The invitation to participate in the Keynote panel during Resilience 2015 gave Christine and me a great opportunity to reflect on the early days of Transition Guelph and all that has come into being since then. Thank you, planning volunteers, for the invitation to speak, and thanks to everyone at the Keynote evening who asked questions and contributed to the discussion, and helped to cohere these realizations!

All of us have been on a rich venture of learning and doing since the beginnings of TG. I’d like to share some thoughts that stand out as I look back and imagine forward. Most of these represent knowledge we early organizers held early on that has been confirmed and enriched along the way.

The main points are:

  • Resilience is about learning and adapting
  • Visioning is vital
  • Relationship is primary
  • It’s about people care as Earth care, individual and group sustainability
  • It’s about the power of community, and the power of one

Thanks in advance for your attention. Here we go!

Resilience is about learning and growing together in order to adapt.

Resilience is more than just “bouncing back” from adversity, as important as that is. The people of Transition Guelph follow a long-term strategy of connecting with one another to build thriving systems for meeting people’s needs – healthy social, economic and environmental systems – in changing or unpredictable circumstances.

I really like Nikki Silvestri’s definition: “I define community resilience as the ability, as a community, to withstand change in a way that protects all people, and an ability to take advantage of change (italics mine) in a way that increases the ability of the community to thrive.”

It has become clear that most of all, Transition is a cultural process, one that reweaves connections, bringing people together, empowering us all with a creative impulse. As Transition Movement founder Rob Hopkins wrote,”… my sense is that Transition embodies the possibility of something that few other things can achieve. It is about what is currently politically impossible becoming politically inevitable. Transition can start to change the tone, change the background buzz, change the sense of what’s possible” (http://bit.ly/1CMw4f9).

Change keeps changing, sometimes in surprising ways, and it’s energizing and rewarding to stay flexible and innovative. In Rob Hopkins’ words, “What we are seeing emerging around the world is a new narrative for these times. A narrative that says these are extraordinary times, and times that demand us to be extraordinary.”

Narratives about peak oil have shifted, with more commentators and the public recognizing that the world, especially industrialized societies, need to end the addiction to fossil fuels, even though presently prices are low, for the sake of the climate. Awareness of climate disruption has advanced to where it’s now common to know that burning carbon puts us most at risk of destroying the chances for life on Earth.

A longing for greater justice and sustainability in economic systems is catching hold and spreading. Models old and new that address these questions are arising in abundance:

  • What would it be like for our human economy to be in harmony with the Earth’s economy?
  • What would our communities be like if we put energy into personalized and localized resources that benefit everyone around us?

Re-use and swaps, DIY fabricating and repair, Time Banking, cooperatives and gift economy, even corporate structures like B-Corp that focus on social and environmental good are thriving. Their existence subverts the outdated story that non-stop growth of capitalized wealth is the only way open to humanity.

The importance of Visioning; imagining the world we want to live in

One of the features of the Transition Movement that drew me powerfully in the beginning is the central place of visioning and actualizing positive, forward-looking solutions that can include everyone. As we design and work on the many projects that our volunteers are passionate about, we are all guided by the shared purpose of creating the society we want to live in and pass along to those who come after, our human and other descendants. Intention is fully honoured as a powerful force for opening new possibilities in every realm.

Relationships are primary; building and tending them, we create the better life we want.

To paraphrase from the description of Transition Lab (well worth a read at http://transition-lab.com/#our-vision ): The Transition Movement goes much deeper than merely creating a better survival strategy. Many of us recognize that the biggest problem with our world is that we do not live in relationship with most things in our lives. We are not really connected to where our food comes from, where our phones are made, or where our gas is drilled. This often makes the ecocide all around us distant enough that we are able to keep on going about our lives without much thought to the consequences of our actions.

