By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life www.positivelife.ie/  Winter Issue 2015

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”  Lao Tzu

In this Good Life 2.0 column I have been exploring how we might become more effective change makers and play a part in the transition to a way of life where we can thrive in these difficult times. I’ve been highlighting some of the potential responses to the challenges we face, as well as looking at emerging technologies and processes that can help us nurture resilience in our communities and in ourselves.

We shouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste, these challenging times could provide a once-in-a-species opportunity to adapt our way of life to one that fits the carrying capacity of our planet and works for everyone not just a few.  In this issue of Positive Life I want to explore an elegant and powerful analogy for change that has been used for thousands of years, the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. This metaphor has recently been further informed with the latest in systems thinking and observations of the evolutionary biologist and futurist, Dr. Elizabet Satoris.

The butterfly begins its journey as a tiny egg on a leaf from which the caterpillar emerges. Right from the beginning of its life a caterpillar’s sole purpose and function is to consume. They are like little eating machines that increase their body weight several thousand times in a couple of weeks, actually growing out of their skin five times before hanging from a twig and getting ready for a radical change. This is called the “pupa stage,” the caterpillar sheds its skin again but this time the new skin is different, its a harder protective shell called the “chrysalis”.  This is where the transformation of the caterpillar to butterfly takes place.

Within the chrysalis the body of the caterpillar starts to break down into a nutrient goo. This is where the magic happens with the emergence of cells that have been dormant in the caterpillar. These are called “imaginal” or “organiser” cells and at first are seen as a threat and attacked by the immune system of the caterpillar. The imaginal cells however are called to action, start to collaborate and come together to create the body, legs and wings of an entirely different being. The imaginal cells develop into the structure it was originally determined to become and after a few weeks and a final struggle the transformation is complete and the butterfly emerges and takes flight.

So what is the lesson of this story for us? We are living in the best of times and the worst of times. The opportunity of this moment is unprecedented with a convergence of new ideas and technologies, a resurgence of community spirit and a yearning to simplify our lives and to do more together. However, paradoxically, these are also the worst of times with the near collapse of the global financial system, government bailouts, stock markets in free-fall, rising negative equity as well as an accelerating ecological, energy and social crises. We have now reached the long predicted limits to growth and its time for us to make the transformation to a different system. We are at a critical turning point in our civilization’s evolution; it’s similar to the stage between the caterpillar and butterfly, a time of transition or metamorphosis.

Our economic system requires us to consume, it could be said that the current purpose of our human system is to consume resources and ensure economic growth.  This makes our society, and us, similar to caterpillars. However as Elizabet Satoris stresses; “the caterpillar is a necessary stage but becomes unsustainable once its job is done. There is no point in being angry at it, and there is no need to worry about defeating it. The task is to focus on building the butterfly the success of which depends on powerful and positive creative efforts in all aspects of society and alliances built among those engaged in them.”

However the old system will fight to protect its interests as the new system struggles to be born, and activists will spend a lot of energy fighting the old rather than birthing the new. The lesson here for the change makers of today is to be more like imaginal cells and to collaborate with others on shaping the systems of a world that works.  Caterpillars are the immature or growth stage of butterflies, the industrial age could be seen as our growth period, which we now urgently need to transcend.

People seem to be getting tiered of our shop-till-you-drop, all-you-can-eat, hyper-consumerist culture and are beginning to explore ways of simplifying their lives. There is a transformation in consumerism going on, and not just in what we consume but how we consume. According to a Euro RSCG Worldwide survey there is an emerging trend amongst significant portions of the global population who are trading hyper-consumerism for a consumption that is more considered and sane. Many people are now exchanging a life of excess and the accumulation of stuff to a slowed down, low impact life of simplicity, authenticity, personal responsibility and community.

New movements and businesses are emerging that facilitate the building of community and people sharing their resources, with an emphasis on use and service over consumption and outright ownership. In this paradigm there is a desire to share and to collaborate.  People yearn to get to know and support each other, to gather locally and to meet face to face. Virtual communities are actually now fostering real ones as people use the Internet to get off the Internet. The rise in car sharing, land sharing, couch surfing, peer to peer lending and crowd funding demonstrate that a new culture of dematerialisation and collaboration is being born.

