The Three Narratives

Joanna Macy

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When we come together for this work, at the outset we discern three stories or versions of reality that are shaping our world so that we can see them more clearly and choose which one we want to get behind. The first narrative we identify is “Business as Usual,” by which we mean the growth economy, or global corporate capitalism. We hear this marching order from virtually every voice in government, publicly traded corporations, the military, and corporate-controlled media.

The second is called “The Great Unraveling”: an ongoing collapse of living structures. This is what happens when ecological, biological, and social systems are commodified through an industrial growth society or “business as usual” frame. I like the term “unraveling,” because systems don’t just fall over dead, they fray, progressively losing their coherence, integrity, and memory.

The third story is the central adventure of our time: the transition to a life-sustaining society. The magnitude and scope of this transition—which is well underway when we know where to look—is comparable to the agricultural revolution some ten thousand years ago and the industrial revolution a few centuries back. Contemporary social thinkers have various names for it, such as the ecological or sustainability revolution; in the Work That Reconnects we call it the Great Turning.

Simply put, our aim with this process of naming and deep recognition of what is happening to our world is to survive the first two stories and to keep bringing more and more people and resources into the third story. Through this work, we can choose to align with business as usual, the unraveling of living systems, or the creation of a life-sustaining society.

Joanna Macy, Ph.D., is an eco-philosopher and a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. Excerpt above from Emergence Magazine.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the three narratives? Can you share a personal story of a time you found yourself situated in the third story: the transition to a life-sustaining society? What helps you become aware of the story you are in?

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4 Previous Reflections:

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    On Nov 10, 2020 john lee wrote:
    This is a great piece that resonates with me and reflect on. For the first narrative, I grow up poor and am able to make my way to a comfortable living, thinking that everyone has equal opportunity to do as well and better. That turns out to be true for many but for reasons that elude me why not the vast majority. As a life learner, my cumulative learning fromworld history, economics, sociology and the leaders around the world led me to conclude on the second narrative while there is a chance for the third narrative. Learning from my years of volunteering in multiple organizations and roles, and the current world situation do not give me high hope of the second narrative would turn to the third in my life time. The third narrative requires the whole chain of stakeholders in vast majority to take responsible actions instead of playing politics. Climate Change has been a well researched topic for the last forty years. UN SDG framework has been in place since 2015. I am still hopeful, loo... [View Full Comment] This is a great piece that resonates with me and reflect on. For the first narrative, I grow up poor and am able to make my way to a comfortable living, thinking that everyone has equal opportunity to do as well and better. That turns out to be true for many but for reasons that elude me why not the vast majority. As a life learner, my cumulative learning fromworld history, economics, sociology and the leaders around the world led me to conclude on the second narrative while there is a chance for the third narrative. Learning from my years of volunteering in multiple organizations and roles, and the current world situation do not give me high hope of the second narrative would turn to the third in my life time.
    The third narrative requires the whole chain of stakeholders in vast majority to take responsible actions instead of playing politics. Climate Change has been a well researched topic for the last forty years. UN SDG framework has been in place since 2015. I am still hopeful, looking at the glass half full with the framework, processes and tools available for world and organization leaders to adapt in their respective entities.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Nov 10, 2020 Patrick wrote:
    Reminds me greatly of Macy's dear friend Richard Rohr and his Widom Pattern of order, disorder, reorder.

