THE BLOG

Metanoia, Ted Turner, and Eco-Capitalism

01/30/2014 11:30 am ET | Updated Apr 01, 2014

Metanoia. The word can mean a "profound, usually spiritual transformation; or simply a change of mind." For Carl Jung, the word refers to 'self-healing.'

All of which made sense to me while reading Last Stand, Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet (Lyons Press, 2013), by Montana journalist Todd Wilkinson.

My personal metanoia -- about Ted Turner -- started during the first paragraph of his introduction: "Some people may view this book, Last Stand, as me pulling back the curtain that has blocked public view of my 'other life' -- the one that has existed all these years parallel to my involvement with media and racing yachts."

The "Ted Turner" in the book's title is actually, the Ted Turner, who to be honest, I'd ignored for two decade. I was among those "some people" he mentions who think narcissist, sailboat racing, and the World Series champion Atlanta Braves whenever the name "Ted Turner" comes up.

My metanoia falls into its simplest definition: I changed my mind -- from Ted Turner the iconoclastic billionaire to Ted Turner the eco-capitalist. Ted Turner, however, seems to embody the full metanoic spectrum. Certainly he changed his mind many times over the course of his career. Has he experienced a "spiritual" transformation? I think he has.

Twenty-five years ago, as he was nearing 50, this Goldwater conservative devotee of Ayn Rand's Objectivism began fly-fishing and dating Jane Fonda, who would become his third wife/then ex-wife. He "started to let go of others' expectations of him." He was living in Atlanta but longed for the West, to "escape his fishbowl existence." He went on ranch after ranch, becoming one of the most significant private landowners in America. He began replacing cattle on his ranches with bison, and now, more bison graze on his Flying D Ranch than in Yellowstone National Park. Turner loves bison, but understands that they're but one piece in a spectacular and elaborate puzzle that includes grizzly bears, wolves (the largest wolf-pack in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem roams Turner land), but also prairie dogs, dozens of different birds, native grasses, worms. Turner knows no hierarchy among the biological organisms he sees interacting in the intricate web of life on land he owns but over which he takes little control. This knowledge is at the root of his transformation, realizing that if the we're able to save the world, the market will need to play an key role, but only if more of those who understand capitalism and market forces begin to invest in the future of the planet instead of their own place on the annual Forbes rich person list.

To that end, in 1997 Turner gave $1 billion to the United Nations, figuring "that I'd kick in and then lean on my wealthy friends." He's challenged other billionaires to give away half of their wealth before they die. Many have signed on including Oprah, George Soros, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet. Recently, Hasjoerg Wyss, whose Wyss Foundation is a major supporter of many Western causes, has made the commitment.

What surprised me most about Ted Turner in Last Stand was his over-coming the suicide of his father, a fate he nearly chose for himself one night in 2001. Wilkinson quotes Jane Fonda:

the miracle is that he felt compassion for living things by submersing himself in nature. It saved him. All his life he's had to relearn how to love and be loved the hard way and what I've noticed is that communing with him in nature is the way that he accelerates the bonds of love and friendship.

Ted Turner survived what his father couldn't. The wild world has made all the difference. The wild world has been Turner's 'self-healing' -- Jung's definition of the most radical metanoia.

Thank goodness not many of us will ever have the pressure of being billionaires. But we all -- especially those of us living in the rural west -- have access to some of the most amazing wild places on the planet. I believe that deep wild experiences can cause metanoia (help us change our minds, spiritually transform, or self-heal) as they did with Ted Turner, turning the simple question of "how to turn my passion into work that makes me rich and happy" to "how can I use my passion to benefit life on earth?"

It's looking out of a window instead of into a mirror.

This recently appeared in the Moab Sun News.