The Origin of the Term The Great Turning by David Korten

The term The Great Turning has come into widespread use to describe the awakening of a higher level of human consciousness and a human turn from an era of violence against people and nature to a new era of peace, justice and environmental restoration. Most people are not aware that this awakening is underway, because positive change rarely reaches the level of front page – or even back-page – news! YES! magazine is one of the few publications that is in the business of bringing these stories to public attention.

The underlying idea of an epic human turning is discussed by many writers who refer to it by a variety of names. The Institute for Noetic Sciences refers to it as The Shift, which is also the name of its monthly publication.

“The Great Turning” was first used by Craig Schindler and Gary Lapid to describe the framing idea underlying the work of Project Victory, which they founded in 1985. Their work focused on reducing the risks of nuclear war and conflict transformation. They report that they trained 10,000 leaders in conflict transformation and led a national dialogue on dismantling nuclear weapons. More recently they sponsored what they describe as “the largest dialogue on race relations ever conducted in the U.S.” They used the term in their talks, dialogues, and articles.

In 1989, Schindler and Lapid published The Great Turning: Personal Peace – Global Victory, with a marketing endorsement from Joanna Macy who expanded and deepened the concept and introduced the term and its underlying frame to hundreds of thousands of people through her writing, lectures, and workshops. See YES! magazine editor Sarah van Gelder’s interview with Macy on “The Great Turning” in the Spring 2000 issue.

From Empire to Earth Community

Joanna was a regular and influential participant in a series of State of the Possible retreats for progressive leaders organized by YES! magazine. She introduced the Great Turning into the retreat discussions as an integrating framework to connect the work of the various participants. These conversations in turn shaped the framework presented in The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, which argues that the human species is in the midst of an epic passage from a 5.000 year Era of Empire to a new Era of Earth Community. Empire organizes human relationships by dominator hierarchy. Earth Community organizes relationships on a model of partnership characterized by mutual caring and accountability.

Throughout the now dying Era of Empire, dominator relations created a dynamic of ruthless competition, violence, and misuse of environmental resources that now drives an accelerating process of environmental and social collapse. This collapse creates a collective imperative to navigate the Great Turning. The communications revolution, which provides the means for humans to function as a collective intelligence, creates the opportunity.. .

When it came time to name the book, the Great Turning seemed to be the perfect title. Because I knew it as her term, I asked Joanna’s permission to use it. She responded with her usual generous spirit that her intention is that The Great Turning should be a public term that is used by everyone and owned by no one. I share that intention.

My argument that the key to the human future centers on relationships, not technology, is inspired by Riane EislerThe Chalice and the Blade. My argument that the key to transforming our relationships is to awaken a cultural consciousness and change the stories that frame mainstream culture, is inspired by Thomas BerryDream of the Earth, and Nicanor PerlasShaping Globalization: Civil Society, Cultural Power, and Threefolding.

DAVID KORTEN is co-founder of YES! Media, president of the Living Economies Forum, a member of the Club of Rome, and the author of influential books, including “When Corporations Rule the World” and “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth.” His work builds on lessons from the 21 years he and his wife, Fran, lived and worked in Africa, Asia, and Latin America on a quest to end global poverty.

One thought on “The Origin of the Term The Great Turning by David Korten

  1. Many of us feel that there is a shift. As to what extent it is real and not part of this, our awakened echo chamber or visionary imagination [all good!] is debatable. Few, however, see the economic determination of history. Without a concomitant understanding that sacred cows such as private property and personal profit along with competition rather than a sharing of all given as birthrate, the melting of the ice will continue, unabated.

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