Cowardice and the Power of Invisible Structures

It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half of the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen.”
~ Herodotus, The Histories

Our present societies suffer from many things. But one of the worse characteristics we can afford to have is cowardice. Cowardice leads to abuse of power, dishonesty, blackmailing, prejudice and discrimination and corruption. Cowardice allows people to stab others in the back and dismantle groups with the best of intentions. To take what is not yours, to destroy people’s dreams and efforts, to slow down great projects and to make others retreat to their safely guarded “comfort zone”.

Cowardice is one of the worst things we have inherited from this selfish, greed and individualist-driven society of ours.

As one of VS bloggers, I wanted to bring this up because cowardice has been the root of many challenging situations in our world, country, community, as well as inside our own group. And it is important to say it. I will take responsibility for my own risk (please see that each blogger at VS is just expressing his or her own ideas, which may or may not be shared by others in the group).

I have many examples of how cowardice manifests:

  • Corporations using their money to brainwash people about the “advantages” of some of their choices, without providing real facts or accepting a mature debate about the long-term implications of their products, services or operations
  • Governments closing deals and changing entire laws behind the back of its citizens, and when asked, justifying their actions because that is (according to them) “what the country’s citizens are asking for..” (just that they forgot to ask us)
  • Landowners secretly applying to have their lands changed from ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) to Industrial, Residential or Commercial (and putting a little, barely legible sign in the middle of their land announcing what they are planning to “develop”, all without the consultation of  neighbourhoods  which will be impacted
  • Cities authorizing “developments” that have previously been rejected or put on hold, even when citizens protest and write letters. (Like the case of the Bose Forest in West Cloverdale, BC)
  • Neighbours complaining about other neighbours directly to the strata or the “authorities” without taking the risk of first meeting with the “accused” to try to understand their reasons and negotiate a common understanding…(such as the recent case of a neighbour complaining to a City of Surrey officer because his neighbours used Permaculture strategies to kill an invasive weed and create a different garden)
  • Members complaining to third parties instead of taking the time (and risk?) of talking to the people they don’t understand/accept/like, etc. to (again) trying to understand their reasons and negotiate agreements using common ground
  • People becoming aggressive towards others without even taking the time to know what is really going on behind a decision

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

It all boils down to something very basic: the power struggle between immature little children and their parents.

When we were little, we would go to our parents to solve a situation with a sibling or another kid who was bothering us. We were very shy, immature, small or unable to handle our own feelings and fears. Same with lies and hiding behaviours: we would lie or hide to avoid punishment, to please others and get what we wanted.

But when we grow up, we are supposed to do better. We are supposed to know that when you want to do something that affects others, you should have the decency to ask first. We are also supposed to know that our actions have consequences, not just short, but also long-term such as impact on the planet and future generations. And we are supposed to know that when we have a conflict with another person or don’t understand/accept somebody’s behaviour, the more mature way to “solve” this is to ask that person and be as open as you can to understand their reasons.

If we want to build community, we need to start by being transparent and courageous. This has nothing to do with attacking, judging or diminishing others. It has to do with fairness and un-bias, with compassion and finding common ground. Or agreeing to disagree, or agreeing to maturely part ways and accept that probably, just probably, this is not the place for you and your ideas and projects. Or, like in the case of the short-sighted, greedy ones, your projects are not welcomed and won’t pass here.

In Permaculture (where the idea of “Transition Towns” comes from) there is a concept called “invisible structures”:  those elements of our cultural landscape that either support or degrade our attempts to design human settlements. Understanding invisible structures is largely achieved through the process of “deconstructing” existing institutional organizations and cultural practices: basically asking: “what happens here?” what patterns are leading us to circles of erosion…or circles of abundance? What are the behaviours and their consequences?

In other words, the cause of your “problems” is likely be a function of your prior “solutions”:

Bill Mollison (co-creator of the concept of Permaculture) said:

If you have a dysfunctional institution, don’t try to change it, that’s like wrestling with the tar baby. Rather, determine what that institution was supposed to deliver and design a better system to actually deliver that purpose or service. If you have done the thing correctly, then people will come to you for that. The old institution will eventually whither or die

In VS, we attempt to do exactly that:

  • We want to deliver awareness of the current predicaments in the world and how they affect our region, communities and families
  • We want to create support groups to navigate the “mess we are in” and find constructive and proactive ways to be  positive impactful in small ways as waves that ripple and create quiet revolutions
  • We want to attract people eager to learn new skills, skills that are necessary today but will be imperative in a world of small collapses and great suffering
  • We want to share and connect with other community partners (grassroots or institutions) that are doing similar job in areas of re-localization, social justice, food security, emergency preparedness and building strong local communities and economies.
  • We want to show support to those who are fighting for a better, sustainable future for all (not just humans)

That is why we want to attract courageous people, we need people who are not afraid to share their thoughts but are mature enough to acknowledge their own fears and bias.

Although I started this post with a “disclaimer” I would like to dream that other VS members hold similar goals and values.

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”
~ Robert Frost

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.

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