Tell me a different story, somebody, please!

As a college professor with a focus on media and issues of social and environmental justice, it’s my responsibility, I believe, to be tuned into the news of the day.

I need to know that, as reported by Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times, “For roughly 30 hours over several days, defense lawyers for three former United States Naval Academy football players grilled a female midshipman about her sexual habits. In a public hearing, they asked the woman, who has accused the three athletes of raping her, whether she wore a bra, how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex and whether she had apologized to another midshipman with whom she had intercourse “for being a ho.”

I need to know that the Obama Administrations efforts to regulate and clean up the American coal industry “are certain to be denounced by House Republicans and the industry as part of what they call the president’s “war on coal.”

I have to follow the progress of the latest massive floods in Colorado, noting that they involve the release of unknown quantities of toxic chemicals into the region’s waterways; these floods happened in a populated area of Colorado that also happens to be the site of thousands of gas fracking wells.

Then there are those unprecedented wildfires in California, finally under control after having burned 400 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park, with “a solid 60 square miles burned so intensely that everything is dead.”

California Rim Fire, 8-21-13 Photo by Robert Martinez

California Rim Fire, 8-21-13
Photo by Robert Martinez

I have to pay attention when our nation threatens missile strikes on another Middle Eastern country, or there’s another crazy gunman on the rampage with assault weapons in a peaceful civilian setting, or a bunch of ideologically blinkered Republican politicians threaten to shut down the U.S. government and force us to default on our international debt obligations, putting the world financial system in jeopardy, simply in order to embarrass the country’s popular Democratic African-American President.

To do my job well, I have to know about these issues and episodes, and so I follow the media daily.  And yet day by day I grow more resentful of being dragged along on storylines that I find so—so—well, so boring.

They’re boring because they’re so repetitive.  Another fire, another flood, another mass shooting, another U.S. missile or drone strike, another government shutdown to be averted at the last minute.  Another woman raked over the coals when she tries to bring a rapist to justice.

And in the background, the real story, the Big News of our time, grinds on relentlessly, it too so endlessly repeated that we have all become blind, deaf and dumb to it.

I’m referring, of course, to the story of global climate change, with its attendant melting ice, rising seas, rising temperatures, erratic weather and, ultimately, mass extinction of life as we know it on Earth.

I understand why very few humans alive today want to grapple with that story.

If the news episodes I listed above are boring in their repetitiveness, the Big News of climate change is just too scary to take in.

No wonder so many people of all ages just don’t bother following the news, preferring instead to focus on televised sports or the latest mini-series or movies.

People seem to have a fatalistic approach to reality lately.

Obamacare will go through or it will be defunded, no matter what we think or do.  Fossil fuel plants will continue to burn, not only unregulated but subsidized at that; politicians will continue to act in criminal ways (shutting down the U.S. government is an act of treason in my book!), boys will continue to be boys and get slapped on the wrist when a woman dares to cry rape–no matter what we do.

The entire American populace seems to be locked in some kind of slumped-over apathy, just trying to keep up the mortgage payments, trying to stay healthy in an increasingly toxic environment, trying to raise decent kids despite the toxic media entertainment landscape in which the kids spend most of their time.

I’m slumped over with the rest, a lot of the time.

But there is something in me that resists this posture, too.  There is something in me that yearns for a different narrative.  Tell me a different story, somebody, please!

Not a return to the triumphalist patriarchal Manifest Destiny that led us inexorably to the disastrous brink on which we now perch.

Not the macho environmentalism that tries to beat the fossil fuel villains in the courts and the high seas.

Not the moralistic sermonizing of those who see the world in strictly black-and-white, Good-and-Evil binary oppositions.

I’m hungering for something deeper.  Something bigger.  A story that truly acknowledges where we are today as a species, and can help us to perceive the way forward out of the current slumped-over morass of bad news.

Briane Swimme

Briane Swimme

The closest I’ve been able to come to such a story so far is the work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme.  In their visionary description of the “Ecozoic Era” that we could create, acting in the best interests of the planet as a whole, I find the map and the compass I’ve been seeking to guide me to a livable future.

In the final chapter of their book The Universe Story, Berry and Swimme lay out a vision that, tragically, we have not heeded in the more than 20 years since the book appeared in 1992.

