The Story That's Destroying the World
Every problem in the world is a result of the stories we tell ourselves. Change the story, and you change everything.
The Story That's Destroying the World
By Tim Hjersted / filmsforaction.org

We hear a lot of questions and debate about how to solve climate change. But let's forget about solving climate change for a moment.

Climate change isn't actually a problem. It often gets treated that way in our mainstream discourse, as if it's merely a troubling negative side-effect of a drug that we all agree is beneficial, but not only is climate change a symptom of a much deeper problem, it's also a symptom of a way of life that few of us are really happy with anyway. This becomes especially apparent once we have glimpsed the possibility of a world that could be so much more.

If we really want to go to the root of climate change, we need to start asking ourselves some very deep questions. Questions like: Who am I? What kind of future do we want to create together? And what story will help us get there? These are the questions we need to focus on. Because if there is one thing I have learned, it is that our stories have an immense power to shape the world.

No one man can cut down a whole forest or enslave a whole people. It takes a story that is believed by many other people to accomplish those feats. Every problem in the world is a result of the stories we tell ourselves. They provide roles and context in which our behavior makes sense. For example, the story of “progress” sees the conversion of forests into tar sand oil developments as something positive for society.

Stories affect the world because they are stories we are enacting. And in enacting the present story of the modern world, we are undermining the life-support systems upon which we depend.

In discussing solutions, it is also clear that the stories we have been telling about the crises we face are not working. The way we have been framing climate change, species extinction, deforestation, inequality, crime, poverty, and war isn't getting to the root of the problem. So what is it? At the heart of it I believe is the idea that human society is somehow separate from the natural world. If the world is an “other” that is not “me,” then what I do to the world does not affect me. Today, this story is being exposed as the root of these problems. And unless we change the way we think - all our solutions will remain limited in ways that make real change impossible.

More and more people recently have been talking about this - pointing out how our narratives about these problems take for granted certain assumptions about the value of economic development and our human-centered, materialistic notions of progress.

Climate change is often framed as a problem in itself, while the true cause remains unaddressed. We want to 'solve' climate change while leaving intact the globalized infinite-growth economic paradigm that is causing it.

This is one reason why many people have a gut-level resistance to the notion of 'sustainable development'. Implicit in the phrase is that we want to go on as before - commodifying the natural world, turning the living biosphere into profitable units for sale in our imaginary human economy. The push by business and government leaders caught within the old story is to find a way to sustain a way of life that more and more people are realizing is not sustainable.

And therein lies the problem. It can't be done! You can't sustain a system that is unsustainable!

So long as our solutions remain tied up in sustaining the unsustainable, our efforts will take us further off the cliff.

That is why we urgently need new narratives that break the spell of the old story.

These new stories must expose the invisible assumptions of our old narratives. But most of all, these new stories must capture our imagination - they must awaken in us our collective dreams of the more beautiful world that we know is possible.

The future does not belong to those who want to make the bad problems less bad. It doesn't belong to those who say that sustainability means giving things up or 'living with less.' It belongs to those who know that this transformation of the world is about saving all that we cherish and love. It belongs to those who see that this transition into a new way of being will offer our lives a meaning and joy that the old story could never have imagined.

This revolutionary shift in our culture will be brought about by those who can articulate the most meaningful story that we can be a part of.

It isn't about giving up things we want. It's about attaining things we never thought were possible to have - joy, meaning and experiences that make life unbelievably worth living.

The new story is about giving some things up, things like insecurity, stress, violence, poverty, loneliness, disconnection, a lack of community and meaning - all those things that make life miserable for so many in the world. All of that we are ready to give up.

So what is the alternative story? What are the new narratives? Such a question cannot be answered in a single statement. But over the years I have come across many excellent films, articles and books that articulate this story in their own way.

Following then, is a collection of some of the best alternative narratives about our world. Taken together, they articulate the more beautiful world that, deep in our child-like hearts, I believe we know is possible.


