The Meaning of Transition

In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.”
~ Jeanette Winterson, The World and Other Places: Stories

I am part of the “Transition” movement or “initiative”.Being in transition is an interesting place to be, but sometimes can become uncomfortable, both for ourselves and those around us.

Let’s see first what transition is:

Transition: The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.

Where are we now and where are are we going as a society, community or individuals?

What are we transitioning from and to what are we transitioning?

This is difficult to define, because what we call community is already a complex mix of lots of people with different backgrounds, needs, expectations and states of “awareness” about what’s happening with our world and where we are going or should be going…

Even inside the Transition Movement people may have different visions of which projects work and which don’t, where to start and what level of commitment or awareness each person should have.

Before going further with this post, I would like to quote Rob Hopkins, the initiator of the Transition Initiative:

“Transition Initiatives are based on four key assumptions:
1. That life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it’s better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise.
2. That our settlements and communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the severe energy shocks that will accompany peak oil.
3. That we have to act collectively, and we have to act now.
4. That by unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and that recognize the biological limits of our planet.”
~ Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience

Many confuse this vision with being “equalitarian” without noticing that being “equal” doesn’t mean that everybody is the same (same dreams, same skills, same approaches, same levels of commitment, same awareness).

I like the concept of inclusiveness instead: when you are inclusive you don’t leave anybody outside and you respect that each person has a different skill, dream, approach, etc, to contribute. People are not equal and we can’t force that: there are people who are shy or introvert and are really good at writing or research, some are hands-on, active and extrovert and may excel in other more physical or social skills. Some people may have mental or physical challenges or may be in other situations that may prevent them from being fully involved in certain aspects of the transition movement…and so on. We are not equal, as you won’t find two equal organisms in any given ecosystem. Variety is the spice of life!

Forcing people to be ‘equal” is making the same mistake schools have done with our children and workplaces are doing to us: forcing everybody to feel miserable because they don’t have the same level of “soft skills” or social easiness, trying everybody to work same schedules when people may have different rhythms and paces and asking everybody to be a perfect “team-player” when Nature knows that there are some who work much better (and are therefore more productive and happier) when they work alone, while others may need company and constant feedback.

Why is a taboo to say we are not equal and we shouldn’t be?

These are my observations of how people are taking the transition on themselves and within groups:

One thing I have learned in life is that “should” is a bad word. It demonstrates closed-mindedness (Intolerance of the beliefs and opinions of others; stubbornly unreceptive to new ideas) and wanting the world to be as “we” want and not accepting how it really is.

Here is where Permaculture Principle #1, “Observe and Interact” works perfectly (no wonder why, Permaculture is the “philosophy” where the whole transition movement is based upon)

If we take the time to observe and interact with people, we will discover that not all the “transitioners” have the same level of awareness of the challenges we are facing (such as Climate Change, Peak resources, social injustice and economic downturn, among others). Not just they don’t share the same level of awareness, but some are in different stages of transition themselves and may not be ready to jump and commit to all the projects or even to just one project, they may be still at the “observation” level, which is not bad, because without observing, we can’t make assumptions and our judgment may be terribly unfair.

Another thing we may see if we take the time to “observe and interact” is that people are really diverse, and not just because they may have different levels of awareness or commitment to the transition movement, but because even having the same level, people have personalities, personal histories and a skill-set that may be unique. This reminds me of another permaculture principle: #10 “Use and Value Diversity”….these are not just beautiful words! One of the challenges we face is the appalling loss of biodiversity in flora and fauna…as people who want “transition” to a better future for all, we can’t become judges and tell people how they “should” behave or think or even feel…or we would also be killing diversity.

If we are serious about the transition, and beyond what the transition movement and Permaculture teach us about how to go from a wasteful-consumerist-unequal-abusive and uncaring society to one that works for the planet and ALL its habitants (animals and plants included, not just human beings), then we have to learn to work with the reality we have and accept that each person who approaches our movement is valuable. We can’t force the person to be how we would like; otherwise we are becoming the same monster we want to fight.

This is true with anything else in life: we are not able to change our children’s behavior, we can pave the path and provide feedback, but only they can change themselves.

The transition movement talks about another Permaculture principle (#8): “integrate rather than segregate”. When you think about it, and you see all the skills people have developed throughout their lives…well, not everybody will have gardening or canning skills. Being in transition means to learn to accept that a lot of people don’t know how to bike and may not feel comfortable biking yet…many are still stuck in a lifestyle that requires working long hours and wouldn’t allow them to offer anything else but emotional support (or words in a screen, or research, or poems), or meeting one-on-one with just a couple of other members…

As a person who works with people, I am also aware of other issues: people may be shy or have mental health issues. Those are real things. Some others may have had bad experiences with groups in the past and are jealous of their privacy and their time.

Let’s see what the usual stages of transition are:

  1. Discomfort: you know the place you are now is not god, or safe or right anymore (you have just learn about the real impacts of climate change, peak oil, etc. and you are scared and concerned)

This is how you may feel and react:

  • Reluctant, fearful, in grief, angry, confused, uncertain, negative, defensive, reactive and trapped.
  • You may distrust your decisions and your intuition.
  • You are likely to worry more than usual.
  1. 2.      Going internal: the feelings above make you to become introspective and challenge yourself. Some people start challenging their own lifestyles, including their relationships, workplaces and careers.

You may become:

  • Contemplative, seeking, questioning, protective, spiritual and often emotional.
  • You are likely quiet, detached and withdrawn.
  1. 3.      Exploration: although most people join the transition movement or other groups at this stage, this is not always the case, and going back and forth from this to the prior stages is common.

You may feel like:

  • You are experiencing new energy and security.
  • You become optimistic, confident, willing to experiment with new ideas, and learning.
  • You are eager to dream about new possibilities.
  • You are looking for a new path and ready to commit to it.
  • You’re discovering a vision.
  1. 4.      Renaissance: probably only those who have lived within the transition or similar groups in the past are already here. It is easy to become judgmental and point fingers to others who may be still stuck in prior stages. And not everybody who reaches this stage will be the same, as no plant or bug in the garden is the same, even when they may come from the same specie.

You will experience:

  • You are highly committed, creative and optimistic.
  • You are also determined to make changes and do so at a much faster pace.
  • Things seem to flow for you.
  • Mentally and physically, you’re at the top of your game.
  • Everything is possible.

While the above stages are from life coaching theory, they can easily be applied to people in the transition movement, to immigrants coming to a new country, to people changing lifestyles or to anybody in “transition” from a state “A” to a state “B”. The difference may reside in the fact that the transition movement is based in something extraordinarily big and bad that is happening to our planet, environment and livelihoods. So it is no surprise people may become more defensive and pass through these stages with a burden on their backs.

Let’s accept the fact that we are part of an interesting garden where every plants and bugs, every microorganism has its job and function: it behaves like a well organized orchestra, but there is no director around…nobody tells them how they should be, if well balanced, the garden will flourish and produce abundantly for all.

There is not “out” in this garden, the garden is our only Planet Earth, so we can’t throw anybody or anything “out”…and we cannot force anybody to “behave” in a certain way. In the long term, everybody will be in transition, either voluntarily or involuntarily, the whole world is going there, so it is much better to accept this reality and embrace the diversity of this beautiful, challenging and wonderful garden we have ahead.

Emerging at the other end, we will not be the same
as we were;

 We will have become more humble,

more connected to the natural world, fitter, leaner,
more skilled and, ultimately, wiser

Rob Hopkins,

Originator of the Transition Town movement

%d bloggers like this: