Tag Archives: social change

Make time to talk

Stephen Blyth, at Otago Access Radio studio“It used to be if I asked people how they’re doing, they would say they’re busy. Then they started saying “Oh, I’m busy, busy, busy”. And now they’re saying things like “I’m crazy busy” or “I’m insanely busy”, Margaret J Wheatley reflected when I talked with her last week.

The hyperbole will doubtless continue to inflate.

I experience this as having barely finished one thing before I’m racing on with the next. Distraction at the hands of this wonderful, but paradoxically attention grabbing technology, no doubt contributing to this. There rarely seem to be empty spaces.

There is definitely something missing as we blanket ourselves with this comforting illusion of busyness. When do we make time to scratch below the surface? To re-examine why we do things? For pondering about what really matters? To ask how come things ended as they are?

Margaret’s words ring true, if I really allow them to sink in. She says not only is thinking endangered, but working with others and generosity too. She very forthrightly describes our predicament at length in her recent book “So far from home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World”, and suggests we can find a way out.

One question that arises is how would things be different if we allowed more time for thinking and conversation?

I see a glimpse of what can happen when people stop to talk in a paper delivered by vivian hutchinson at the New Zealand Creativity Challenge held in New Plymouth last April (“What’s Broken is the We: some thoughts on creativity for the common good”, 2013).

The experienced community activist and social entrepreneur recounts how he invited two leading and long-time workers in community development in New Plymouth and Taranaki to talk:

“Let’s take all our various hats off for a while – some thoughts on creativity for the common good while … all the roles and labels that we carry around with us as we do our work. Let’s just have breakfast together as active citizens in this province that we love.”

Then I issued a deeper invitation: “Let’s tell each other the truth of what we are seeing right now … rather than what we tell our funders.” They both knew what I was talking about – because the growing gap between these two messages is in itself a significant problem in the sector right now.

Well, once we started talking, we found we couldn’t stop. We ended up having breakfast every fortnight for the next nine months. The conversations deepened our understanding of what we mean by community development and civic engagement. We asked ourselves some challenging questions about what sort of community sector we
handing on to the next generation.”

This conversation led to many others. Vivian found people “hungry for an authentic opportunity to stop and reflect. We spent four months at it, and established the beginnings of a learning community on how we as active citizens can do our work differently, and create real change.”

As I’ve found in the last week, conservation without the need to rush to conclusions is a wonderful thing. It is possible to find inspiration in the twists and turns of life.

When invited to revisit why I do the work I do by interviewer Sam Mann, I ended up heading off on some unexpected tangents. In the hour-long interview for the Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio program I talked about some of my motivations, shared learning from my community work over the last 25 years, and mulled on where using digital tools fits in.

This conversation was very invigorating, and would have been just as rewarding had it not been recorded. It’s just not something I would usually make time for amidst the day-to-day bustle.

Margaret J Wheatley is full of encouragement about the need to create time to be together in conversation: “I think a major act of leadership right now, call it a radical act, is to create the places and processes so people can actually learn together, using our experiences.”

A sobering read – “The End of Growth”

Cover from "The End of Growth" by Richard HeinbergIf you get depressed thinking about the long running economic crisis and pending ecological meltdown, then Richard Heinberg’s book “The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality” is probably not for you.

Within a succinct 288 pages Heinberg provides an update on the Club of Rome’s 1972 critique of the ludicrous oxymoronic notion of perennial economic growth. He also covers at length the impact of resource scarcity on society (not only fossil fuels but other resources including precious minerals, water and soil) and the negative impacts of pollution on the biosphere.

As the book contains page after page of depressing statistics, I couldn’t bring myself to slog through it during my summer break. It was only over Easter that I finished the book.

I’m pleased I did as it is in the last two chapters that Heinberg sets out his prescription for citizens to respond to the end of growth.

If you don’t want to read through all the hard stuff, you can view a dazzling infographic presenting the book’s core thesis. Allow six minutes to get to the heart of “The End of Economic Growth” on YouTube.

It might seem alarmist, but I’m convinced that if we (ie humans) don’t consciously plan for a no-growth future, we’ll hit a wall. I’m not terribly keen to witness a crisis unfold, so I was particularly interested to understand what Heinberg rates as the top priority for action by citizens.

Number one is everyone making and sustaining meaningful connections with neighbours, friends and family in the area where they live. In other words, build social capital. Heinberg also suggests there are some big picture policy oriented measures within global financial markets that could buy some time, and things for individuals and families to do to get prepared.

For those committed to playing an active role in social change he suggests a number of areas to build connectedness. This isn’t really a prescriptive list of things we must do. It’s more an offering from a seasoned thinker, and doer.

The main initiatives he proposes are:

Given the magnitude of the changes confronting us, I find it hard to hold at bay my cynicism about relying on community initiatives.

From past experience I know how much it takes to successfully run things at the grassroots. There tends to be an over reliance on a core group, who won’t be taken for granted forever. Despite easily used, free tools, it takes a lot of effort to communicate within loose groups or networks. All this happens in a context of people with full-on home and work lives.

Yet, deep down I know this is the way to go. I’m drawn back to Mark Roseland’s work on sustainability, which I’ve quoted before:

To a considerable extent, the environmental crisis is a creativity crisis. By soliciting the bare minimum of public ‘input’, rather than actively seeking community participation from agenda-setting through to implementation and evaluation, local and senior-decision-makers have failed to tap into the well of human ingenuity”.

(Quoted in a think piece I wrote in “An e-government response to the climate change crisis: tapping into citizen creativity”, 2007.)

Getting to the bit about where these global concerns intersect with what I can do. It’ll come as no surprise, but to sustain and inspire my creativity I go online. Through the web I get fresh ideas, get challenged see things from all sides and learn from projects, successful or not. Examples I’ve come recently include The Story of Stuff and Do the green thing.

Part of the reason I decided to write this (long) post was an increasing sense of urgency about taking action. This is particularly so given the current political climate which I’d describe as being about BAU until our head, neck, torso, legs and feet are all in the sand.

I’d be the last person to urge anyone to read such a difficult book as “The End of Growth”. However, I’d say it’s important to engage in the ideas, Heinberg presents. Have you had the a chance to think about where we (ie humans) are heading? What does it mean for you? your family? friends? Is building social connectedness the key, or other there other priorities? This conversation didn’t start with this book (or post), but I hope it carries on with some vigour.

PS I’ve half a mind to share inspiring and hopeful projects, ideas and creativity I find on my travails travels on the web. Series working title: “Reasons to be optimistic”.