A New Story of the People
8 min · The old story of our culture is losing its meaning for more and more people. Perhaps almost everyone can feel it these days. But a new story is emerging too - one that...
The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community
51 min · David Korten’s inspiring and extensively-illustrated presentation of his new book The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. David says we are at a defining moment in...
Five Ways of Being That Can Change the World
Joanna Macy · When you know where to look, you begin to see an unprecedented phenomenon now happening in this world of ours. Be they teachers in favelas, forest defenders, urban farmers...
The Global Brain: Peter Russell (1983)
35 min · Peter Russell’s award-winning video, based on a live audio-visual presentation in 1983. He explores the idea that the Earth is an integrated, self-regulating living organism...
Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure
Daniel Quinn · PART ONE A fable to start with Once upon a time life evolved on a certain planet, bringing forth many different social organizations—packs, pods, flocks, troops, herds, and...
Charles Eisenstein: The Two Great Stories That Give Meaning to Our Lives
6 min · What matters in life? Who are we? Every culture has answers to these questions. And the way we answer them has profound effects on the health of people and planet. This is a...
The Greening of the Self: The Most Important Development of Modern Times
Joanna Macy · Something important is happening in our world that you are not going to read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time...
People Are Waking Up
Tim Hjersted · People are waking up. They're getting involved. They're saying, "Not another day! This is where I mark the line." Their desire to change the world is turning from simple...
The Economics of Happiness (2011)
65 min · Economic globalization has led to a massive expansion in the scale and power of big business and banking. It has also worsened nearly every problem we face: fundamentalism and...
Occupy Love (2013)
85 min · Join acclaimed director Velcrow Ripper on a journey deep inside the global revolution of the heart that is erupting around the planet. Humanity is waking up to the fact that...
Crossroads: Labor Pains of a New Worldview (2013)
65 min · Crossroads: Labor Pains of a New Worldview is a documentary exploring the depths of the current human condition and the emergence of a worldview that is recreating our world...
The Evolution of Ecological Consciousness (2013)
109 min · Permaculture designer Andrew Faust gives us an inspiring and heady narrative about the evolution of all life and human consciousness on Mother Earth.  For more info about...
In Transition 2.0: A Story of Resilience & Hope in Extraordinary Times (2012)
66 min · This film is an inspirational immersion in the Transition movement, gathering stories from around the world of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. There are stories of...
Money & Life (2013)
86 min · Money & Life is a passionate and inspirational essay-style documentary that asks a provocative question: can we see the economic crisis not as a disaster, but as a tremendous...
Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn
Daniel Quinn · Daniel Quinn is the author of many works including The Story of B, My Ishmael, and Beyond Civilization. His first book, Ishmael, was published in 1992. Since its release as...
In This Epic Moment of Eco-Social Disruption, The World Is Seeing a Revolutionary Transformation
Kenny Ausubel · In this epic moment of radical environmental and social disruption, the world is experiencing the dawn of a revolutionary transformation to becoming an ecologically literate...
Freedom Ahead (2012)
3 min · Never before in known history have so many people relied on so few for the basic essentials of life. In our present-day democracies, freedom is slowly being commodified. We...
Carl Sagan - Who Speaks for Earth?
7 min · "We have heard the rationales offered by the super powers. We know who speaks for the nations. But who speaks for the human species, who speaks for Earth?" - Carl Sagan​
From Empire to Earth Community: 10 Principles of the More Beautiful World We Know Is Possible
Ashish Kothari · If the aim of human society is happiness, freedom, and prosperity, there are indeed many alternative ways to achieve this without endangering the earth and ourselves, and...
For The Next 7 Generations (2009)
84 min · In 2004, thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers from all four corners, moved by their concern for our planet, came together at a historic gathering, where they decided to form an...
