Active Hope — Book Review

Active Hope Book CoverAfter reading numerous books about environmental issues and the climate crisis, I was drawn to Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.

There is a mountain of material about the climate crisis, the science behind it, and possible solutions. All the information in the world will not solve the problem. It is people who must solve it by taking action and doing what needs to be done. In order to do that people need hope and that is what this book is about.

Book Review

Active Hope is about doing, taking action. The authors weave the concepts of active hope throughout the book via three stories of our time.

  • Business as Usual – there is little need to change
  • The Great Unraveling – disastrous effects of business as usual
  • The Great Turning – transition to a life-sustaining society and recovery of our world

The framework of the Great Turning is an empowerment process called The Work That Reconnects which has been used in workshops conducted all over the world for decades. The purpose is exactly what is says—reconnecting people with life and one another. The authors cover the four stages of the spiral of The Work That Reconnects.

  1. Coming from Gratitude
  2. Honoring Our Pain for the World
  3. Seeing with New Eyes
  4. Going Forth

“Try This” boxes throughout the book, provide readers with opportunities to reflect, think, discuss, and write as individuals and in group settings. The resources section includes a list of related websites, books, and action group guides.

The Bottom Line

The authors are well-respected advocates for social and environmental justice. Active Hope is a thought provoking book that requires engagement from the reader. It’s about expanding our view of ourselves and the world. My favorite quote from the book is from Arne Naess who wrote:

“Unhappily, the extensive moralizing within the ecological movement has given the public a false impression that they are being asked to make a sacrifice — to show more responsibility, more concern and a nicer moral standard. But all of that would flow naturally and easily if the self were widened and deepened so that protection of nature was felt and perceived as protection of our very selves.”

The ideas and practices in this book can be applied to any situation where one feels overwhelmed and powerless—doing is hope.

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Keeping up with the Joneses — Let’s Not

You may have heard the phrase, “keeping up with the Joneses”. I’ve often wondered where it came from and why we need to keep up with the Joneses? It doesn’t seem to be a very green thing to do. I decided to look into it.

Who are the Joneses Anyway?

There are varying explanations regarding the origin of the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”. Two are listed below:

  • In 1913, Arthur R. Momand created a comic strip called “Keep up with the Joneses”. The “Joneses” were neighbors of the strip’s main characters, and were spoken of but never actually seen. The comic strip ran for 26 years, and was later adapted into books, films and TV.
  • Astor Mansion - Detroit Photographic CompanyThe Jones were a prominent New York family with interests in Chemical Bank. In the 1850’s, the Jones and other rich New Yorkers began building extravagant mansions, including a house by William B. Astor (married to a Jones cousin), a phenomenon described as “keeping up with the Joneses”.

Why do People Want to Keep Up with the Joneses?

Is it human nature or marketing that instills in us the desire to “keep up with the Joneses”? In early societies, did some families try to keep up with the family who had the most hides or best hut? There probably wasn’t a lot of marketing going on back then so maybe it’s part of human nature that’s gotten out of control.

I realized I would need a lot of further research to cover this topic so for the purposes of this post, I decided to focus on some of the terms used to describe the phenomenon of “keeping up with the Joneses” (some are actually in the dictionary).

  • Affluenza – combination of the words affluence (wealth) and influenza (disease), an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses, an unsustainable addiction to economic growth.
  • Tiffany Diamond and Emerald RingConspicuous Consumption – coined by Thorstein Veblen in 1899, showy extravagance in buying or using goods or services, meant to impress others with one’s wealth, status, etc.
  • Materialism – the doctrine that comfort, pleasure, and wealth are the only or highest goals or values, tendency to be more Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2concerned with material than spiritual or intellectual goals or values.
  • Over-consumption – a situation where resource-use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem, a prolonged pattern of over-consumption leads to inevitable environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases.

Not Keeping Up with the Joneses or Anyone Else

Interestingly, when I entered “keeping up with the” in the Google search field, the top results were for “keeping up with the Kardashians”. Apparently the Kardashians have replaced the Joneses as the people we are supposed to keep up with.

It doesn’t take much research to learn that having more stuff does not make people any happier than those with less stuff. Why contribute to global warming and use our planet’s limited resources to generate stuff just so we can impress our neighbors?

Let’s start a new trend called “Not Keeping Up with the Joneses or Anyone Else”.

Related Posts:


  • Webster’s New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition
  • Wikipedia