The Great Healing: 5 Compassions That Can Save the World
An interview with filmmaker and activist Stephen Erickson.
Posted May 06, 2020
"The ambitious book's five chapters highlight compassionate approaches toward animals, self, the land, community, and democracy. Erickson's writing displays passion, clarity, and a grasp of every topic he tackles." —Kirkus Reviews
I recently read a book by filmmaker and dedicated environmental and animal activist, Stephen Erickson, titled The Great Healing: Five Compassions That Can Save Our World.1 After going through it along with short essays written by experts dealing with some of the topics about which he writes passionately, I wanted to know more about this forward-looking, insightful, and highly inspirational work.2 Gladly, Erickson was able to answer a few questions about his landmark book.
Why did you write The Great Healing, why did you pick the five general areas you did, and why did you choose the other contributors to write brief essays for four of the sections?
Global warming threatens to bring about the end of our Anthropocene Epoch—and humanity’s extinction—this century. There is a climate Arch-Villain—an industry responsible for 57% of all carbon emissions—and only one solution exists, one way to significantly drawdown atmospheric carbon. I wrote this book because most of us remain unaware of who and what those are. Widespread awareness and compassionate activism are essential right now.
The Five Compassions—Compassion for Animals, for Self, for the Land, for Community, and for Democracy—are the path to manifesting that solution rapidly and at necessary scale.
Over two years as I was traveling, researching, and writing The Great Healing, many people responded strongly to its premise. From the onset I wanted to include new work from renowned thought leaders whose insights and perspectives are ahead of the curve. Four contributors wrote three new short essays and Wendell Berry allowed me to include one of his most acclaimed poems.
These are bodhisattvas on Earth and I’m immensely grateful they responded to the concept of this book strongly enough to risk contributing material to the endeavor of a first-time author. It is an honor to share the cover of The Great Healing with them.
How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?
I’ve been an environmental and animal rights activist for 30 years. However I’ve been inspired by the exquisite beauty of nature my entire life. My career path is in the entertainment industry. Whether I’m writing a screenplay, directing a feature film, or creating a series of DVDs, I love to write and craft entertaining and engaging stories.
Who is your intended audience?
I wrote this book for all of us, but particularly for my children, millennials, and for Generation Z because they need to mobilize in a big way immediately, to protect what remains of their opportunity to one day raise families in a stable society and an environment fairly similar to the one we now enjoy, as opposed to being trapped in a sweltering, ugly, calamity—humanity’s increasingly chaotic, stricken, and panicked exit from the global stage.
What are some of your and your contributors' major messages?
Compassion—true consideration for others—inspires action. Susan Sontag observed in Regarding the Pain of Others, “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers.” Compassionate activism can create The Great Healing: the healing of our planet and halting of the sixth great extinction. Compassionate activists can catalyze what will become one of the essential social justice movements in our nation’s history.
Regarding compassion for animals and the horror factory-farmed animals endure: Awareness can be troubling, even painful. It can be excruciating to witness willful cruelty and suffering, let alone begin to realize how widespread it is. Awareness, however, is a package deal, one which includes experiencing the beauty and interrelatedness of everything in this exquisite world—a world that each one of us has the unique and extraordinary opportunity to experience during this lifetime in human form.
As philosopher Joanna Macy writes so beautifully in World as Lover, World as Self, “In owning this pain, and daring to experience it, we learn that our capacity to ‘suffer with’ is the true meaning of compassion. We begin to know the immensity of our heart-mind, and how it helps us to move beyond fear. What had isolated us in private anguish now opens outward and delivers us into wider reaches of our world as lover, world as self. The truth of our inter-existence, made real to us by our pain for the world, helps us see with new eyes. It brings fresh understanding of who we are and how we are related to each other and the universe. We begin to comprehend our own power to change and heal. We strengthen by growing living connections with past and future generations, and our brother and sister species.” Demonstrating compassion for animals we find ourselves living with greater compassion toward, patience with, and understanding of one another.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Swiss philosopher who influenced the progress of the Enlightenment throughout Europe in the 1700s, asks, "What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?"
How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?
I want to inspire hope and courage. The stories of "exquisite creatures," human and non-human, in The Great Healing can engage and reach a broad audience. Akin to another author whom I admire immensely, Neil deGrasse Tyson, I believe I’ve also made the science understandable, even interesting.
