional reactions, no way to be aware of the pain caused by these systemic failures without some dread and distress.

Those emotions come from recognizing that we humans with our big brains have disrupted the balance of the living world in disastrous ways that may be causing irreversible ecological destruction, and that drastically different ways of living are not only necessary but inevitable, with no guarantee of a smooth transition.

This talk, in polite company, leads to being labeled hysterical, Chicken Little, apocalyptic. No matter that you are calm, aren’t predicting the sky falling, and have made no reference to rapture. Pointing out that we live in unsustainable systems, that unsustainable systems can’t be sustained, and that no person or institution with power in the dominant culture is talking about this—well, that’s obviously crazy.

But to many of us, these insights simply seem honest. To be fully alive today is to live with anguish, not for one’s own condition in the world but for the condition of the world, for a world that is in collapse. What to do when such honesty is unwelcome?

In June 2010, I published a short essay online asking people who felt this anguish to report on their emotions and others’ reactions. In less than a month I received more than 300 messages, and while no single comment could sum up the responses, this comes close:

“I feel hopeless. I feel sad. I feel amused at the absurdity of it all. I feel depressed. I feel enraged. I feel guilty and I feel trapped. Basically the only reason why I’m still alive is because there are enough amazing people and things in my life to keep me going, to keep me fighting for what matters. I’m not even sure how to fight yet, but I know that I want to.”

linda eatenson
5/30/2011 9:43:55 AM

We're certainly tipping the glass over. Will we catch it before everything spills? I don't know if we can. Even if we can't or don't, there will probably be survivors. So my focus these days is on trying to pass on a more sensible view and a deeper understanding to those survivors. My hope is that they'll understand our place in the cosmos with humility and perspective. They can learn not to waste. They can use resources gently and be gentle with each other. Oh yes: We can do those things today, too.


daniel fratus
5/30/2011 8:50:22 AM

When I dig down under the crust of my being and dive into my soft, chewey center, I find a dynamic peace. I have to go there as often as I can in order to maintain a connection to what is real. New world order is the same old self destructive dragon that's been buzzing around directing it's fierey breath onto that connection and disintegrating it whenever it can. The dragon used to hide a lot in darkness and as I slowly learned to allow my light to shine the dragon couldn't hide anymore. Now it has no choice but to openly chalenge my connection to reality. Maybe the predator drone is a manifestation of dragon energy. I find great comfort in knowing that I am not alone and I feel that we of light mind have to work together to let our light shine onto the dragon. This is the test. Less whining and more shining will carry us through. Thank You.