Urgent Message from Mother:
Jean Bolen, MD, is the acclaimed author of nine previous books, including The Millionth Circle and Crones Don't Whine. An internationally renowned Jungian analyst, she is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF . Join Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, at East West Books in Mountain View.
There is no mincing of words in Jean Bolen's newest book Urgent Message from Mother. Her subtitle gives us the message itself: Gather the Women, Save the World. American women, Jean notes, have twice changed their world, thereby effecting major change in the world as a whole. The women's suffrage movement in the early 20th century led to political equality, and the feminist movement launched in the 1960s has brought about a significant shift in the personal, social and economic status of women. Jean now sees a third women's movement emerging, whose agenda is clear, crucial and unequivocal: to save our planet from the patriarchal power games that have set us on a path of disaster. Wherever there is conflict, she writes, a commitment to cooperation must prevail. Gather the women.
James Conti: Jean, you have written in no uncertain terms that the world needs Motherthe Sacred Feminineto set things right, because so much is out of balance.
Jean Bolen: Yes. As Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, men have been running the world and have pretty much made a mess of it. Basically it's the compassion element that's been missing. It's really time for the feminine principle now, for connected reconciliation and forgiveness.
The goddess has been a primary theme in your work, and now in this book you've added an accelerated activism to it. The word'"urgent" in the title speaks volumes in itself. Living as we do in the shadow of potential self-destruction, is this new women's movement a case of now or never?
Well, I think so. I think there's about a 20-year window of opportunity for change. When the United States and the Soviet Union called off the nuclear arms race, it felt as if the danger of destroying the planet was over, and now it's like it's metastasized. So, there's that on one hand. On the other hand there's a generation of women who have never existed in history before. It's the most empowered generation of women ever. These women are getting together in groups and really accomplishing things. These groups, or circles, have the potential to reach critical mass. Maybe that will be at the millionth circle. It's what Malcolm Gladwell calls "the tipping point." When a tipping point happens in a culture, the culture changes.
Your book cites a number of stories of courage and cooperation that demonstrate the power of your millionth circle idea. Please say more about the concept.
When it comes to changing the world, conventional wisdom says, "Who do you think you are?" But if you do your part, no matter what circle you belong to, there is movement towards critical mass. Gladwell's notion of a tipping point comes out of epidemiology. It explains how a latent virus like AIDS can progress geometrically until it reaches epidemic proportions. An idea can spread in the same way. Circles of people who support an idea give birth to more circles. The millionth circle.
I was struck by your observation of a deeply rooted difference between men and women. In stressful situations, men have been conditioned to "fight or flee," whereas women are inclined to "tend and befriend." This is quite revealing of the world's current state, isn't it?
Yes. It is women's way to take care of people. That's the kind of energy that is needed whenever there is conflict. When we look at the really troubled spots in the world, there aren't women involved in the negotiations. In Northern Ireland, it was the presence of women and their involvement that brought about the Belfast Accord. In South Africa too, the old way was conflict retaliation instead of resolution. It took really good men like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu to unite the country. Compassion and connection grew out of who they are.
Jean, you end your book with a discussion guide, and in it you ask a number of compelling questions. Are you hopeful that we will answer them with a commitment to action?
I have an optimistic sense that both men and women have reached a point of feeling that something really has to change. This is a book for everyone, but mainly I think there are two groups of women who will hear and heed the message. One is the young activist women who get it. They're not buying into consumerism. They want to do something to make a difference, and they've got the energy to do it. The other is my age group. There are something like 50 million women in the U.S. who are over 50 now, a huge number of whom have a real sense of gratitude for what the women's movement has done for them. They're looking for what I call an assignment....
Your contemporary Ram Dass, has been admired lovingly as a man of "fierce grace." It seems that your life, Jean, could be aptly described as one of "fierce compassion." True?
(Laughing) Thank you. Yes. I mean, compassion is what is motivating me to do what I'm doing now.