The Big Idea of the 21st Century: The Empathic Civilization
51 min · Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our...
Towards a New Co-Existence: On Reframing Our Ecological Crises
Elizabeth Oriel · How we think about and talk about ecological crises and our role in them form the structures of our responses.  This is why thought forms, concepts, frames as George Lakoff...
The Sacred Balance (2002)
2 min · Based on David Suzuki's best-selling book of the same name, and filmed on five continents, THE SACRED BALANCE celebrates a new scientific worldview, an inclusive vision of...
Prout: Economic Democracy in Practice (2004)
30 min · Economics of Prout covers the basic economic principles of Prout, which offers a viable alternative to the materialistic, anti human philosophies of Capitalism and Communism.
Sacred Economics with Charles Eisenstein
12 min · Sacred Economics traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and...
Awakening the Dreamer: Changing the Dream (2011)
7 min · Wake up to your own role in creating a new future. This new perspective of the current state of our planet features top scientific, indigenous and activist minds from around...
Thomas Berry: The Destiny of Humans Cannot be Separated From the Destiny of Earth
9 min · Recording with Thomas Berry, who was interviewed by Caroline Web in February of 2006. Berry is talking about Human-Earth Relations. "The human is here for the perfection of the...
The Bottleneck. Peak Everything. The Great Turning. Whatever You Call It, It's the Big Enchilada
22 min · In the words of filmmaker Tom Shadyac, "The shift is hitting the fan." We're experiencing the dawn of a revolutionary transformation. This awkward 'tween state marks the end of...
Cultural Creatives 1.0: The (R)evolution
81 min · Featuring many key figures from Europe and the U.S., this is the first documentary film to look with scientific thoroughness at the world of Cultural Creatives. It shows that a...
How Can the Crisis of Our Time Be Turned Into a Great Love Story?
Velcrow Ripper · “The future belongs to the most compelling story.” — Drew Dellinger Humans are story-makers — we are continually weaving disparate events into coherent narratives. It gives...
The River of Vision: "If the World is Saved it Won't be Saved by Old Minds with New Programs."
Timothy S. Bennett · Part 1: The River of Vision “Teacher seeks pupil.  Must have an earnest desire to save the world.  Apply in person.”  So begins the novel Ishmael, published in 1992 by Daniel...
Stories That Once Offered My Life Meaning No Longer Satisfy. Have You Felt This Too?
Charles Eisenstein · Sometimes I feel nostalgic for the cultural mythology of my youth, a world in which there was nothing wrong with soda pop, in which the super Bowl was important, in which...
2012: Time For Change (2010)
85 min · "2012: Time for Change" presents an optimistic alternative to apocalyptic doom and gloom. Directed by Emmy Award nominee João Amorim, the film follows journalist Daniel...
Jacque Fresco - A Story of Change
13 min · "Every action and decision we take - or don't - ripples into the future. For the first time we have the capability, the technology, and the knowledge to direct these ripples."
ENOUGHNESS: Restoring Balance to the Economy in the Most Awesome Way Ever
5 min · How we see the world determines how we act. Western thought sees us at war with each other over resources. In Indigenous philosophy, we are all related as individuals in...
We Societies
5 min · Thom Hartmann describes a society based on cooperation and the idea that we're all in this together. Compares our current "me" society with a potential "we" society.


Articulated above is a new and powerful story that personally inspires me. It draws from the wisdom and knowledge of cultures both ancient and new. It is a story worth belonging too.

I believe it is a story so compelling that, as the world hears this new story, will begin enacting it. And as we begin to enact the new story in our every day lives, all those problems that stem from the old story will begin to lose their sway over the world.

From changed hearts and minds will spring forth enumerable actions, solving our myriad crisis at its root, through billions of tiny different ways of being.

 

“The future belongs to the most compelling story.”
— Drew Dellinger

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


Tim Hjersted is the director of Films For Action and can be reached on Facebook. Hat tip to Chris Agnos at Sustainable Man for contributions to this article.

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The Story That's Destroying the World