It has often been in said, “You are dealt a pack of cards, and it is what you do with them that counts.” A somewhat more sophisticated versions of this truism has been articulated by Johana Macey writing about Active Hope, Victor Frankl in his work on Logotherapy, and the Stoic philosophers of old.
Macy and Active Hope
Joana Macy, with her Buddhist, Structualist orientation has been investigating for the past few decades how we are to live with the knowledge that our present habits of consumption are leading to the destruction of the balance of nature on the planet. And maybe, its destruction
The warming climate is resulting in a series of climate emergencies such as an increase in the number and strength of hurricanes hitting many coastal cities in America. Additionally, a series of viral conditions have emerged in the past few decades. Here are a few examples: a new strain of Asian flu called H3N2, AIDS, SARS, H1Ni, MERS, Ebola, Zika, and ultimately Covid-19. We are told by the scientists that as temperatures rise the number of mutations and the dangers of disease emanating from mosquitoes and ticks will increase.
Macey has been studying how we as a human species can best tolerate and reverse the reality of the damage that our present lifestyle is perpetuating. Because the potential damages are so great, it is much easier to carry on ‘business as usual’; ignore the unpleasant reality. For this reason she developed a way of taking action to cope with this depressing existential reality.
She uses the concept of the Spiral of Active Hope which involves the individual initially making a mental note, or a list, of all the items for which they can be grateful. This is followed by an honest appreciation of the problems and challenges that confront us.
The third stage of her spiral suggests we look at the manner in which we can reduce the impact we are having on the environment. We may not be able to reverse the unhealthy activities of the past, but we can all make small changes to stop the progress of environmental degradation and promote healthier ways of going about our life’s tasks.
The final stage is to Go Forth and activate our plans. Each individual can reduce his or her carbon footprint. Everyone needs to reduce their consumption of the use of one-time plastics. We need to engage in eating locally produced food. To cut down on meat consumption and to make our clothes last longer. Haute Couture is now an anathema!
With our given potential for adjustment and change, we can find the ways and means to rectify the present emphasis on the growth economy and inevitable subsequent environmental degradation. We can adapt and change our values to secure a future sustainable lifestyle
Victor Frankl and Logotherapy
Victor Frankl who endured the Holocaust, and yet emerged with a positive faith in the human condition, has done much to encourage his successors to engage in positivity. With the horrors of the suffering still festering, Frankl as a psychiatrist emphasised the creativity of the individual to interpret their life’s hardships as challenges. This positive outlook inevitably leads us to understand the potential of the present circumstances to transform to a healthy evolution. His emphasis on the ‘search for meaning’ has allowed his successors to negotiate tough experiences with a positive attitude.
A major cause of depression is the predisposition to view life experiences in a negative light. Logotherapy, as articulated by Frankl, encourages the sufferer to adapt his attitude from one of a victim mentality to orientating his thoughts in a more optimistic perspective.
Stoic Philosophy of Ancient Greece
The Greek school of Stoic Philosophy is undergoing something of a revival recently. The sayings of Marcus Aurelius are prescribed literature for students of Psychology. This school of thinkers suggested that it is important that you worry about the things over which you have some control. Chronic anxiety is provoked by worrying about things which are beyond your control.
The suggestion is that we undergo a self-analysis of those things we can change and events that we have the capacity to promote positive change. We reduce our attention of those things which we are unable to change, and endeavour to rectify those activities which are within our orbit of management. It makes me think of Johana Macey’s third stage of her spiral where she suggests we analyse the problems with which we are confronted. We then ‘go forth’ and do our best to change those things that are within our personal capacity to influence.
It is indeed fascinating to look at three different schools of thought which are based on three very different sets of life experiences. The ancient Stoic philosophy has so much in common with the outlook of Frankl who experienced the Holocaust, and with Macey who has been profoundly concerned with the dangers of climate reality for the past four decades.
In each instance there is a common thread. Spend time and energy on the circumstances which are within your control. Make the most of those qualities with which you have been blessed. Minimise your attention to things which are pre-determined.