I want to share an exercise with you that I did with my students on the Skilling Up For Powerdown evening course that I’ve been teaching in Totnes. I offer it in the hope that you might find it to be of use to you adapted to your own situation. It emerges from the work I have been doing exploring the connection between our collective relationship with oil and addiction, as laid out in Energy Descent Pathways. The aim of the exercise is to get people to really engage in creative thinking around the issues of how their lives rely on energy, and to think about how they might try to deal with that.
This exercise only really works at the end of a process of suggesting a number of solutions, forming a toolkit for how a powered-down society might be. I can’t really see it working if introduced ‘cold’ as it were. I use it in weeks 9-10 of the 10 week Skilling Up for Powerdown course, which over the previous 8 weeks has covered peak oil and climate change, permaculture principles, food, energy, building, waste and water, trees and woodlands, economics and the psychology of change. This exercise is a very useful tool for pulling all of these threads together, but it does require a degree of underpinning knowledge and enthusiasm.
I present a session linking our relationship to energy use and consumerism in general as being like an addiction, and then give them a sheet which reads as follows;
“My 12 step programme for reducing my oil dependency. In order to make my life less reliant on the unreliable, I pledge to myself to strive towards the following 12 goals over the next 6 months”.
I tell them that by next week’s class they are to have filled out the sheet, with 12 actions which are achievable, practical but ambitious.
Get people into pairs to do a 5 minute each-way Think and Listen on the question “when you think about making practical steps to make your life less oil dependent, what are the obstacles you put in your way of doing that? What are the voices within you that block you taking firm steps?” Once they have discussed this, I ask them to reflect in silence on their own for a minute or so on the question “what might the antidotes to this be? If you could name the qualities you would need to overcome these obstacles, what would they be?”
Ask them if they were able to personify these qualities and strengths in a Superhero, what would his/her name be, and what would his/her powers be? Ask them to think about that for a while and then had out to each person 4 potatoes and a few cocktail sticks (I have written about a slightly different version of this exercise here before). Tell them they have 20 minutes to make their Superhero, that they will be expected to introduce their hero to the rest of the group, its name and its powers. Once their models are done, break them into groups of 5 or 6, and let each person introduce their Hero. Tell them that they are to take their Hero home, put him somewhere where they will need him/her powers while they are writing their 12 Step Programme, but they are NOT to tell anyone in their house what it is, or else it loses its powers.
The following week, when everyone has brought their completed Plans along, I start by giving a talk about Transition Towns and the whole concept of energy descent (this would be specific to what you are doing in your Transition Town initiative). Then I arrange them into two groups of the equal amount of people. One group sit in a circle in the middle facing outwards, the other half sit outside them and face in. Then they do a process based on Speed Dating. They have 4 minutes in which to tell the person facing them about their 12 Step Programme. Every 4 minutes you tell them to move round. Therefore everyone gets to hear half of the group’s plans.
Divide them into groups of 5 or 6 and get them to sit around tables. The final session is based on the World Cafe approach. One person is the Table Host who takes notes, and everyone else discusses the issue. After 10 minutes everyone gets up and goes off to find another table to continue the conversation. The 3 questions asked are “how can Transition Town Totnes (or wherever you are doing this) help you to achieve your 12 Step Programme?”, “how can you help Transition Town Totnes?” and “how can you help each other achieve your 12 Step Programmes?”
Once these three conversations have been had and the notes taken, I then tell them that when the course runs again (you’ll have to adapt this bit to suit your situation) they will be asked to come in and mentor the people on the course, to tell them about their 12 Steps and what they have done with them since they did the course. This mentoring cycle could be really important, I’ll tell you how it works when we reach that point!
This exercise really gets people engaged with the idea of grounding these things in their lives. Steps they choose to make range from changing their bulbs to doing a course, or from getting involved in the Transition Town Totnes process to selling their cars. The exercise with the potatoes is very powerful. If you asked them to model their Superheroes in clay they would get very precious and overworked. If you ask them to make them in knobbly potatoes and cocktail sticks it is impossible to make them in any way that they do not look ridiculous and daft, yet at the same time people imbue their characters with all the powers of their Heroes.
The proof of the pudding of this exercise will be next year when the students come back in to tell the next intake of students what they have done in the interim. I’ll let you know how it works…