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PaulS's picture

Transition Patterns for getting started: basic set

1 — What we start with

The first set of patterns, ‘What We Start With’, set out the thinking tools, skills and personal qualities that appear to help in the early stage of forming a Transition initiative. When siezed with a passionate wish to make Transition happen where you live, might there be some additional skills...

1a — Post petroleum Stress Disorder

The challenge:
The moment when one ‘gets’ peak oil can be extremely emotional and profoundly unsettling. People can react to learning about peak oil and climate change in many ways, including shock, disbelief, anger, relief, depression, grief, increased urgency or determination to get on with things, despair, fear and other emotions. Strong feelings that remain unfelt or unexpressed are likely to show up somewhere else. This may be helpful – some find anger or urgency a useful fuel to action – but they can also become destructive – the anger could turn into blaming others within the project; the urgency to act can become a force that drives people, or the project, to burn out, and grief unexpressed can become depression or passivity to give just a few examples.

The solution:
Ensure that, whether on a personal level or on a community level, enough space is put aside to let people feel and express what is happening for them, and to do this with others is preferred. This includes time for digestion after powerful information is shared (e.g. peak oil films); encouraging people to form support groups, and modelling the inclusion of feelings as a natural response to what is happening at this time. An understanding of the various symptoms of post petroleum stress disorder (see above), will help in being able to observe them when they arise, so as to not get carried away by them, rather to be able to see them as what they are, natural responses to challenging issues.

1b — Critical Thinking

The challenge:
How is a Transition initiative to distinguish between the abundance of information out there? How to establish the best way forward in relation of strategies for healthcare in a lower energy world, how to deal with climate scepticism? Often, a lack of grounding in scientific thinking, and an inability to distinguish between belief and knowledge, or to be able to analyse scientific arguments, can lead to Transition groups promoting ideas that lack rigour and which can actually constitute a rejection of science.

The solution:
Ensure that critical thinking is central to your Transition intiative. Promote the questioning of assertions, and try, through events and trainings, to promote values of scientific reasoning, so as to give people the critical thinking tools vital to the successful design of communities. Integrate new insights from holistic science, particularly systems thinking, and avoid the creation of any ‘sacred cows’, keeping all assumptions open to ongoing questioning.

1c — Understanding Scale

The challenge:
One of the most commonly asked questions by fledgling Transition groups is “what is the most appropriate scale for us to work on?” A lack of clarity in terms of scale can lead to exhaustion, overwork and burnout, and produce initiatives whose effectiveness could have been far greater had more thought been given to the issue of scale at an early stage.

The solution:
Establish from an early stage the scale of focus of your Transition initiative. Are you a neighbourhood group, linked to others around you through some kind of network? Are you a stand-alone initiative looking at your entire settlement? Are you focusing the Transition concept on an institution, a school, a University? This pattern contains no right answers, rather this is a question that boils down to what ‘feel right’, and may relate to more historic community boundaries (i.e. parishes).

1d — Thinking Like a Designer

The challenge:
A community group that comes together to redesign itself so as to be more resilient and more able to function in a post oil world needs to have, at its fingertips, the thinking tools in order to understand how to apply systems thinking, integrated design, how to see systems as intertwined and connected. It needs, as it were, a grounding in being able to see possibilities rather than probabilities, and the ability, without the need for extensive retraining, to be able to think like designers and to think holistically.

The solution:
Permaculture design is an excellent way of taking a crash course in designing for resilience. It has evolved over 40 years as a design system for the design of sustainable human settlements, and its principles and ethics form an excellent and easily understandable foundation for the design work that your initiative will undertake. Make sure that some members of your core group have done a Permaculture Design course, and try, where possible, to weave permaculture training and principles through the work of your Transition group.

1e — Personal Resilience

The challenge:
In an increasingly isolated and consumer driven world, we are under constant pressure to value ourselves by what we consume, rather than by the quality of our relationships. Our lives are busy, stresses are multifold, and look set to increase as the economic impacts of peak oil and the realities of climate change really start to bite. Without the qualities of personal resilience, the ability bounce back from shocks to our lives and our expectations, it will prove difficult to support ourselves, never mind our communities, through the coming years of energy descent.

The solution:
Inner resilience comes from a range of things. Research shows the personal resilience is an inbuilt human quality that everybody has, unless its functioning has been impaired by other factors. It has been found that people who are shown to be more resilient have a number of qualities central to Transition , they use humour (Masten 1994, Werner & Smith 1992, Wolin & Wolin 1993), creative exploration (Cohler 1987), relaxation (Anthony 1987, Murphy & Moriarty 1976 and optimistic thinking (Anthony 1987, Murphy & Moriarty 1976), all elements of the Transition approach. Make one of the core activities of your Transition initiative the supporting of increasing the personal resilience of those participating through a range of activities.

1f — How Others See Us/How We Communicate

The challenge:
People who are passionate about issues that necessitate change in others (most green issues fall into this category) can sometimes lack an awareness of how they communicate their message. For many, green campaigners can appear fanatical, naive, uninformed, smug, judgemental, patronising or offensive (very few embody all of these, but I have seen talks by one or two people who managed it). Communicating Transition without such an awareness can, ultimately, be self defeating.

The solution:
Embody within your Transition initiative a principle of being open to constructive criticism, of being willing to hear feedback. Be mindful of the language used, avoiding divisive ‘them and us’ style messaging, however subtle. Carry this mindfulness through into printed materials, local press releases and events, and work actively to avoid perceptions of being ‘hippy’ or excessively rooted in alternative culture, rather ensure that, to the best of your ability, the project remains as accessible to as wide a range of people as possible.

1g — Civility/Manners

The challenge:
There are few things more off-putting for newcomers to an organisation, nor more destabilising for the initiative, than for those involved to lose their ability to listen to each other, or to communicate in the without kindness. Any organisation that fails to maintain levels of civility between its members runs the risk of rapidly dissolve into rancour and animosity.

The solution:
Promote a culture of politeness and civility throughout your meetings and your organisation. Encourage active listening and teach those skills if they do not already exist. Extend this into all areas of the work your group does. Value qualities of compassion and respect throughout the work you do.

1h — Standing Up to Speak

The challenge:
Many of us have lost our voices. We are afraid to stand up and speak in public, indeed surveys shown that many people fear public speaking more than death! We fear humiliation, derision, and the mythical smart so-and-so who has spent 5 months honing the killer question that will humiliate you in public. He (or she) doesn’t exist, but for many people, public speaking is an utterly terrifying proposition.

The solution:
Like riding a bicycle or pruning apple trees, public speaking is a learnable skill. What matters is that you speak from what you are passionate about and have mastered a few basic skills. Make sure that from an early stage, training is offered in public speaking, mentoring is offered by other, more experienced public speakers, and that a diversity of people are sent to give talks for the group, thus enabling the group to build up a team of gifted speakers. Keep this training available as the initiative proceeds, and encourage people to be open with their constructive feedback about other peoples’ talks.