We are at the end of a world. Again. Which means we are at the beginning of a new one. Again.
In the ending world, identity-based superiority ruled and shaped everything. White people enslaved Africans, men enslaved women, and anyone who didn’t fit into the colonial capitalist heteropatriarchy – because they were disabled, or queer, or trans, or not a citizen, or didn’t fit the role of “subordinate” to who had it. they were thrown into — they were punished, locked up, or killed.
We are on a long arc of liberation from that world in myriad ways: protesting it, renouncing it, criticizing and ridiculing it, developing analytics to help us see how it works, educating each other. That way, we’re changing the culture and the assumptions and the structures a little bit every day. But because change is gradual and occurs while we still exist in a world where regressive values manifest in pervasive and unique ways, it can feel like we are not the spark of change. Even as we break away from power structures that are based on denying the humanity of any group, the pace of our evolution and the constant struggles, backlash, and blatant acts of continued harm can make it feel like nothing is really changing.
One of the ways I recognize how much is changing and how quickly is to think about the culture of my 20s (I’m 44 now) and then the culture of my childhood. With this longer lens, I can see how much is changing, how fast the changes are coming, and sometimes I can even see where my generation shaped those changes—about what was legalized, talked about, sold, or normalized—that shape now the current culture. When I see both the impact of ancestral and elder organization and the impact of our organization and culture change, it makes me feel even more responsible for what is to come. This era is for visionary death doulas with time-traveling presence, able to sit in the moment filled with embodied wisdom from our lived and ancestral experiences, and ripe with possibilities and practices for a future that is nurturing for all of us.
Being responsible now includes some key activities and insights:
Notice where dying ideas appear in your life.
We have all been inundated with the colonial, capitalist, heteronormative and patriarchal ideas that this dying world throws at us. Interrogate these ideas as they arise. Ask yourself if any of them actually feel true and compelling to you. An indication that they don’t is when you find yourself in structures of obligation, unbalanced care, constant sacrifice, or perpetual frustration. These dying ideas could also appear in massive collapses of spaces that should be common, like what we’ve all been watching on Twitter this month. When those who still cling to outdated power structures and mythologies (such as money signaling brilliance) steal your agency, time, ideas, work, or drive you outright from your home (physical, cultural, or ideological), learn to recognize mastery desperate for a power structure that is dying. Find the opportunity to grow beyond their reach.
Notice the collective denial.
We live in a global pandemic with a virus that has long-lasting and debilitating effects, if it doesn’t kill you. Those who survive are reshaped by the virus, some in overt ways we now call long COVID, others in ways that don’t manifest until there is sudden death months later. We also don’t know what COVID will do to the generation of children we forced back into schooling conditions where they couldn’t really protect themselves, let alone the growing number of children orphaned by the virus .
And yet, we now get on airplanes and travel across a world full of exposed, unprotected people because our government supports the capitalist-fueled rejection of necessary COVID adaptations. Life-saving precautions that protect the disabled and immunocompromised among us are not profitable. Taking even the smallest, simplest step toward community care — like wearing a mask consistently — now feels like swimming upstream or shouting a political stance, even as people continue to die from an ongoing virus to produce new variations.
Our society has approached climate change in the same way: adaptations seem to move only where they can be monetized. But denying reality doesn’t work as a long-term solution. The fires burn; hurricanes wipe out neglected, unprepared infrastructure; droughts and floods swallow up nations; and non-human species are disappearing in our planet’s sixth great extinction, caused primarily by our human impact on planetary living conditions. All while COVID-19 is still knocking people out of this life.
Notice the collective experiences.
The pandemic has also changed us in other ways. The amount of pain we carry is a collective weight. The way everyone has to figure out safety has increased stress and overwhelm. And it hurt relationships—trying to be close to people who navigate borders differently can be strained at best, dangerous at worst.
Maybe now we’re more aware of how much everyone carries, if we let it in. COVID and climate catastrophe aren’t the only things we’re surviving, as the systems we’ve been socialized into are becoming outdated and explicitly regressive all around us. How can we move through this period of endings, this Anthropocene, with grace, rigor and curiosity?
Slow down and embrace the wonder.
When I slow down and tune in to the world around me, there are so many wonders available to me. If I’m terrified, combative, or trying to dominate the superhuman nature around me, I’m stung; I feel disconnected and hopeless. But if I slow down and lean into the experience of being one species among many, I experience so much mutual curiosity and feel so amazed by the wonder of our collective existence, even in this moment of turmoil.
A worker bee was curious about me recently, and rather than panic, I got curious. She buzzed loudly around my crown and I felt amazed as that small, loud buzz moved through my body. She landed in my hair and as she stepped I wondered how small her body was and if her legs were narrower than the strands of my hair. I wondered how I smelled the bee, what it found on my surface.
A seven-legged spider was curious about me shortly after the bee. I felt something move on my face and instead of beating myself up I stopped. I slowly ran my finger along my cheek to my temple and there she was, now moving along the tip of my finger, leaving web in her wake. I spoke to her, wanting the hum of my voice to show that I meant no harm. She climbed from toe to toe, from hand to hand, stopping often to just sit there. I felt amazed, watching it move, watching it choose to sit with me instead of moving onto the concrete, glass, and canvas surfaces I offered it.
I worry that the world, which can take care of us and for which we have found no substitute, will become uninhabitable for us and many other species because we choose to live such contentious and distracted lives. We humans have made so many decisions that separate our species from the natural order and therefore from curiosity and wonder about the world around us. Watching how biodiversity – and our chance for survival – has declined as our wonder has diminished and been enclosed in fences, buildings and screens, I can’t fight the urge that wells up inside me to rekindle our wonder about all that still exists. it lives and changes on Earth, even now.
It is too late to sidestep the crises arising from the future false techno-utopian solutions that capitalism has predicted and promised, but perhaps, and dare I say I hope, it is not too late to have a future in which our species It is. here and living in right relationship with the Earth and the other survivors of our palest age.
In my next and final column for this series, I will explore the practical wisdom of “transforming ourselves to transform the world,” tying together the arc of responsibility in a cycle of dialectical humanism that allows us not just to survive, but to evolve.
adrienne maree brown is a writer, editor, activist, social justice facilitator, coach, speaker, and doula. Her books include Emerging Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing the World, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Goodwhich she wrote and edited and Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, which she co-edited. She is a YES! contributing editor.