What if?

I have just finished reading ‘From What is to What if’ by Rob Hopkins, one of the founders of the Transition Town movement. It got me thinking. It got me shouting ‘YES!’ out loud. And as I walked the dogs, which is when ideas tend to coalesce into new patterns, I began to make connections.

The central thesis of the book is that our collective failure to deal with the problems of our time – climate change, extreme weather events, mass migration of people – both refugees and economic migrants, inequality everywhere, breakdown of trust in the political process and the rise of extremism… is all largely down to a failure of imagination. We cannot imagine, or dare to believe, that the problems can be solved.

He goes on to explore why this inability to imagine might have come about. In particular he castigates modern education (not teachers please note) which is target driven and, since Victorian times, has been designed to turn out competent but compliant workers – no imagination required. In fact on an assembly line or working through a script in a call centre imagination can be a definite disadvantage. I was reminded of two incidents from my past.

The first was when both my husband and I were working as fairly new teachers in a Secondary chool in mid-Wales 46 years ago. A colleague joked that teaching was ‘casting imitation pearls before real swine’. Without pausing for a nano-second and without looking at each other we both said ‘They are only real swine because they know an imitation when they see one!’ THEN we looked at each other and knew we had to find other careers! I still think we were right! Most of us delivered unimaginative lessons most of the time, were unpopular with colleagues if we got the children excited (percieved as unruly) and children who were creative were described as disruptive.

The second was a few years later at a party. I was talking to the consultant in charge of a kidney dialysis unit who told me that his ideal patient for home dialysis was a teacher or police officer. They were taught the procedure and would then follow it to the letter. The patients who caused him grief were the ones who were sure that they could see a better way to set everything up and tried it their way. Disaster usually followed.

The book is not all doom and gloom. He also relates how he and others in groups have been enabled to imagine a better way of livng and to believe that it might just be possible to create it. The results have included Transition Towns (begun in Totnes, Devon, UK) and Incredible Edible pictured above (begun in Todmorden, Lancashire, UK) each of which began with a few people asking themselves that ‘What if…’ question.

So far so good.

What happened next was that I made a connection between this idea and ideas from my training as a couples counsellor. Faced with an unhappy relationship clients had 3 options (no-one ever came up with a fourth!) Like it, Lump it or Leave it. Since the situation wasn’t working ‘Like it’ meant changing it into one that was at least likeable and hopefully really enjoyable. ‘Lump it’ was to stay as they were but probably grumble about it to their friends and family and anyone else who would listen. ‘Leave it’ meant just that – separate. Or leave in spirit if not in body – through alcohol, drugs, gambling, depression or other mental illness, becoming physically ill, having an affair or by living sparately under the same roof. Of the three ‘Lump it’ was the least risky. Nobody had to DO anything, the other 2 options were still available in the future if needed, and neither partner had to take responsibility for what was going on; though the ‘leave it in spirit and lump it in body’ ran a close second. What linked this with Rob Hopkins ideas for me was that ‘Lump it’ required no imagination. No need to imagine how our relationship might work better or how I/we might be able to make that happen. Nor any need to imagine life post-separation.

The more I thought about it the more it seemed that the same 3 options face us in the case of each of the global issue I menbtioned above. The outworking is slightly different. Like it again means taking responsibility for my part in the problem and doing something about it. Hold that thought for later! Lump it means acknowledging it is there but remaining helpless – What can I do? Me using paper straws / reusable shopping bags / getting a smaller car / making a donation to a refugee charity… is not going to make much difference so why bother. I am helpless and ‘THEY’ out to do something. Leave it becomes denying there is a problem, or blaming it on others, or the survivalist approach – concrete bunkers full of bottled water and tins of beans.

The Establishment here in the UK and probably in most of the rest of the world is pretty firmly in the Lump it camp. Many fine sounding declarations of a ‘Global Emergency’ but a complete terror at the idea of actually doing something radical. Back to Rob Hopkins – a collective failure to imagine a better world. Not helped by some pretty trenchant vested interests. There are exceptions. The Council for the city of Preston in Lancashire UK (Coincidentally the place where my mother grew up), decided to spend its money with local suppliers. As it is responsible for schools, emergency services, Social Services, highway maintenance (everything from major roads to pavements and street cleaning) that is a lot of buying power. Instead of the money going into tax havens via global corporations it supported local firms and small employers with dramatic results for the well being of the area. (Read more about the Preston Model here)