We grow life-enhancing relationships by:

  • Connecting deeply with Nature – getting to know our place in the world around us and our own wild, intuitive, wise selves
  • Getting really good at communication — learning and practicing the skills in order to foster harmony and make the most of different perspectives and diverse contexts
  • Inviting each person to contribute their gifts and talents – trusting that everyone has valuable parts to play
  • Balancing process and practical orientations in our gatherings and endeavours — inner & outer realms intertwine and enrich one another
  • Talking and listening – as Grace Lee Boggs said a few years ago, “It’s not only important to act, it’s important to talk because when you talk you begin to create new ideas and new languages.”

Persons and organizations need and deserve care and support

Caring for the living Earth means also caring for ourselves and those around us. Giving attention to sustaining our energy and health individually and collectively, we create a better way that subverts the old extractive worldview that sees everything as only resources to be exploited.

Personally, this can mean recognizing the imperative to step back from endless activity before disillusionment or poor health ensue. Consultation, planning, and the goodwill of many have meant that we can make such choices healthy for TG, allowing for shared leadership and greater collaboration. Practices that prevent depletion and burnout will also grow our awareness, stamina and viability – actualizing the vision of resilience on every scale.

The power of one and the power of community

I have been amazed and fascinated to see how so few of us initially have been joined by more and more builders, nurturers, and warriors on the side of life (see Joanna Macy’s story of the Shambhala Warrior in Coming Back to Life), and how this has resulted in the vibrant, creative, busy Transition Guelph of today.

When I first came home inspired with this awesome Transition Towns idea, little did I know that I would find other passionate Guelves and it would turn into potlucks and parties, stimulating film screenings and presentations, community gardens and food-bearing perennials planted in Guelph, a time exchange system, focus on wellbeing and self-care, sustainable builders combining interests and expertise, alliances with wonderful community partners and social enterprises – wow! We have now an ongoing wealth of Inner Transition activities, a lively web presence, Transition Streets, music makers, local movement for Fair Trade, new narratives in the making, greater skills, a beautiful Resilience Festival tradition, and more … plus a robust web of connections and friendships for so many! All of you who are or have been involved are absolutely miraculous – together we are an adaptive, generative system that is alive, creative, and energizing.

A few last words if you wish to keep reading

… from Grace Lee Boggs again:

… I learned as I grew older … that how we change the world and how we think about changing the world has to change… The time has come for us to reimagine everything… How do we reimagine everything in the light of a change that is so far reaching and is our responsibility to make?

We reimagine by combining activism with philosophy, talking about revolution and evolution in the most fundamental terms. We have to do what [I call] visionary organizing. We have to see every crisis as both a danger and an opportunity. It’s a danger because it does so much damage to our lives, to our institutions, to all that we have expected. But it’s also an opportunity for us to become creative; to become the new kind of people that are needed at such a huge period of transition.

… and from Russell Evans, Transition Lab:

We can stop being consumers and instead advocate for our basic needs in ways that make us better citizens. These are relationships that require communication, boundaries, assertiveness, collaboration, and compassion to be successful. These are also exactly the skills we need to develop to be successful beyond our doorsteps in the fight for clean air, water, social justice, fracking, and so on. By working in relationship for our basic needs, instead of being consumers of needs, we fundamentally change how we walk on the planet.

We have to create forms of work that create community and expand our humanity. We know that giving ourselves to work that ignites our passion is possible in many cases only from a position of privilege. We can strive to create work with which everyone can meaningfully contribute, that all people can engage in because they care.

When we start growing our own food, exchanging and sharing labour and skill, and working with community, we make choices that consider the well-being of one another and not just our wallets. These are the ways to fundamentally change how we live and approach our lives. These are powerful, radical actions that we can take towards healing our planet and ourselves

… and from the Poet Rainer Maria Rilke

The Machine endangers all we have made.
We allow it to rule instead of obey.

To build a house, cut the stone sharp and fast:
the carver’s hand takes too long to feel its way.

The Machine never hesitates, or we might escape
and its factories subside into silence.
It thinks it’s alive and does everything better.
With equal resolve it creates and destroys.

But life holds mystery for us yet. In a hundred places
we can still sense the source: a play of pure powers
that — when you feel it — brings you to your knees.

There are yet words that come near the unsayable,
and, from crumbling stones, a new music
to make a sacred dwelling in a place we cannot own.