This kind of culture is more like the butterfly than the caterpillar. The butterfly is very different from the caterpillar; it has very little impact on the earth and provides vital eco-system services through the pollination of plants. Its time for us to move from being motivated from a position of self-interest with an over-emphasis on individualism and consumption and adopting new processes that encourage sharing rather that owning, collaborating rather than competing and working with nature rather than against it.

The transformation of our world is accelerating and is happening at all levels, within our communities and ourselves. The old ways are falling away and new ways will prevail as we recognise the creative possibilities and livelihood opportunities that collaboration reveals. It looks like the crisis is paving the way for a return of the spirit and values of the Meitheal, the old Irish co-operative system in which groups of neighbours helped each other.

This powerful change metaphor is clear for any one engaged in social transformation, as the old unsustainable structures collapse it is time to really work together to bring into existence a life-serving resilient society. A new world is emerging; in the midst of the apparent chaos lets act like imaginal cells and build the butterfly.

Positive Disruption

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life www.positivelife.ie/  Winter Issue 2016

The climate is rapidly changing, but we are very slow to. The disruption we face as the world heats up will be hugely challenging, however it will also be an opportunity to accelerate a transition to a future that is more meaningful, decentralised, local and powered by renewable resources. I believe this is inevitable, will be far healthier and more preferable to the centralized, unjust world that we now occupy.

Humans are generally frightened of change, we tend to want things to stay the same and free of danger. Disruption is rarely welcomed as it represents conflict and chaos, and disruptive behavior is usually discouraged in favour of passivity and compliance. For a long time the business world avoided disruption seeing it as a problem, now however, to stay ahead of the game, they have had to champion it.

As a catalyst for change disruption is vital. This can really help us to challenge old assumptions and could expedite new innovative approaches that will ensure we remain buoyant in the face of the turbulence ahead. In fact it’s a global community of positive disrupters engaged in transforming their local places that I think we really need.

In our use of energy we know we have to quickly move away from our dependency on fossil fuels. Reducing our consumption and moving to renewable sources is vital, however the real disruption happens when we rethink how we generate and use energy locally. Our communities have so much to gain from a decentralization of power and so much to lose if big business maintains its control of it. Locally owned and distributed renewable energy could revitalise our communities, providing much needed livelihoods and underpinning the journey to a post carbon economy

The way we produce and consume food leaves us vulnerable and unwell.  Its great to see the rise of the shop local and healthy eating trends, however we can really disrupt an unsustainable food system by become co-producers, growing some of our own and subscribing to community supported agriculture initiatives. These projects reconnect us to the land, ensure the economic viability of local producers and also build much needed social relationships in the places we live.
We can easily future proof our homes by increasing insulation and making them more energy efficient. However co-housing initiatives are completely disrupting the way we house ourselves and challenging our notions of ownership. Residents of co-housing neighbourhoods have their own private living space but share assets and common space. As well as being more affordable, this approach has proved to increase wellbeing and be much better for our mental health.

To really navigate the disruption ahead we will need to recalibrate our compasses and be willing to creatively transform the way we do almost everything. Anyone working to make this world a healthier and fairer place needs to use disruption positively to innovate new ways to live in the world, meet our needs in a more sustainable way and accelerate the transition to low carbon and resilient future.

Stories for Change: Creating a Narrative that Matters

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life www.positivelife.ie/  Winter Issue 2015

We are hardwired to create and share stories; that is how we learn and is what shapes our identity. An authentic and well-told story helps us re-imagine our lives, gives us hope and offers us a sense of what could be possible. If we want to have more influence in shaping a better world, storytelling is a crucial skill to master.

A great majority of the stories we are exposed to appeal to values associated with consumption, status and our self-image. Transformational stories need to engage people’s ‘intrinsic’ or non-materialistic values, rather than ‘extrinsic’ or materialistic ones. When the stories we hear appeal to extrinsic values we are far less likely to be concerned about the environment or have empathy for others.

Generally what is deemed to be newsworthy these days is anxiety inducing or cultivates self-doubt and apathy. Headlines of crime, terrorism and celebrity scandals dominate, and rarely challenge the economic and social status quo.  This narrative of negativity along with the increasing amount of advertising we are exposed to keeps us shopping, disconnected from each other and unmotivated to engage in positive change

We are told that to meet the targets required to avoid catastrophic global warming we must begin to consume less. Unfortunately the dominant cultural narrative encourages us – over and over again – to do exactly the opposite. However making people feel guilty about their lifestyle will not make them change it, and research has shown that threats often used in communicating environmental or health matters can instead lead to denial and cause resistance to change.

