Friday 20 August 2010

Peak Alienation

Maybe this is where we're at after 60 years of consumerism in the UK... Peak Alienation.

When I discovered Transition Norwich it was at a time of peak alienation in my life, and I was yearning to find a bunch of conscious human beings. I struggle with the term 'inner resilience' because it sounds like too much of a solitary pursuit. Solitude can be a useful thing, a necessary thing sometimes, even a pleasure, but being a hermit is not a sustainable venture (I know). As I commented on Gary's excellent post earlier this week, we are not islands; I think an inner resilience comes from knowing we share collective faith in a transition, however imperfectly defined it is.

My own faith in that transition is at least partly defined by the people I am on my journey with. I use a small 't' for transition because I keep seeing and reading it in so many places that are not connected with the Transition Network, but share the core appreciation that a radical, if not polar, shift in human culture is necessary and practically inevitable if we are going to survive as a species. Humanity can't be measured in empirical terms - who-does-what-well is only so useful. I think we all contribute to an evolving framework for shared resilience, sometimes in subtle and uncredited ways.

The indefinable factor in the transition IS the differences between us and how we relate to each other. That we have bothered to join in Transition with a capital T denotes a shared vision, intelligence and realisation of the fact that we have to do SOMETHING about it. Sometimes, disappointingly and even shockingly, this is where our similarities stop. And resilience is about withstanding shocks. And there are no shocks as withering sometimes as personal reaction to inter-personal tensions when they emerge.

So here is the first shock we need to weather if the Transition movement is going to be a force for transition of any kind. Resilience can mean bouncing back, but an elastic capacity to absorb shock and retain the same shape is perhaps not what's needed. Instead, maybe what's needed is the learning that comes with recuperation; reconstruction beyond the shock. Perhaps this kind of resilience is easier to plan for in external, practical systems like food, or buildings and energy.

Bridging divides between people, repairing a sense or expectation of alienation, requires empathy and that isn't something that our present society is encouraged to practise. Instead we have been encouraged to seek out common enemies in order to form some unified majority, which only ever causes 'us and them': hurt, indignation and alienation. That fragmentation stops people doing something powerful together.

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is completely essential to the culture of transition and real unity. Again, perhaps we are not familiar with sharing our feelings of hurt in case they're seen as a weakness or an annoyance, but I think it's an essential thing to do if and when it happens. The longer things are left to fester, the bigger the rupture and the harder to repair. Sometimes it takes a shock to wake us up!

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