Sensemaking

It is increasingly difficult to make sense of all that is going on today. Its like all the bad things I had anticipated for what I thought would be the future are suddenly happening now. In addition, things I never imagined, like the assaults on truth and science, at a time when they are desperately needed.

sensemaking–the action or process of making sense of or giving meaning to something, especially new developments and experiences.

At the collective level, a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems like those described above. When that happens the centre cannot hold.

Threats to sensemaking are manifold. Among the most readily observable sources are the excesses of identity politics, the rapid polarisation of the long-running culture war, the steep and widespread decline in trust in mainstream media and other public institutions, and the rise of mass disinformation technologies, e.g. fake news working in tandem with social media algorithms designed to hijack our limbic systems and erode our cognitive capacities. If these things can confound and divide us both within and between cultures, then we have little hope of generating the coherent dialogue, let alone the collective resolve, that is required to overcome the formidable global-scale problems converging before us.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium
June 18, 2019

I have been working on this diagram for some time, to help me make sense of what is going on. Much of my life’s work relates to the threats of the profligate burning of fossil fuels. That’s why I was led to live without a car. And to work with others to try to stop construction of pipelines like Keystone XL, Dakota Access and the Coastal GasLink pipelines. To protect water.

Rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions are causing global environmental chaos. We are experiencing high temperature records being broken almost each successive day, ferocious wildfires, strong storms, flooding and draught.

The diagram indicates that capitalism and its need for constant growth relies on fossil fuels. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inequities and dysfunction of the capitalist system. Both our political and economic systems are clearly broken.

All this flows from White settler colonialism which, among other things, imposed capitalism on the country.

That colonization had/has devastating effects on Indigenous peoples who lived and thrived here for thousands of years, including the horrific multigenerational trauma from the Indian boarding schools, and the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW).

I believe our only hope, for the near term, anyway, is found in decolonizing. That is a huge subject. It requires both education and healing. Some resources for this include Decolonizing Quakers, Seeding Sovereignty and Bold Iowa. Our long term survival is in doubt.


Celebrants have an important part to play in the legacy humanity caries into the future. I suggest that our responsibility as ceremonialists, as humans who help other humans meaningfully connect with the web of life, is to find ways now to help people connect with the story of this world’s beauty, even as the world we love recedes. I believe there is a gift we can bring to our communities, to help people learn the art of losing. To help us all to meet the rising tides.

Celebrants & Ceremony in Response to Climate Grieving, Dina Stander, July 26, 2019

I believe faith communities need to play a crucial role in helping us move through the oncoming, increasingly severe chaos described above. Faith can provide sensemaking for those who have no framework for making sense of our broken systems. People of faith can be celebrants.

Indigenous peoples are celebrants. Their cultures are based upon a timeless connection to Mother Earth and everything that is part of Her/us.


The problems before us are emergent phenomena with a life of their own, and the causes requiring treatment are obscure. They are what systems scientists call wicked problems: problems that harbour so many complex non-linear interdependencies that they not only seem impossible to understand and solve, but tend to resist our attempts to do so. For such wicked problems, our conventional toolkits — advocacy, activism, conscientious consumerism, and ballot casting — are grossly inadequate and their primary utility may be the self-soothing effect it has on the well-meaning souls who use them.

If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium
June 18, 2019

As my friend Ronnie James says

I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James

ALL THAT WE ARE IS STORY. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a time.

Richard Wagamese (October 14, 1955-March 10, 2017)
Ojibwe from Wabeseemoong Independent Nations, Canada

This entry was posted in #NDAPL, climate change, decolonize, Indigenous, Native Americans, Seeding Sovereignty, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sensemaking

  1. This particular post has given me the sense that there is something I can *do*, or rather, *be*, for the first time this year. Thank you.

    “We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a time.”
    Richard Wagamese

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