At a conference recently Mary Robinson demanded that we take the climate change issue personally asking: “What can you do to make the transition to a low-carbon future?” We definitely need to hear more compelling personal stories to inspire us to transform our lives and the places we live. At the Electric Picnic this year I hosted a panel discussion on the topic of culture change. One of the panelists, a former researcher at a national radio station, remarked that when she pitched stories like these they were deemed ‘too worthy’.

Sustainability issues need urgent responses, and although there are many great examples of inspirational community led initiatives helping their local areas flourish, we are just not hearing about them. It is surprising how little is known about Transition initiatives, eco-villages, permaculture and other grassroots projects that are prototyping a different future. Communities that have been successful in developing local energy or food projects, strengthening their resilience or reducing their carbon footprint are an important source of learning and we need to hear their stories.

Can we find new ways of telling and sharing stories of change? Initiatives like Creative Islanders, Change X and Get Involved are all providing platforms that do this. Social media makes it easy, but we really need get out from behind our screens and live the story, co-creating a narrative that matters with those around us.

Surfing the Waves of Change

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life www.positivelife.ie/  Spring Issue 2014

“Wave Riders are curious people possessed of an innate capacity to go with the flow, constantly seizing upon opportunity when others see no possibility, or even disaster.” Harrison Owen

We are truly living in interesting times. Our economic system is broken, jobs are being lost with many more threatened and levels of anxiety are high. No one can predict the future but what is certain is that we are in the middle of a storm that shows no sign of ending any time soon. To ensure a good quality of life in this context we will need to adopt new ways of living and working and build our ability to cope in these times of rapid change. With a little ingenuity and collaboration we could design community systems that will allow us to not only survive but thrive in this changing world.

Change is, and always has been, the only constant, however the pace of change seems to be speeding up. This can feel overwhelming but we cannot afford to indulge in despair or be paralysed by fear. We are not helpless; human beings are the most adaptable species on the planet. The present challenges provide an opportunity for refocusing how we want to live together. By nurturing our personal and community resilience we can surf the powerful waves of change with confidence and optimism. With an economy in free fall, a changing climate and resource scarcity on the horizon we will have little choice but to build our capacity to respond in a creative way.

This period of extraordinary global change is an opportunity to ensure that the places we live in are vibrant, innovative and full of life. A resilient community is one that takes action to enhance the personal and collective capacity to cope with the unfolding challenges. Adaptability is at the core of resilience and emerges either in response to, or in anticipation of, a challenge. But where do we start? How do we take the first steps to ensure that we and the places we are living have the ability to get by in times of abrupt change?

The basis of a community’s resilience is the quality of the interactions between people in that locality. At the heart of the Transition Towns movement is the building of relationships with our neighbours and working with them on projects of common interest. The Transition process is a way of thinking about community readiness for abrupt change. It started here in Ireland less than five years ago and is now taking root throughout the world, with thousands of communities adopting the model.

Transition initiatives and people everywhere are beginning to support their local economy and develop all sorts of sustainability projects. These include local food initiatives, programmes to retrofit homes, exploring community energy systems, initiating local currencies, starting car clubs, and establishing social enterprises.

Learning how we can navigate this change and prosper during these turbulent times could be compared to surfing. Waves, like the challenges we face, come in all shapes and sizes and riding them require the skills and attitude of a good surfer. Here are some attributes of a wave rider that are vital for a change maker to cultivate.

Before paddling out an experienced surfer will first observe the sea, spending time just sitting on the beach watching where the waves are breaking, the direction of the wind, and identifying where the easiest place to paddle out might be. Similarly with change making and resilience building we need to begin by observing the challenges we face and understanding their context and the risk they pose. Surfers are constantly scanning the horizon and positioning themselves to catch the best waves. Through observation competent surfers are able to catch and ride waves that others miss. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time.

Good wave riders are well prepared. They have checked the weather charts and know if there will be suitable waves, have the skills and the right board for the conditions and their wet-suit fits snugly. Possessing the right skill-set and having the right tools will be essential in dealing with whatever challenges emerge. The competencies, knowledge, skills and tools needed by effective change makers need to be identified and cultivated.

