By Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone | Posted 4/15/23
A group we feel at home in is small enough that we know one another's names and share common interests, even a common purpose. Feeling at home in such a group doesn't always happen immediately; it can take time to build trust and a sense of ease. When we feel the bond of common cause and reciprocal support, we have a powerful setting for synergy.
We see this level of community at work in adventure stories in which a deeper purpose acts through a small group of central characters in a way that forges extraordinary loyalty among them. The bond among Harry, Hermione, and Ron in the Harry Potter stories grows out of their shared response to the grave danger they recognize. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo acts with allies in the fellowship of the ring to accomplish their mission, and the lengths his friends go to for one another create a tough, enduring sense of community. The same can happen in our lives when we act with others toward shared goals.
A group we feel at home in can support us through remarkable personal transformations. Our interactions change when we feel safe enough to let go of defensiveness, allowing us to become more open to one another and to life. Ian, a colleague, described his experience in a group committed to supporting its members in offering their best contribution to the world: "I had found a place where I could make a contribution simply by showing up and showing care for those who also showed up. Slowly I found my voice in the group. I felt supported; it was like finding nourishing soil in which to grow."
As a lone voice, we can feel drowned out by the constant broadcast of commercial reality and swept along by the rush of Business as Usual. But a kind of magic can happen in groups like the one Ian described. The fellowship generated anchors and nourishes us. Circles of fellowship create space for a different story to be heard, spoken, and lived. By providing a protected space to share our concerns and sprout new responses, they serve as seedbeds for the Great Turning.
Seeing with new eyes involves recognizing a story much bigger than our personal dramas. Doing so fosters a different type of interpersonal economics, one with increased generosity and understanding. Issues such as who's getting the best deal or who has the most status fade in comparison with what we can achieve together.
Acting as a group for the Great Turning elevates our friendships and graces them with new beauty. Such groups powerfully support our ability to bring healing and transformation to our world. As the quote widely attributed to anthropologist Margaret Mead affirms: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."7
We need groups like this now and will need them all the more in the coming years. They give us a foundation of resilience that helps us adapt to changing circumstances, recover from setbacks, and find strength in times of adversity. When conditions are difficult, having a trusted gang around us both to draw from and to give to can make all the difference.
Doris Haddock, the activist fondly known as Granny D, was ninety-eight years old when she gave a talk in Philadelphia describing how this sort of mutual support transformed her experience of the Great Depression: "Maybe we were hungry sometimes, but did we starve? No, because we had our friends and family and the earth to sustain us. … We were fountains of creativity. We were fountains of friendship to our neighbors. As a nation, we were a mighty river of mutual support."8
The immediate circle in which we feel most at home is just the first rung of community. It is easy to build community with those who are like us and share our point of view. We start with what is close and nourishing, but that is just the beginning. To dismantle the weapons laying waste to our world, we need to extend our community beyond this.
7. While this well-known quote is widely attributed to Margaret Mead, it doesn't appear in any of her published writing, and we've found no record of when she said it.
8. Doris Haddock, in "Fear Is a Humbug," New Hampshire, December 1, 2008, also at https://www.nhmagazine.com/fear-is-a-humbug.
©2022 by Joanna Macy, PhD and Chris Johnstone. All rights reserved.
Joanna Macy, PhD and Chris Johnstone are the authors of Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in with Unexpected Resilience and Creative Power. ...
Excerpted from the book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in with Unexpected Resilience and Creative Power ©2022 by Joanna Macy, PhD and Chris Johnstone. Printed with permission from NewWorldLibrary.com.