The world is going down the drain so I think it’s high time we talk about magic and fairy tales.
As of January 2019, The Forest Trust has become Earthworm Foundation.
The world is going down the drain so I think it’s high time we talk about magic and fairy tales. There’s no time to waste…
Once upon a time, our lives were filled with the magic of stories. Myths and fairy tales were at the heart of our societies, told day after day around the campfire. They informed the life of the whole community, gave courage to both the young and old to face life’s challenges. There were stories of impossible quests and heroic acts, of magical helpers, dangerous dragons and all sorts of strange creatures faced on the path of redemption and perhaps, transformation.
Those myths were also grounded in a specific cultural and ecological landscape. They gave meaning and purpose to a people and a society that was part of a turbulent cosmos that would not bend to their will. Many stories referred to real places, people and events but their irrational twists reflected life’s great mysteries, the many aspects we cannot understand nor control, that are both inside and outside ourselves. There, the inner world of imagination and spirit and the outer world of human action and nature overlapped, constantly informing and cross-fertilising one another. In other words, stories were a source of ever-evolving wisdom for humans to live in harmony within themselves, their society and life.
Today these two worlds are essentially kept separated. The spectacular advances of science and technology of the past few centuries has given us the conviction and confidence that we have figured it out. We are in control. We don’t need to tell ourselves magical stories to make sense of this chaotic world and find a harmonious way forward with the rest of nature. We have scientific proof and the power of our rational mind to do so. We still read fairy tales to our children but we store those cute little stories in the attic of our minds while we get on with real life. Our responsibility as adults is to continue the march of our civilisation to craft a world that fits our insatiable needs.
Yet we do live a myth. This very idea of separation from nature, of humans ruling the world, is to me the most dangerously powerful myth ever told. Except we actually believe it is real and, like all foundation myths, it underpins our real world actions. We enact that story yet despite our superior intelligence and our powerful machines, the reality is that we are not in control. Living systems are simply too complex and unpredictable for that. The accelerated path towards environmental destruction we have taken, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that we are putting our own survival at risk, is proof that we do not have rational control over life, starting with our own. Yet the power of this myth of rationality, separation and domination is enduring and we see very little challenge to that narrative today. TFT works with businesses at the heart of the illusion of the all-powerful machine and the idea of man’s mastery over natural processes. TFT’s staff work in supply chains around the world, where raw materials are extracted from the earth, and factories transform commodities into consumer goods. We are at every stage of the interaction between people and nature to make products. One would rightly question if these are really fertile grounds for a new myth to emerge, at least the sort of stories that can directly challenge the current narrative of domination yet like it is the case in many heroes’ journeys, it is often in the eye of the storm that lies the greatest hope for change. It is on Mount Doom, at the heart of the black land of Mordor where it was first forged, that Frodo must destroy the ring of power that blinds and enslaves the people from Middle Earth.
For the past 15 years we have had the privilege to see magical things happening in the supposed Wasteland of supply chains. We have been part of and witness to unexpected transformations around the world led by people, within companies and communities, who decided to follow deeper values of respect and compassion for others. Often after being woken up by NGO campaigns or by the demand of their trading partners, they came to believe that they can indeed be positive and healing influences within their social and environmental ecosystems. Our role has been to encourage them to step towards the unknown, to be true to their inner convictions, transparent about their progress and innovate with their partners in the supply chain ecosystem.
When committed people are connected together in the supply chain, something magical tends to happen. The story starts to change, the soil starts to recover, systemic transformation takes root. It is no wonder that in many traditional societies of Africa the words change and magic share the same origin.
This blog series is a collection of tales we are witnessing in our work and are all part of a new myth we believe is emerging around the world – each story pointing towards the restoration of the Wasteland. In his famous poem of the same name, T.S Eliot’s describes the Wasteland as the consequence of people living inauthentic lives, of acting according to what they are told; following the rigid system and the supposed wisdom of the day rather than following their inner convictions. When this happens the land goes to waste and new life, new ideas, new possibilities cannot flourish. Here I aim to connect stories of positive deviants, individuals and organisations who are listening to their inner voice, following the path of innovation and compassionate action, creating a new way forward, pointing towards the restoration of the Wasteland.
I know it is strange to talk about myths and fairy tales taking place in palm oil plantations, furniture factories or corporate boardrooms… yet it is exactly what we have seen and we need to see multiplied. We are edging towards the cliff, with runaway ecosystem destruction and climate change, we have no time to waste, we need magic.