While there are outstanding books written about animals and animal husbandry, or our health crisis, healthy safe food, regenerative agriculture, and our democracy, I identify our Arch Villain and its lethal impact in each of these arenas. Big Ag—industrial agriculture and factory farming—is responsible for the lion’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions. When The Great Healing was published, no book had tied this all together.
The Great Healing also identifies our solution to the climate emergency. Regenerative agriculture, essentially farming naturally, organically, draws down huge amounts of atmospheric carbon. Before Gabe Brown began regenerative practices on his North Dakota farm/ranch, his soil sequestered very little carbon. Today his soil draws down 49.7 tons of atmospheric carbon per acre. He believes he can increase drawdown to 76.5 tons per acre.
Industrial agriculture practiced on the vast majority (230 million) of American crop acres, is especially onerous. Its synthetic fertilizers, GMO seeds, and pesticide poisons kill the living creatures of the soil—its microbiome—turning healthy carbon-sequestering soil into lifeless carbon-releasing dirt.
Most Americans remain unaware of who our Arch Villain is, what our solution is, and how dire our climate emergency is. While the COVID-19 pandemic will kill over 100,000 people, we will survive it. The global warming climate crisis now threatens human extinction this century. Widespread awareness right now is essential.
Are you hopeful that things will change for the better?
Yes. But fundamental change has to manifest very quickly.
The five compassions are a progression. Once you embrace compassion for all animals and every living creature, heal yourself, your ‘body temple,’ understand why regenerative agriculture is our solution, and how it will heal communities by creating millions of jobs throughout our ravaged heartland, you have the opportunity to take your compassionate activism to the next level—our democracy—and leverage policy change.
Avoiding cataclysmic global warming requires a transformation of civilization on a magnitude that has never before occurred. Seizing this tremendous opportunity to enact a Green New Deal and a New Farm Bill will shift America into the emerging $26 trillion New Economy—one based on these principles: sustainable, Earth-friendly, humane, and just. At its core this is nonpartisan. These are not Democratic or Republican issues; protecting Mother Earth is a human issue. And a human imperative.
What are some of your current projects?
Since The Great Healing was published, promoting it has taken the majority of my time. The interviews, podcasts, as well as my new essays and op-eds all relate to the book.
The Great Healing came to me in a vivid dream. I realized there was an Arch Villain and I awoke with the title, the five compassions and an intuitive sense of each chapter ‘s purpose. That day I sketched the book adding research confirming our singular solution, and a three-year journey to publication began. Earlier this year my next book came to me in the same way. I’d like to begin writing that one before summer’s end.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?
Our planet’s sixth great extinction has already begun. One million plant and animal species are facing extinction today due to our warming planet. Our Earth has undergone a 60% decline in the number of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians over the last 40 years. Our climate crisis now, during our lifetime, threatens to bring about the end of our Anthropocene Epoch—and us along with it.
We need compassionate activists and leaders like never before. You can be one. There is a role for you if you choose to participate in what will become the most important cause of all of humanity’s endeavors to date. Know that and trust that. Find your voice. Rise.
1) Stephen Erickson is the author of The Great Healing–Five Compassions That Can Save Our World. A dedicated environmental and animal activist for 30 years, he is also a screenwriter and award-winning feature filmmaker. As a former Home Entertainment executive he originated and established one Home Entertainment label and then ran another, overseeing the licensing, development, marketing and worldwide release of nearly 400 programs onto broadcast, DVD and digital delivery platforms. Stephen holds a Masters of Fine Art degree in Theater, Film, and Television from the graduate film school at UCLA as well as Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of California San Diego in both Visual Arts and Economics, along with a minor in Psychology to help him figure out why he did both. He lives in Los Angeles and has 3 children. His website is thegreathealing.org.
2) Wendell Berry, essayist, novelist, poet, farmer, national treasure; Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of six New York Times bestsellers including Eat to Live and The End of Diabetes; Alan Lewis, Food and Agriculture Policy for Natural Grocers; and Jo-Anne McArthur, investigative photojournalist.
Bekoff, Marc. Jane Goodall Explains the Importance of Living in Harmony.
_____. The World Becomes What We Teach.