Saturday 20 November 2010

Feeling the bigger picture

Wide sweep or long view? One of the features of Transition work is its capacity to embrace so many different aspects to our lives. A quick glance at the range of groups in any Transition initiative anywhere in the world - re-skilling, food, transport, 'heart and soul' and the arts - reveals this range and depth.

But what are we all in it for? Are we driven by external forces, or by our collective desire to create something together? Do we think we are going to rock Norwich into quickly becoming the beacon resilient community? Or are we working diligently and quietly in our own group, walking the talk and supporting each other?

If we are driven by external forces - and there are plenty of those clamouring for our attention right now ( think: a bankrupt Irish state, a U.S. economy officially in deflation, U.K. spending cuts, rising unemployment, lowering wages, house price deflation, species extinction rates, peak oil already passed) - we risk not only being reactive, but getting depressed in the process.

If, on the other hand, we immerse ourselves exclusively in the minutiae of a particular project or theme, without a corresponding context, we risk losing the vision of what it is all supposed to be about.

Whenever I have participated in any of the 'visioning exercises' that have become a hallmark of transition work, I am struck by how consistently I and others see so many positives in a low-carbon community - it's not the sackcloth and ashes stuff that comes up - it's the quieter greener neighbourhoods, people having more time, needing less money, talking to each other more (whatever next?!), being happier and calmer and fitter ( remember the Radiohead song), being less driven, you know the rest................

When I really feel the external factors rather than read about them or look at them - I realise I am actually part of something we call 'external', and I also simultaneously sense the real power of what we are doing in transition. That wherever in transition we are working and acting, if we are doing it authentically - with heart and intention - we are ushering in the new. By innovating, we are not suddenly going to change the face of Norwich - although I admit to a fantasy here....that one day the 'Welcome to Norwich' sign in the rail station, currently advertising jewellery, will have a strapline underneath, ' A Transition City'. What we are doing is creating a local infrastructure which people can freely join and opt into, when the fragile bigger structures continue in their process of decay or disintegrate - a process which seems to me inevitable.

There is a huge suppressed demand for what we are doing - many many people no longer trust the big old structures - but do not necessarily know where else to go, or what else to buy into.

Spike Milligan was once asked 'Did he believe in reincarnation?' . His answer was that he didn't know because he hadn't tried it yet. The more we mutually reflect, question old beliefs and received wisdom, have open and candid conversations, create projects which have practical purpose and meaning, the more we will be de-mystifying our work and message, and the more people will want to 'try it' and us.


  1. Yes Chris, it's tough when the transition bug gets hold and one is constantly torn between the community focus and a response to the bigger picture, as you point out.

    Time and progress often seem so slow in the former sphere; the urge to say "bring it on" with the systemic change we ultimately welcome; and yet a fast collapse of the old order will leave our communities reeling and it seems that we will never be prepared to be centre-stage in building the new. So the impatience for change is tinged with feelings of guilt?

    Communication is maybe the key? How can all our constructive initiatives be presented to broader society to persuade them to embrace the movement? A credible prediction of collapse fuels our sense of urgency (Stoneleigh!) and yet rather than being doom-mongers our positive vision of the alternatives must be portrayed.

    Is this what is called "cognitive dissonance"?

  2. I agree, beautiful piece. Will share. Habie x