Mary Pipher’s Answer to “Willful Ignorance”

Mary Pipher, author, psychotherapist, and activist, spoke at the recent Future First Conference in Minneapolis, addressing the most dangerous defense the human race could adopt at this point, that of “willful ignorance”. According to Mary, willful ignorance occurs when we are caught between facing something too dreadful to acknowledge yet too dreadful to ignore.

“Yet we cannot solve a problem we cannot face,” she asserted, and she continued to lace the hard facts of climate change and the political corruption supporting its denial, with anecdotal, funny stories, including influencing state legislators with apple pies (and not in the face, either!)

“We have a disordered relationship with the web of life,” she said. “We never get into the zone to work on issues.” She told of her own activism in forming a group in Nebraska to oppose the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline through their state, and particularly through the ecologically vulnerable Sandhills, actions which have successfully tied up the passage of the pipeline through the state for a few more years.

“Never ever allow yourself to get caught up in either/or,” she advised. “Move to a both/and.” She discussed how her group found common ground among people who have been manipulated to be polarized around issues that should not be politicized. We all want clean water. We do not want to be poisoned into perpetuity by spills or dumping of toxic chemicals. And many of us love the place we live. In finding this common ground, and not being divided by corporate interests and corruption, we can find ground to make positive change.

There were other gems to take away:

“If you are going to be an activist, you had better have fun!”

“Every emotion about climate change is the right emotion.”

“Once you face the truth about climate collapse, you can have a transcendent response: you grow bigger!”

“Acting as if we can change the situation is a healthy response.”
“Amazement antidotes despair.”

“We can grow and enhance our moral imaginations. Good increases moral imagination; evil decreases it.”

Her recent book, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, describes her own path in dealing with what she calls planetary anguish, a book I found soothing and inspiring to read. The new normal of the new, unknown future will require we each find ways of dealing with planetary anguish over and over, and Mary Pipher’s story offers guideposts.