In the face of incessant climate-change related natural disasters, severe economic contraction, energy depletion, escalating violence, resource wars, and a burgeoning loss of civil liberties, many communities throughout the world are responding resiliently to the unprecedented challenges of our time in ways we could not have imagined even two or three decades ago. Relocalization movements, community land trusts, gift economies, cooperatives, tool libraries, community clothing swaps, and seed-lending libraries are but a few examples of building community resilience among people who have come to understand that the global economy and the consumerism that sustains it are rapidly descending into the dustbin of history.
The Transition movement has been at the forefront of the community resilience movement which has now mushroomed into a plethora of iterations worldwide. Obviously, community resilience is not a twenty-first century notion and has its roots in the adaptations of our ancient, indigenous ancestors whose clever and creative responses to adversity facilitated their survival for decades and even centuries beyond what their fate may have otherwise been.
In my local community of Boulder, Colorado, many citizens are “thinking like a foodshed” in order to insure food security for Boulder County and invest in local food and farming for regional economic development. The Local Food Shift website states:
Together, we are catalyzing a new kind of food structure: place-based, localized, regional instead of global, rooted in a regional food ecology, responding to regional tastes—a regional foodshed structure that enables people to be connected, in which as much of our food as possible is produced by local people for people within their own foodshed, a structure in which exports and imports are secondary.
In a recent audio conversation, Michael Brownlee, Co-Founder of Transition Colorado and Don Hall, Founder Of Transition Sarasota, dialog regarding the local food shift campaigns in their communities and share ideas for catalyzing the local food movement in other communities.
The local food shift campaign is obviously structured to deploy a resilient response to challenges created by climate change, drought, skyrocketing food prices, and a vulnerable corporate food system that delivers food from half a world away and which may be contaminated with toxic substances. Yet without the involvement of resilient individuals, these efforts would prove futile.
Rob Hopkins, Founder of the Transition movement worldwide, explains a 2011 article the features of community resilience:
- People in resilient communities use their existing skills, knowledge and resources to prepare for, and deal with, the consequences of emergencies or major incidents.
- They adapt their everyday skills and use them in extraordinary circumstances.
- People in resilient communities are aware of the risks that may affect them. They understand the links between risks assessed at a national level and those that exist in their local area, and how this might make them vulnerable. This helps them to take action to prepare for the consequences of emergencies.
- The resilient community has a champion, someone who communicates the benefits of community resilience to the wider community. Community resilience champions use their skills and enthusiasm to motivate and encourage others to get involved and stay involved and are recognised as trusted figures by the community.
- Resilient communities work in partnership with the emergency services, their local authority and other relevant organisations before, during and after an emergency. These relationships ensure that community resilience activities complement the work of the emergency services and can be undertaken safely.
- Resilient communities consist of resilient individuals who have taken steps to make their homes and families more resilient. Resilient individuals are aware of their skills, experience and resources and how to deploy these to best effect during an emergency.
- Members of resilient communities are actively involved in influencing and making decisions affecting them. They take an interest in their environment and act in the interest of the community to protect assets and facilities.
But before proceeding, it would be good to define resilience. The definition Rob Hopkins offers in his article is: “The capacity of an individual, community or system to adapt in order to sustain an acceptable level of function, structure, and identity” Accordingly, community resilience, he says, consists of “Communities and individuals harnessing local resources and expertise to help themselves in an emergency, in a way that complements the response of the emergency services.”
In terms of personal resilience the American Psychological Association defines it as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”
They Need Each Other. Really?
In the same way that Hopkins has identified the features of community resilience, I will name some features of personal resilience and explain the inextricable connection and interdependence between the two different types of resilience, in other words, how they need each other.
Let us not miss Rob Hopkins’ simple but certainly not simplistic statement that “resilient communities consist of resilient individuals.” Let us also not miss the fact that two of the most articulate voices in the peak oil/collapse camp, John Michael Greer and Dmitry Orlov, have from time to time applied the Five Stages of Grief theory of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, originally an indisputably personal model, to energy depletion and the unraveling of industrial civilization. In fact, Greer notes that:
Now of course some people go through the stages in a different order, some people skip one or more of them, and some people get stuck in one or another of them. (Kubler-Ross recognized that the same thing happens in the kinds of grieving she studied, a point her critics don’t often remember.) Still, the model stays in use in the peak oil scene because something roughly comparable to the five stage process can be traced in the experiences of a lot of people who go through a peak oil awakening. That much is a fairly common realization in the peak oil scene; what I don’t think many of us anticipated, though, is that the same process might happen on a collective level as well.
Here Greer is speaking to the interpenetration of community and personal resilience. The decline and unraveling of a civilization and the paradigm on which it is based is one of the most devastating losses a human being or a community can experience. In order to be resilient, both communities and individuals must have tangible methods for coping with loss. Kubler-Ross asserted that effective coping is a process that unfolds over time and that the most functional way of responding to loss is to simply allow it and be aware of our responses to it. Along with countless other authors on the topic of grief and loss, I have endeavored in my books Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path Of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse and Navigating The Coming Chaos to provide diverse, well-defined tools that illumine the grieving process and facilitate healing, and these tools can be utilized with both individuals and communities.
While by no means complete, I offer the following features as key aspects of personal resilience:
- A willingness to grapple with the predicaments of peak oil, economic contraction, and climate change and feel one’s feelings about them
- Generating empathy toward everyone else in the local and larger community by recognizing and naming feelings
- Utilization of practical tools for dealing with fear, grief, anger, and despair and conscious awareness of the Five Stages of Grief as applied to the current predicament
- Developing healthy boundaries between the impact of emotions on oneself and ones’ ability to function in community
- Identifying and functioning as a member of the community as a result of understanding that the age of individualism, the age of “me and mine” is over
- Understanding that building and fostering relationships is the fundamental underpinning of the community
- Willingness to learn specific communication and interpersonal skills for building and nurturing relationships and interacting functionally in them
- Understanding that one need not like every person with whom one is relating in the community in order to establish a functional, working relationship with them for the benefit of the larger community
- Understanding how the skills one already has are valuable for everyone else
- A willingness to re-skill for one’s own benefit and the benefit of the community
- Intimate involvement with the community or at least some aspects of it and the capacity to function interdependently with the community because one understands that one’s survival depends on the community and that the community’s survival depends on oneself
- Willingness to consciously hone interpersonal skills for the purpose of being a champion [see Hopkins’ features of community resilience]
I invite the reader to review the features of community resilience and personal resilience several times. In doing so, I believe it is impossible to miss their inextricable connection and how the two types of resilience impact the other given the reality that individuals and communities foster both.
In pondering the two lists of features, one can readily notice the extent to which community resilience and personal resilience need each other. For example, notice Rob Hopkins’ first feature in the community resilience list:
- “People in resilient communities use their existing skills, knowledge and resources to prepare for, and deal with, the consequences of emergencies or major incidents.
Yet without the first feature in the personal resilience list, is this even possible?
- A willingness to grapple with the predicaments of peak oil, economic contraction, and climate change and to feel one’s feelings about them
Moving through one’s denial about our predicament is absolutely necessary before one has the capacity to even consider using one’s skills to prepare for a community emergency resulting from it.
If one has not developed personal resilience, one may not be emotionally available to the community nor grasp why her skills are useful and necessary. Cultivating personal resilience by definition shifts one’s perspective to service and passionate commitment to making a difference in the larger community.
A 2012 Transition Network article on personal resilience explains the continuity between personal and community resilience:
When engaged with Transition, what is the best way to stay balanced in what we give and receive, protect space and time for rest, and find sources of nourishment that restore our reserves? Alongside social and community resilience, the more personally resilient we are, the more we are able to face, and respond to, the challenges of our times. If resilience refers to ‘bouncebackability’, then someone with a resilient body, heart and mind will be able to feel whatever feelings arise in response to challenges and stressful situations, and ‘bounce back’, returning to a normal state of well-being.
The less personally resilient we are, the more challenges overwhelm us and we find ourselves struggling with physical exhaustion, losing sleep, isolation or inability to cope with relationships, mental stress or loss of meaning, to name but a few. As our resilience diminishes, the pathway back to healthy functioning takes longer, and in extreme cases of burnout it can take months or even years for a person to fully recharge.
Some simple factors that are known to increase levels of resilience include:
having basic needs met; being financially resourced
eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise; spending time in nature
feeling seen and appreciated for what we offer
feeling connected – to a partner, family, friends, colleagues and the community, and knowing that people will treat us with respect and care
feeling able to effect change and make a difference.
From my perspective, one of the most crucial aspects of personal resilience is a developed understanding of the difference between the personal ego and the soul or “something greater” within the psyche that transcends one’s personal story and preferences. This understanding flows from conscious psychological work on oneself and is greatly enhanced by the development of a spiritual path. While personal egos may not always be able to connect, amazing connections can occur at the soul level that often surprise individuals who are in conflict or who may even be complete strangers to one another.
Deep Survival And Personal/Community Resilience
I recently spoke with Lynette Marie Hanthorn, Co-Founder of Transition Colorado about the interplay of personal and community resilience. After some thirty years of directing non-profit, community based organizations, Lynette reminded me of studies that have been done with survivors of various crises, and she noted that people who are internally resilient tend not only to survive but know how to extend their personal resilience to the community. She emphasized that in crises, when people can go deep within themselves they are able to access a place in which they feel connected with everything. In her experience, having a spiritual path enhances care for and connection with the community.
Lynette’s experience is underscored by the research of Laurence Gonzales’, author of Deep Survival who argues that “survivors…must have spirituality and humility. They must discover a deep spiritual relationship to the world.” Moreover, Gonzales has found that survivors are people who not only have a spiritual connection with the world but who also are pro-actively involved with their community and its well being.
Community resilience and personal resilience cannot be neatly separated, nor can we justly assert that one is more important than the other. They function interdependently and clearly need each other. Community activism is essential as societies and ecosystems continue their decline. Yet much more than purposeful activity is necessary. John Michael Greer articulates this beautifully:
I’ve come to think that one of the things we most need just now, in the Peak Oil scene and in modern industrial civilization as a whole, is that time of reflection in the silence that follows when the eleventh hour has come and gone, and the last hope of avoiding the consequences of our actions has vanished down the track into the land of might-have-beens.
Whether in the microcosm of personal resilience or in the macrocosm of community preparation, the gifts of the grieving process are endless. Again, Greer notes:
It’s been noticed much less often that the final stage of the process has a gift to offer, and the name of the gift is wisdom— something the world arguably needs a good deal more than it needs another round of comforting melodrama, or another set of political agendas disguising themselves as solutions to yet another catastrophe du jour.