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    On Nov 6, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    I believe the first two narratives, ie, a time of business as usual and a time of unraveling, are the usual progression of individuals and institutions, and the third narrative, ie, a time of a great turning that is life sustaining, is the evolution of some individuals and institutions. We rigidifyat a level of functioning until the diminishing returns and entropy result in either a great turning or death. My own spirituality went through that progression. I went through a business as usual unquestioning phase in which I took for granted the religious truths I was taught, then went through a phase of unraveling and collapse of my core religious truths, and then went through an inner transition to a life sustaining spirituality that reconnects me to myself, to others, and to all creation. What helps me become aware of this story for myselfis the intolerable emptiness in staying in businessas usual; questioning and letting go of business as usual; openness to learn from outside business ... [View Full Comment] I believe the first two narratives, ie, a time of business as usual and a time of unraveling, are the usual progression of individuals and institutions, and the third narrative, ie, a time of a great turning that is life sustaining, is the evolution of some individuals and institutions. We rigidifyat a level of functioning until the diminishing returns and entropy result in either a great turning or death. My own spirituality went through that progression. I went through a business as usual unquestioning phase in which I took for granted the religious truths I was taught, then went through a phase of unraveling and collapse of my core religious truths, and then went through an inner transition to a life sustaining spirituality that reconnects me to myself, to others, and to all creation. What helps me become aware of this story for myselfis the intolerable emptiness in staying in businessas usual; questioning and letting go of business as usual; openness to learn from outside business as usual; trust in following truth outside business as usual; and willingness and courage to go into the unknown.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Nov 6, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    I like the way Joanne Macy narrates the three frames, versions or narratives or stories. The first two narratives have been in the society for a long time. The third narrative is "the central adventure of our time." It is the transitionto a life sustaining society. We are going through this Great Turning, ecological or sustainability revolution. The challenge for us is to survive the first two narratives and keep bringing more people and resources into the third narrative. I strongly believe in deep ecology. It is our sacred duty to save and preserve our eco system. The first two narratives have served us at a big cost. Our environment is polluted, climate is drastically changingaffecting the lives of not only human beings but all beings. For many years I did not see the negative side of the first two narratives. I have been more aware of the damaging impact of the the first two narratives. Listening to eco-philosophers like Joanne Macy and many eco-scientists has made me mo... [View Full Comment] I like the way Joanne Macy narrates the three frames, versions or narratives or stories. The first two narratives have been in the society for a long time. The third narrative is "the central adventure of our time." It is the transitionto a life sustaining society. We are going through this Great Turning, ecological or sustainability revolution. The challenge for us is to survive the first two narratives and keep bringing more people and resources into the third narrative. I strongly believe in deep ecology. It is our sacred duty to save and preserve our eco system. The first two narratives have served us at a big cost. Our environment is polluted, climate is drastically changingaffecting the lives of not only human beings but all beings.

    For many years I did not see the negative side of the first two narratives. I have been more aware of the damaging impact of the the first two narratives. Listening to eco-philosophers like Joanne Macy and many eco-scientists has made me more aware and clear about the third narrative. I have made changes in my diet for health reasons and also for supporting locaaly grown palnt-based

















    I like the way Joanne Macy describes the three stories or narratives of realty shaping our world. The first two narratives, global corporate capitalism and industrial revolution, have been with us for a long time. These two narratives have been helpful to us in certain ways but they have caused a lot of damage not only to us but also to the eco system. There is a growing awakening and embracing of the emerging third narrative or revolution named ecological or life-sustaining revolution. This is The Great Turning. Our challenge is how to survive the first two narratives and to bring and keep more people and resources into the third narrative. I believe in deep ecology and in creating and supporting eco-friendlyenvironment.

    It has taken time for me to realize the value of implementing the third narrative in my life. I am in full alignment with the third narrative. I have started making significant changes in my diet. I eat non-GMO organic food. I buy locally produced food. I am a born vegetarian. It makes iteasy for me to have healthy plant-based diet.I believe in and practice the philosophy of living a simple life. I was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of living a simple life. Small is Beautiful. Contentmentand fulfillment come from living a wholesome simple living. It's not a slogan for me. It is my experience.

    I was raised in a family which practiced the philosophy of simple living. Reading articles on climate change and deep ecology and having vibrant discussions with respectful and open minded people have been very helpful to me. Having a supportive circle of family members and friends also help me to walk on the path. I see more young people involved in making environmental changes. This is very inspiring. Time has come to save the earth by making wise choices. I am hopeful and happy to see changes taking place in the right direction.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'












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