“In economics it is clear that our human economy is derivative from the Earth economy.  To glory in a rising Gross Domestic Product with an irreversibly declining Gross Earth Product is an economic absurdity.  So long as our patterns of consumption overwhelm the upper reaches of Earth’s sustainable productivity, we will only drive the Earth community further into ruin.  The only viable human economy is one that is integral with the Earth economy” (256).

“We need an inter-species economy, an inter-species well-being, an inter-species education, an inter-species governance, an inter-species religious mode, inter-species ethical norms,” they say (257).

Berry and Swimme end their vast “journey of the universe” by describing the celebratory aspect of the universe, which perhaps only humans, at least of the beings on Earth, can fully appreciate.

The cosmic celebration--courtesy of the Hubble telescope

The cosmic celebration–courtesy of the Hubble telescope

“Everything about us seems to be absorbed into a vast celebratory experience,” they say.  “There is no being that does not participate in this experience and mirror it forth in some way unique to itself and yet in a bonded relationship with the more comprehensive unity of the universe itself.  Within this context of celebration we find ourselves, the human component of this celebratory community.  Our own special role is to enable this entire community to reflect on and to celebrate itself and its deepest mystery in a special mode of self-conscious awareness” (264).

In other words, our role is to be the storytellers of past, present and future.  Of all the amazing beings on the planet, no one else can fill this particular niche.

It is our privilege and our curse as humans to KNOW so much about what we are doing at any given moment on the planet, and to ceaselessly narrate that knowledge.  Now in the 21st century, aided by the global neural network of the World Wide Web, we have never been more tuned into the on-going global story, but this knowledge often becomes oppressive, since so much of what we are asked to absorb is negative, bad news.

It’s time to rebel–to resist the battering of the bad news, to become producers rather than just passive consumers of knowledge.

We need to start telling new stories.  Empowering, positive stories that light the way towards the human beings we could become, the human civilization we could create, in concert and harmony with the rest of the Earth community.

What stories do you hold locked in your heart, tenderly sheltered from the glare and cacophony of contemporary pop culture?

I suggest you look to the home ground of your deep childhood for inspiration.  Remember the stories you told to yourself then, or that you heard the flowers and the insects singing.  Remember the way the motes of dust twirling in the sunlight spoke to you.

Remember what it felt like to have an unmediated, imaginative connection with the world around you.

Then speak the truths that come out of that primary knowledge.

Leave a comment


  1. Robert D. Ludden

     /  September 21, 2013

    Jennifer, the stunning rhetoric you leave us today, is eclipsed only by the importance of its content. I read it with something approaching awe and wonder, and I am one who normally dismisses the current popularity of “awesome,” with contempt. This caps all you have ever written about these subjects, and certainly should be read by every American. To say that you are “fired up” is less than adequate. Thank whatever god there is, for your vision and dedication!

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  September 21, 2013

      Thank you for recognizing the deep place from which this writing comes. It is my fervent wish to wake more Americans up to the realities with which we are living on a daily basis. Awakened, there is still so much we can do to collaboratively create a resounding new story that we can throw before us like a bridge into the world we want to create and live in….

  2. Anna

     /  September 21, 2013

    I wish I had your gift for words, Jennifer!

    I think the majority of us on this planet have stories worth telling. In fact I feel that I do too. But writing pages of well constructed sentences and paragraphs is difficult for me. That’s not an excuse on my part, but more an issue of time management that I have yet to figure out. At this stage in life, I find it easier to write poetry and song lyrics — and that’s what I do.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  September 22, 2013

      Poetry and song lyrics are the way humans communicated their stories for many thousands of years before prose gained traction after the invention of the printing press, Anna! Keep writing those lyrics, and sharing them! We may yet return to our oral tradition roots–if the power should go out, for instance….

