Skills for Uncertain Times

One of the things that creates more anxiety is not knowing: what type of future is in store?

Wildfires? Droughts? Floods? Riots? Financial crash? Unemployment so pervasive that there’s no hope? Energy crash and scarcity of fuel and resources? Water and/or food scarcity? Massive displacement of peoples? Resource wars? Civil wars? Extremism from the Right or Left? Insecurity so pervasive in cities that they become unliveable? Pandemics? Mass extinction of animals and plants causing human famine? Killer heatwaves? Child labour? Back to slavery? Human trafficking? Drug cartels and crime lords controlling the land and dwindling resources? Tyrant governments?

The convergence of the many crises: from climate change to resource depletion, widespread pollution, social injustices, overpopulation, etc. not only may bring many of the above scenarios, they are already making them an ongoing reality in many places of the world: the unraveling of collapse is already here, just not evenly distributed.

What would work then?

What may be the best “skills”, tools and resources? What could help us to make decisions now, so the future is more bearable?

The answers may be in three worlds: mitigation, adaptation and navigation.

First, we need to understand and believe that some type of collapse is not only inevitable, but it is already underway and unevenly distributed.

That doesn’t mean falling into panic state: when a house is on fire, you need to think clearly, otherwise you may hurt yourself and others and make things even worse.

The second step is to think, observe, engage and ask questions:

Professor Jem Bendell has presented four questions for both individuals and communities to ask themselves, he calls them the four “R’s”:

  1. How do we keep what we really want to keep? The key is Resilience: what behaviours, values, tools, structures, skills do we want and need to keep? What makes us human? What makes life worth living?
  2. What do we need to let go of, so we don’t make things worse? Relinquishment: what behaviours and beliefs, facilities, structures and dynamics we may have to abandon?
  3. What can we bring back to help us withstand the upcoming difficulties and tragedies? Here the key is Restoration: things from ancient and indigenous traditions and wisdom that helped them trough difficult times?
  4. What and whom can we make peace with to lessen suffering? Reconciliation: between peoples, humans and nature, etc.

These four questions may have different answers for different individuals, households and communities: there is no magic bullet. And the questions don’t end once they have answered the first time: we need to keep asking them with every step, as things may change, we may change…

Re-skilling is the first step after the above questions have been answered: what skills? How do we know what to choose?

The answer, again, is “it depends”. In my opinion, no skill is a waste of time (or money, or energy), because we can be creative and integrate them as the circumstances change.

Some skills may work better under “mitigation”: these are skills intended to build the first “R”: resilience. Skills that will help us to keep what we love and mitigate the harm: first aid, emergency preparedness, design for disaster, etc.

Other skills may work better under “adaptation”: these are skills that respond both to “resilience”, “relinquishment” and “restoration” and may include learning how to build shelters, make water drinkable, learning about wild foods, foraging and plant/mushroom ID, adopting healthy habits and engage in fitness of our bodies and souls so we stay flexible and strong and able to support others, learning how to make without, make things from scratch, find substitutes, etc.

Finally, other skills may be better for “navigation”: responding to crises and conflicts, ways to stay grounded within chaos, learning how to make things from scratch, stay mentally and emotionally grounded and flexible.

Note:  (re-skilling can be very expensive, but doesn’t have to be that way, and one thing I recommend to people, particularly if you already have some of these skills or are privileged enough to be able to spend time, money and energy on them, is to teach others in your household and community)

Are there any “useless” skills? Yes, even when you may be able to learn even from “bad” skills, if you want to make the best from your time, energy and money, better to choose wisely.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you jump to invest in a skill:

  1. Considering my age, health, household and community I relate to, how would this skill help us to build more resilience (see the four “R’s” above)?
  2. What are the worse scenarios that may happen in the area I live and how would this skill help me mitigate, adapt or navigate them?
  3. What are the best outcomes this skill may help us to create if I learn it?
  4. Is this a skill for which I would need to make big changes in my fitness, diet, lifestyle, livelihood, etc.? How easy are those changes for me? How much do I want these changes to happen?
  5. Is this a skill I can learn from someone else in my community, work-trade or exchange with others so they learn something I know?
  6. Is this a skill I can teach others and will be able to practice so it’s not lost once I finish learning it?
  7. What would happen if I learn this skill and nothing bad happens? Would I regret having learned it?
  8. Is learning this skill fun to learn or practice or gives me a sense of purpose and self worth?
  9. Is this a skill that empowers others and regenerates or at least doesn’t damage the environment further?
  10. How is this skill related to any of the four “R’s” above?

Here is a list of some of my favourite skills, some of which I learned many decades ago, some newer, some in my bucket list, and some I teach or do consulting:

  • Permaculture
  • Wilderness survival (shelter, fire, food, primitive skills)
  • Wilderness connection
  • Natural building
  • Wilderness first aid
  • Emergency and disaster preparedness and design
  • Regenerative livelihood design (how to earn your living while healing the world)
  • Playing musical instruments (more if they don’t need to be plugged)
  • Dancing
  • Singing
  • Hunting and fishing (natural and primitive)
  • Plant ID
  • Herbalism
  • Mushroom and plant foraging
  • Wood crafting
  • Social and spiritual practices for regenerative governance, decision making, conflict navigation, healing and providing support, etc.
  • Sewing and mending
  • Storytelling
  • Fermentation and pickling (while I enjoy and teach canning, it requires equipment and fuel that may not be as abundant in the future)

What are your favourite skills?

Some ways to acquire these (and other) skills:

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