On Reflection

The opportunity to publicly talk about what we have been doing has been an interesting challenge. I talk for a living so it’s not the standing up and talking in front of people that concerns me but it did challenge us to think about what have we actually done, achieved and what is the impact.

Planning started off as I have a tenancy to do with lots of grandiose ideas and generalisations about the future. Pretty quickly I realised that my thoughts of purpose and outcomes were really just my guess at what the future might be and whilst I’m interested and have done lots of thinking about it I’m hardly in a position to make informed predications about the massive changes that we’re heading for.

Then there was the ‘how to’ approach but I pretty soon realised that wasn’t going to work either. Sure the stuff that we are doing is interesting, but it’s not groundbreaking and I had this sneaking suspicion that the audience that we would be speaking to wouldn’t need much convincing to be growing, riding and consuming less. No, the thing that came out most strongly was the framing of our approach to the solution.

It’s really framed around one key question. Why are we so sold that the world of consumption, ownership, personal power and individualism is the life that we want? Or to put it even more concisely, why is the life we’re being sold better than the sustainable one we could have?

This sounds like a really simple re-frame but it’s really powerful. See nobody really knows where the journey to a necessarily low energy future is going to go and to avoid disaster we need everyone at their free, generous, altruistic and creative best. The trouble is that modern advanced people are sort of built on top of more basic people. This means we react (either avoid or approach) to some extent before we’ve even begun to think about how we could or ‘should’ react. That’s why you find yourself getting all defensive when someone suggests ‘feedback’ even though you know it will help in the long run or why you are already thinking of ways to hang up on that telemarketer whether you want cheaper electricity or not.

So what! I hear you say. Well I think we are constantly fed messages that trigger our ‘avoid’ mentality by focusing us on loss, or challenge or even just some perceived unfairness.  You see this all the time in the comments that follow articles dealing with peak oil and climate change. Ignoring, denying or even just adopting a rigid position and then fighting to maintain that position irrespective of the debate are things that are depressingly common. The trouble is that once we’ve adopted this position, the right or wrong of the conversation or coming up with novel ideas is not important anymore, what’s important is defending my position and attacking yours. There’s not debate, creativity or middle ground anymore, it’s just me trying to prove my position and disprove yours (think Australian politics and you’re pretty much there!). Sadly this is where we’ve been pretty much stuck for years. It’s just us versus them. Don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t challenge those who would rather maintain status quo or avoid large scale change, we just need to grow this debate a bit.

wow, that was a detour

So back to the point. If we reframe this around why is the ever growing, ever consuming future that we’re being sold better than the one that lives a bit more lightly we don’t trigger ‘avoid’. It’s not threatening it’s about potential benefit, not loss and hopefully it frees up creativity and enthusiasm.

Now I know that some people will point out that this misses the gravity of the situation and pretends that somehow we are not in for some really, really challenging times. I totally agree with that but that’s our advanced brain talking and unless we can nurse people to that point then we’re stuck with conspiracy theories and denial. It turns out scared people just resort to the standard rigid unflexible ideas.

So that question “why is this better?” was our take and I think that here’s a good example of what I’m talking about.

This is the future that you are supposed to want, a new SUV, quiet subservient kids who plug in so you don’t have to engage with them and a nice open road. It’s weird that we can even accept this sort of thing let alone desire it.

In counterpoint, our year is about bikes, walking, talking and being local. It’s about moving at a speed that stopping and chatting is easier to do rather than easier not to do. It’s about prioritising travelling and not rushing around and most importantly it’s about doing it together.

bike slideSo why are the SUV’s and traffic jams better?

It’s so simple but I really challenge you to take this question for a test drive. Next time you’re about to grab a take away coffee ask yourself, why is drinking this on the way back to my office better than stopping for a moment and doing nothing other than enjoying my coffee and maybe the company of those around you? Ask yourself why rushing around for those imported ingredients to make that recipe you saw on TV is better than cooking simply and spending more time with the family and friends? Why is the ‘super size’ meal better than simple food and less risk of diabetes? Why is bottled water better than that from the tap and why do I keep letting myself be convinced that the items I buy will change my life rather than buying less stuff and spending more time thinking about how really I’m the only one who can do that.

If this is our starting point it gives us all sorts of freedom to start to become the designers of our future through conscious creative thought. It nothing else it gets us past us and them.

So give it a go and let me know what you notice or what you think we could do to take a small step to changing our behaviour to live more with less.