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What is this Resilience, anyway?

In Transition, when we talk about resilience, we usually think of it on the level of communities.

No to Costa campaign poster TotnesIn the Transition Companion three factors are identified that determine how resilient a community can be: the first is self determination; an ability to take decisions on a local level in a democratic manner, the second is having a diversity of skills within that community and a system to pass those on, as well acquire new ones, the third is about the collective vision and planning for its implementation. All good stuff and I’d say that these elements, if present, are likely to give rise to not just resilient societies, but also more harmonious and sustainable ones, thanks to public consultation and long term planning.  

However, all the planning in the world is not going to get you anywhere, unless you have a sound idea of the current and possibly future context in which you hope to execute that plan, or in other words: a realistic guess at that which is going down in the world. In this globalised economy, we will feel the effects of economic, socio-political or ecological events that happen halfway across the world. Just think of the Arab spring, the banking crisis or the tsunami in Fukushima. Most of these occurrences came unexpected and could be seen as “Black Swan events”, which with the benefit of hindsight could be seen as predictable, yet in reality rarely are.

So what is it that we should be preparing for? Is it climate change and resource depletion? Or global economic meltdown? Nuclear war? Pandemics? Well, all of the above and none of them, really. We have this term in transition, it’s kind of unofficial, but everybody knows what is meant by: “When The S**t Hits The Fan” or WTSHTF. A clear definition of The S**t isn’t necessary, each and every one of us have our own horror images that come to mind when that phrase is uttered, and it’s for the coming of The S**t that we  find ourselves needful of preparation. The closest I can get to identifying what WTSHTF stands for is Change, in a very broad sense. Those involved in Transition know that the future will be very different from the past. And although change is always happening, it is likely that the Change we will see over the coming 10-20 years will be profound and fast and we need to plan our communities accordingly; able to absorb this change and keep functioning, even flourishing.   

change graffitiChange doesn’t come easy to us humans. We like to know what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next year. Sudden change can be severely upsetting; a death, unemployment or illness has the ability to turn our lives upside down for weeks, months or even change it completely. Most of these unexpected and unplanned changes are therefore unwelcome and a lot of people would find it difficult to discover silver linings in these kinds of challenges. We’re rather like Hobbits in a way, once we got things how we like them in the Shire, we prefer for them to continue as they are, adventure only being welcomed by the few. Planned change however, we quite like; the arrival of a new very wished for baby, a move to a new home and dream job or a holiday are changes few of us would object to. So can we plan and prepare for change? Can we make our lives resilient in the face of unexpected, unknown change which we don’t know will arrive when?  

The Green Backyard community garden with tower block behindOn a community level a lot of very practical preparations relating to infrastructure and systems can be put in place, which in the best case scenario could lessen the negative effects of unwanted change.  Because, even though in the end, the change might bring less superficial and more meaningful, fulfilling lives for those subject to it, it will still mean a lot of adjustment, learning and acceptance for the individuals a society is made up of. And I think that this is the most difficult part of the process: getting people to accept the fact that change is coming and that by preparing and planning for it they are not inviting nor hastening the process, but rather learning to make excellent lemonade ahead of when lemons will be in plentiful supply.  There is likely to be a time of mourning, blaming, anger even, depression and hopelessness.

I can foresee the younger generations resenting the baby boomers for having had an easy life whilst mindlessly squandering resources and polluting the planet. I’d imagine the 60 year old worker, who after sticking it out for forty years in a boring job, when finding out that he’s going to have to do ten more years and then at the end receive a far less generous pension than the final salary one which he thought he was on, is not going to embrace the change that has robbed him of a round-the-world-cruise. This is also something we need to prepare for; it’s not all going to be celebrations and roses. Heart and soul groups might do what they can, but I suspect that mostly, we will just have to grin and bear it.

flower growing through asphaltCommunities are made up by the individuals that live in it; single people, couples and families. How resilient that community will turn out to be is going to be dependent on how prepared and accepting of the coming change the local populace is. It might not be the town with the state-of-the-art housing and renewable energy systems that comes out on top, but rather the poor, downtown city quarter, because the people who live there have been used for generations to living without, unemployment and making do. Having a solar powered Jacuzzi is going to give you little pleasure if you’re dreading another day in the rain on the muddy fields of the CSA you’re part-managing, while worrying about your daughter’s lack of employment despite good degrees in marketing and fashion.

When we prepare on a personal level for WTSHTF, we need to do so in accordance with our skills, preferences and abilities, but also with a realistic assessment of the kind of jobs that will be in demand, or even accept the fact that a “job” might be a concept of a bygone age and that what is smart now is to build up a portfolio of diverse skills so you can create yourself a livelihood. Harking back to the ways of the past is only going to make you miserable.

At the end of the day I do not think the test to our resilience will come by way of lack of money or fuel or by severe weather events, but rather by how we weather those crises emotionally as they keep coming. It will be whether we allow ourselves to be defeated by the ongoing challenges and give up or find that we can take pleasure in the small victories that we achieve in the daily struggle. Whether we can change our expectations and ambitions from desiring ever more monetary wealth and material possessions to truly valueing real things like a well prepared, wholesome meal shared with loved ones, the company of friends, a warm home and a soft bed. If we can keep feeling grateful for the small things in life, each and every day will bring something to rejoice over and that is true resilience. 

“I want to know if you can see Beauty, even when it is not pretty,every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, "Yes!"
It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.”

Excerpt from “The Invitation”, Poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

 

Photo's: "No to Costa" campaign poster Totnes/ "Change", CC image by Somedriftwood/ the Green Backyard community garden in central Peterborough, a fine example of resilience and "bounce back" Please add your signature to their campaign / CC image flower against the odds

Resilience sign via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

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