  3. Carole Spearin McCauley

     /  September 21, 2013

    Dear Jennifer, Yes, I know Thomas Berry’s work. He came often to Grailville, Loveland, Ohio, the N.A. headquarters of the Grail international women’s movement, where I studied and also worked as publicity director. He visits the Grail center at Cornwall-on-Hudson. A Grail member of an international best selling book about ecology issues (caterpillar that manages to become a butterfly, despite all) is the artist and social activist Trina Paulus, who was my roommate. The book is HOPE FOR THE FLOWERS from a New Jersey publisher.. Good wishes from Carole

  4. I love your blog. It is often my oasis in the desert. I was with you cheering and sensing the deep longing. Right up to the child or childhood of innocence. I am a survivor of rape and abuse and I mentor survivors of human trafficking, sex trafficking, rape and abuse. They are worse today than ten years ago. Why? Because for the most part they are told “You live in the past.”, “Aren’t you glad that is over and now you can focus on a bright future”, “become the change” “take responsibility etc. to the point of nausea. Yes, they need a new story. It must be one as you say (and I) rooted in the Earth. It must be their real experience. Not just a story or positive thinking. Which is heaped on them, causing at best no change,at its worst self loathing and suicide. In the best stories, we tell of complexities. The many universes that exist between black and white “truths”. We honor the multi nature of being and let go of the incorrect idea of duality. Nature is vastly more diverse. So are each of us.

    I know that your desire for child innocence is real. So is theirs. I would like them to have an ongoing life of natural interdependence. One that they participate. They know that they alone do not create even their own reality. That is the most insidious harm we continue to do. “Holding people responsible for everything that happens to them” has become the new whip, chains and coercion in their lives. It is sometimes more hateful and brutal than the original people who inflicted so much torture.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  September 22, 2013

      This is a fascinating perspective you are offering. I just read a long article in the NYT about the hottest new thing in pornography, “camming”–performing live for a web camera audience. There are millions of viewers daily and it’s a multi-billion dollar industry. I find this kind of alienation from the deep embodied power of the real erotic frightening and incredible. It is indeed a weird new world we live in, not brave at all.

  5. Reblogged this on She Who Is and commented:
    A very thought provoking piece of writing.

  6. miriam weinstein

     /  September 22, 2013

    Though it is a story from the recent past, if you want to learn of a culture that had an extraordinary conception of life on earth and how to best live, I suggest Martin Prechtel’s most recent book “The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic.” It wasn’t just a vision or story, it was lived.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  September 22, 2013

      Thanks for this recommendation! I love Prechtel’s Secrets of the talking Jaguar and am glad to know he has a new book out. Just ordered it! I think I will make a regular practice on this blog of sharing new or non-mainstream stories when I find them.

  7. Okay….I’m crying now. Beautifully written Jennifer. I try to tell myself and others positive stories about where we came from and what is possible. And there is so much resistance from so many people who are mired in fear expressed as anger that I end up slumped over in despair. Then I lift my head up, find the joy in life again and go on. Thank you for your words of hope. They comfort me….

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  September 22, 2013

      Sorry to make you cry, Deborah…but glad my words touched you. So many of us are just too numbed-out to cry or be moved, so you should count it as a blessing that you can be! I think the “boredom” I was talking about here is really another form of despair. From which we all have to lift our heads, straighten our shoulders and go on…reaching out to each other for support along the way–

  8. Jennifer, you do write beautifully, and so often brilliantly about subjects that have life and death importance. I am less optimistic than you are, which often leaves me with a deep feeling of dread rather than the hope you espouse. This morning, though, I read a piece on our local New Mexico Mercury that makes a lot of sense to me. It can be found at:
    I recommend it to you and your readers.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  September 24, 2013

      Thanks for pointing this article out, Margaret. Rarely do we see such a thoughtful, sustained argument made in public for getting ready NOW for the severe climate shocks to come. I think about this on a daily basis. What should I be doing now to prepare? Should I be re-locating? If so, where? What kind of education will be most valuable for my sons to prepare them for the entirely different kind of world in which they’ll like spend their adult lives? I have respect for Rob Hopkins and the Transition Town movement–I think they’re on the right track. I’d like to see that movement broadened out and adopted as policy at the state and local levels. We should be spending this relatively peaceful time, this lull before the storms to come, getting ourselves ready, by which I guess I mean, as resilient as we can be, and pulling together as local communities. I don’t think we can sit around and wait for someone to do this for us at the national level. We need to just get going now.

    • Anna

       /  September 25, 2013

      Margaret, thank you for posting the excellent article by Ed Merta. Obviously he’s been pondering the global impact of climate change for a long time. Progressive thinkers and strategists like him are exactly what’s needed in these times. God speed they can find each other and make a difference.


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