David Eisenberg, Director
Development Center for Appropriate Technology
P.O. Box 27513, Tucson, AZ 85713
(520) 624-6628 voice / (520) 798-3701 fax
Date: Sat, 29 Nov 2003 22:24:41 EST
As many of you know, over the past few years I've often sent out a
Thanksgiving message. Sometimes, when I haven't had the time or
inspiration, I've sent those messages of thanks-giving at year's end.
This year, I've struggled because I have too many things I want to share.
My past messages have been, logically enough, centered on the things for
which I am grateful in my life. Again, even in a time of considerable
challenge and seeming lack, there is still an amazing bounty for which to
In wrestling with all this, and not wanting to send you one more thing
too long to actually read, I started thinking about what is most
important to me at this moment in time. I realized that what I want to
share is in two realms; what I am grateful for, and what I am working
hard against. I see them as equally important aspects of what is
unfolding all around us - two halves of a larger whole. At least this
seems true for me in what is the most troubling period I've experienced
in my 54 years.
So, I will share a brief expression of what I am most grateful for,
framed by a story from many years ago, that gave me an insight that has
fueled much of my work over the past eight years... imagine some of that
weird harp music as the scene before your eyes starts to get all wavy as
it fades into a flashback...
In October 1995 I had the good fortune to attend the EcoVillages and
Sustainable Communities Conference in northern Scotland, at the Findhorn
Foundation. Jonathon Porritt, among the UK's most articulate green
spokespeople, gave the closing plenary talk, which brilliantly elaborated
the strengths and weaknesses of the green movement in an entertaining,
accurate, and highly useful way. That it lacked "heart" escaped me while
I was listening to it, but his equally brilliant, and extraordinarily
heartfelt response to a question from a woman in the audience at the end
of his talk opened a door in my heart that has not since closed.
In response to Porritt's comments about the need for us to not just
preach to the choir, but to go out and fully engage with the people and
institutions we are working to change, the woman said that she had, in
fact, been out there in that other world doing it for years and in the
process had "lost her voice." She said that the conference had restored
it somewhat and given her encouragement, but how, she asked, can one
maintain your vision and focus in a world that does not seem to care
about these values? She said she had been unable to find a way to do it
and that made her work incredibly hard.
Porritt started by saying that he had been intentionally, and perhaps
overly upbeat and optimistic in his prepared remarks. He said that it
was, in reality, extremely hard to maintain our balance and motivation in
this work over the long periods of time that it often takes to carry it
out. He spoke of the reality of the need to deal with periods of despair
and the setbacks and challenges that inevitably occur and said he didn't
know what else to say.
Then, after a pause, he spoke of a moment the previous evening, when a
woman sitting near him in the audience had started sobbing loudly,
profoundly, in response to one of the evening presenter's long and
unrelenting list of desperate problems around the world. He said that to
him, that woman's sobs more eloquently spoke to the real state of the
world than probably any of the words spoken all week at the conference.
He then said it's very hard. The reality is that there are millions of
people living today who only get through each day by denying the reality
of their existence. He said that it is only our openness to the
knowledge of that reality, only our willingness to experience that pain,
to see it and not look away, to know what is happening to the ecosystems
and to people all over the world, it is only that acknowledgement that
can give us the strength and the power to go forth and joyfully do the
work that needs to be done. He said we must deny denial without allowing
that to disable us.
The beauty and power of that insight brought tears to my eyes then and
I had the added good fortune a few years later to hear Joanna Macy speak,
and then again, in the weeks immediately preceding September 11, 2001, I
had the blessing of being able to attend a ten-day intensive workshop
retreat with Joanna on "The Work That Reconnects." In that intensive,
Joanna elaborated extraordinarily on this process. I am more convinced
than ever that this is our real work, those of us who are awake today. To
witness and not look away, to know yet not be incapacitated, to feel and
not deny the very real tragedies that are unfolding everywhere, at every
scale from the personal to the planetary as a result of the blind quest
for material wealth and satisfaction, power, comfort, and way beyond
comfort - excesses of desire of all manner and manifestation.
...more weird harp music as the scene again goes all wavy until we're
back in the present...
On Thanksgiving day I thought of a new job description that I think I may
add to my business card - "Planetary Assistant"...that's how I want to
start thinking about my work. Perhaps we can all give ourselves that
unofficial title, even if it is just in our own heads and hearts...that's
our task; to work in service to each other and to the planet as a whole.
And this work is way bigger than any of us and will take generations to
achieve. We need to be working hard now and also teaching our children
about what we're doing and what needs to be done.
The battle (and no, it isn't a war - I'm so tired of the long and sorry
history of politicians declaring unsuccessful wars on everything from
poverty, hunger, drugs, crime, and homelessness, to terrorism) that must
be won is against the culture of dissatisfaction, which is spreading all
over the world in the name of the market, in the name of progress, in the
name of technology, in the name of growth. And please, make no mistake,
I'm not talking against the work to ensure that all of the people on the
planet achieve a decent quality of life. That IS the work. The only way
to achieve that is to fight against the shockingly growing proportion of
today's global economic activity that flows directly out of the ability
of a small minority to make huge profits by creating insatiable desires
in people everywhere and then making those desires look like needs
(through marketing and advertising), rather than on our ability to
satisfy the real needs of people anywhere.