Active Learning
Learning the basics of wave riding early on helps improve a surfer’s performance and gives them the confidence to attempt to catch bigger and bigger waves. Surfers don’t really practice, they learn in action, or by doing. They build their competency and skills through the experience and the enjoyment of surfing itself. This is an important lesson. Using action-research or active-learning methodologies in our work could help us engage in the world while building our knowledge and developing our capacity for change.

Wave riders have a capacity to be fully present and go with the flow. This is a key skill for a change maker to possess. To catch and ride waves it is critical for a surfer to be focused and being totally in the moment is essential whether you are riding waves or making change.

The wave is not static. It changes in relation to internal and external factors. To maintain balance the surfer has to be constantly shifting his weight and adjusting his stance. This flexibility and sense of balance ensures we have the ability to respond to the various difficulties that confront us.

Letting Go of Control
When a surfer catches a wave and accelerates down its face, he may seem to be in control but he knows he is not in charge of the wave. Aligning himself with the waves force and power allows him to maximise his ride. The surfer is sensing and going where the wave suggests, moving and flowing with effortless engagement, not controlling the wave.

Surfers have a ‘go-for-it’ attitude and take the potential of disaster as an opportunity to further master their art. A surfer is not fearful of making mistakes; even falling off the board or ‘wiping out’ is an important part of the learning.

Wave riders have a genuine passion for the art of surfing, it is a way of life for them. A good change maker needs to respond to every situation with creativity and enthusiasm. Although the ride ahead will be challenging, enthusiasm rooted in action will help get us through.

We all need to be better at resilience building and the abilities of the surfer may hold a key to managing change. He goes with the flow and has the ability to adapt and change effortlessly. The secret of a wave rider is a deep awareness of natural systems and the skills and tools to deal with unpredictability. Although we don’t know what the future holds we can map out some likely scenarios, develop our necessary attributes and build our resilience to prosper in a changing world. Go for it!

Spring Forward – Resilience Revisited

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life www.positivelife.ie/  Summer Issue 2014

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”  Confucius

In this column I have been exploring how, in the face of adversity, we might flourish as individuals and communities. Over the years I have introduced a number of emerging initiatives and cooperative approaches that might counter the widespread loss of connection between ourselves and our environment, while at the same time creating livelihoods and developing more sustainable communities.

Underpinning the different initiatives I have covered here is the concept of resilience. This is a common word, and many of us have a sense that being resilient is a good thing, but what does it actually mean? How might developing our resiliency enhance our own effectiveness and wellbeing as well as being of benefit to the health of our communities?

The word resilience comes from the Latin word ‘resalire’, which means springing back, or rebounding. This captures the essence of resilience from an individual’s perspective, our ability to recover quickly from illness or misfortune. But being resilient is more than just bouncing back to where we were before. If we are resilient we stretch ourselves, we spring forward and, because of the challenges we face, we emerge stronger.

This transformational view of resilience emphasises renewal, regeneration and re-organisation, it is not just about recovering or preparing for shock, it is about human agency and the power to learn to navigate effectively through life. I recommend watching a short animation we made on YouTube called ‘Surfing the Waves of Change’. It explores how we can nurture our personal and community resilience to surf the most powerful waves of change with confidence and optimism. I like the metaphor of surfing.

Healthy communities naturally build resilience as a part of their ongoing development. An objective of the Cloughjordan Ecovillage where I live is the building of better relationships with our neighbours and working with them on projects of common interest. Building resilience can help communities develop the ability to face challenges in ways that strengthen their social bonds, better steward resources, enhance our capacity to cope with change and allow us to spring forward from adversity strengthened and more resourceful.

Luckily, resilience is not simply an ability we are born with, it is a skill anyone can learn and improve. At Cultivate Living and Learning we offer workshops and training on developing this important attribute. We have just begun a three-year project with a number of European partners to develop a learning resource called ‘Schools for Resilience’. This programme, which is aimed at teenagers, will use a place based learning methodology to build the competences of resilience and transform communities.

Cultivate also host Permaculture courses teaching people to live more sustainably and strengthen the resilience of their communities. Keep a look out for ‘Summer of Resilience’, a dynamic series of events in August and September at the new WeCreate Workspace at Cloughjordan Ecovillage. These will explore the role of community organisations and social enterprise as catalysts for resilience and enhanced cooperation.

When resilience is framed as transformation challenges don’t define us, they refine us. The healthier, bouyent and more flexible we are as citizens the more resilient our communities will be.  So stretch, bounce back and spring forward.