To do this we must stop denying that wasting our precious resources,
energy, and time on things no one needs is rapidly foreclosing the
possibility that we'll have the time and resources we need to create a
future that can meet the needs of our children and grandchildren and all
future generations. We must stop denying the suicidal nature of our
dependence on fossil fuels. This is crucial, and a no-brainer. It's
undeniable (all one needs to know is that all the major auto
manufacturers in the world are building car factories in China and
encouraging the building and "improvement" of roads there, or consider
the degree to which our entire food production system in the U.S. is
dependent on petroleum for pesticides, fertilizer, power for farm
machinery, processing and transporting the food, etc.). Directly related
is the need to stop denying global warming which tells us that even if we
had all the petroleum we might need, we need to stop burning it. We must
also stop denying the urgent need to preserve farmland and switch to
sustainable agriculture, to preserve all remaining intact forests, to
respond to the accelerating loss of species and biodiversity, of coral
reefs, of glaciers. And last but certainly not least, we must stop
denying our very real ignorance of the actual, though unintended
consequences of nearly all of our actions. Humility must begin to replace
We need to begin relentlessly asking simple questions of the proponents
of this insanity. Why? What are the real costs and likely consequences?
Who benefits and who pays? What happens next, and next, and next? And
keep asking until you either get good answers or the person you're asking
has to admit that they haven't thought about what is really happening as
a result of what they are doing or proposing to do. This is not the time
to be shy. Nor is it the time to be tempted to adopt the tactics and
ends-justify-means immorality of those promoting the destruction.
We need to look beyond the first costs, first benefits, first
consequences, to start looking at what simpler, more local, less harmful
solutions might be available to us. We need to ask if what we're doing
needs to be done at all? We need to work continually at rebuilding and
enhancing the local capacity to meet local needs. That is foundational
for sustainability, for healthy communities, for anything approaching
real security. And if we understand it deeply enough, we would see that
this should be an underlying goal in what we do everywhere, because as we
do that, we increase the security of people everywhere, rather than
undermining it as our current systems now continuously do. That is the
way, the loving way, the only way out of this morass that our so-called
leaders have led us into.
Our calling today, in my opinion, is to embrace the reality of the loss,
anger, grief, despair, longing, and the love we are all suppressing out
of our belief that we must suppress it to be able to live our day-to-day
lives. I sincerely believe that we must cease this denial and stop
accepting the unacceptable, or our day-to-day lives are numbered. The
trick is in learning to know it, feel it and not dwell on it.
In reality, I don't know how to do this any better than any of you do.
But I am sure of this: if we don't start standing up every day and saying
no to greed, saying no to those whose power is based in fear, who insist
that it is "us" versus "them," that our survival depends on winning the
war against "them," who constantly work to drive us apart - only by
standing together against that fear-mongering can we have any hope of
leaving anything worthwhile to any of our children anywhere on this
A couple of weeks ago I wrote something about this transition: This
ultimately will require a journey of the heart. For those of us who are
awake and see what is at stake, our added task is to make enough room in
our own hearts for those who don't yet know, so that they can make that
journey with us.
That is hard but essential work. But I also pay attention to something
else in Jonathon Porritt's reply to that question; that this is also
joyful work. One of my e-mail signatures is this: The way to subvert the
dominant paradigm is to have more fun than they do and make sure they
Find joy in the company of good caring people, in good, hard work, in
being who you really want to be, doing what you truly want to do, working
toward right livelihood, healing relationships, loving communities. And,
yes go out and fully engage with those you hope to influence, not just
the choir. But remember also to get together regularly for choir
practice, to learn our parts, harmonize our voices, remember we aren't
alone. We are an awesomely powerful majority that has yet to understand
our true identity or our power to change everything. This is our world.
These are our lives we are living. They belong to no one else, no matter
what anyone else might want you to believe.
I am so grateful to have the freedom and the ability to write this and
share it and that all of you are also similarly blessed. We are in a
small minority on the planet today and I am grateful and openly
acknowledge that I am in that relatively wealthy, privileged minority.
I have been blessed in innumerable ways by so many wonderful people -
family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, board members, clients, worthy
adversaries, teachers, mentors, more... There are many I could write
about but will only single out a few today. First, Pat, wife, partner,
civil engineer, breadwinner, mother and so much more, whose unwavering
support and love have been essential to everything I've done over many,
many years. Second is Joe, our five year old grandson who teaches me
things and inspires a new level of urgency in my work. And then there's
Tony Novelli, who has been through a lot with me at DCAT over the past
few years, ups and downs, thick and thin (do we ever know thin!) and
shares the deep commitment to this work. There are several others I won't
mention by name here, with whom I have such deeply caring, loving
friendships that I am at a loss to say anything beyond my deepest
gratitude for the opportunity to explore, learn, and share what loving
friendship means at that level. Thank you, all of you for what you
contribute to my life.
I've been given so many extraordinary opportunities and they continue. I
celebrate that I have reasonably good health and stamina, a very curious
mind, decent senses of humor and of the absurd (essential survival
tools), and work that is so aligned with what I really care about. And I
am especially thankful that what I have experienced thus far in my life
has left my heart and mind open, and thus the possibilities for the
future also wide open. I'm grateful that you've actually read all the way
to here and so out of respect for your time, I'll close, though there is
so much more I could say thanks for.
I'll close with this Rumi poem that speaks so clearly about how to be
thankful for what we encounter in this life, no matter what it may be.
Blessings and love to each of you,
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
David Eisenberg, Director
Development Center for Appropriate Technology
P.O. Box 27513, Tucson, AZ 85713
(520) 624-6628 voice / (520) 798-3701 fax
The Development Center for Appropriate Technology is a 501(c)(3)
non-profit organization. Our primary support has come from foundation
grants and charitable contributions from individuals and businesses, and
from our educational and training programs and consulting services. Our
mission is to enhance the health of the planet and our communities by
promoting a shift to sustainable construction and development practices
through leadership, strategic relationships, and education. To learn
about DCAT's work and how you can support it, please visit our website at