Just as I was pulling all these ideas together I listened to an episode of the BBC radio 4 series ‘The Life Scientific’ in which Prof. Jim Al-Khlili interviews a leading scientist about their work and how they came to be doing it. The guest in this particular episode was a leading Climate scientist, Myles Allen, who (amongst lots of other interesting things) described talking to a group of engineers from one of the world’s major oil producers. He asked if it would be possible for them to make their industry carbon neutral – to sequester as much carbon from the atmosphere as was produced in the whole extraction, transportation, refining and use of their products. The senior staff looked uncomfortable but the younger ones assured him it was perfectly possible – as long as all the other companies had to do the same. If one company went it alone they would commit business suicide. There would, of course, be consequences including much more expensive petrol and petrochemical products. Which is part of what scares governments and makes them even more likely to play ‘After you, no after you, No you go first…’

So where does that leave me? Well I like a good grumble as much as the next person but I have never really been in the ‘Lump it’ camp. Hiding under a duvet of alcohol or mental illness doesn’t appeal either. And as for living in a suvivalist bunker! On my own I would go crazy and as part of a group, even if they were my nearest and dearest, I would probably murder one of them within days if not weeks. No, it has to be the ‘Like it by changing it’ camp for me!

But what does that mean in practice?

In the political arena I would be a disaster. My favourite question is ‘Why Not?’ I see ‘black and white’ / ‘either or’ thinking as generally unhelpful and tend to the ‘both and’ / ‘shades of grey’ persuasion. I lack the personal ambition and ruthlessness to get any real clout, and despite the views of the current line-up of US Presidential hopefuls I think 70 is too old to be in charge! By the same reasoning I have left it too late to be a Captain of Industry or top Civil Servant. So global, or even National change is not within my scope. In the UK’s ‘first past the post’ system for elections my vote is worthless and I have never thought petitions do much good.

So what can I do? What could any of us do?

Well, even though my thinking carefully about the things I buy, driving less, consuming less stuff, re-using and recycling whatever I can, making puppets for children in Sierra Leone…. is not going to make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, it will make SOME. And as the Tesco adverts say ‘Every little helps!’ By connecting with other people who are making the same effort we can support and encourage each other and maybe, just maybe, demonstrate to others that it isn’t a recipe for drudgery – all worthiness, going without, and eating a lot of lentils (Dont get me wrong lentils can be delicous but they do have an image problem). I can continue to build my own resilience by looking after my health and learning new skills (and learning new skills is good for my cognitive health too). More importantly I can work to build my local community so that we help each other, share resources and skills, look out for each other, inspire each other. That is how all those imaginative initiatives like Transition Towns and Incredible Edibles started after all.

I hope that all makes sense and I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

23 thoughts on “What if?

  1. Laurie Graves March 1, 2020 / 5:31 pm

    First, Rob Hopkins came to Maine not far from where I live, and I got to see this rock star of the sustainability movement. Nice! Second, we do bear some responsibility for our own actions. While no one can be environmentally pure, it’s s hard to preach how much you love the environment while binging on beef, flying here and there, and driving anytime you get the urge. Third, we have to vote, advocate, and protest for change. Change might not come in our lifetime, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. Fourth, be loud and proud. Tell the world what you are doing. Be a trend setter, if you can, like my friend Dawna who bought an electric car. Those are a few thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales March 2, 2020 / 10:52 am

      Thank you Laurie. As you have probably gathered I live as sustainably as I can and although my vote never counts I still cast it! Part of the inspiration for calling my blog Going Batty was because when we first moved here our neighbours thought we were really wierd – we weren’t the ageing hippies they were used to but we weren’t completely ‘normal’ either. However they quite soon realised we worked hard, made something of an unpromising site and house and were friendly. They are used to me now but still not quite sure what to make of me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie Graves March 2, 2020 / 3:30 pm

        I certainly have gathered that you live as sustainably as you can. Yay for winning the neighbors over. Who knows? You might even be an inspiration to them. That happened to my father, who plowed leaves into the soil of his big garden. The old-time farmers laughed at him for doing this until they saw how well his garden grew.


      • Going Batty in Wales March 5, 2020 / 10:49 am

        I think I would have got on well with your Father and probably learnt a thing or two from him.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie Graves March 5, 2020 / 3:41 pm

        Some of the old Maine farmers did. 😉


  2. anne54 March 1, 2020 / 9:08 pm

    Your three options make a really interesting way of looking at the issue of how we can respond. I am intrigued by the number of individuals and companies who are taking action, despite our governments sitting on their hands. (Or even worse here in Australia, some politicians advocating to build more coal fired power stations. Have they learnt nothing from the recent horrendous fires?) Many companies are striving to be carbon neutral.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales March 2, 2020 / 10:54 am

      I am glad the post gave you a new way of thinking about responses. I am pretty sure that waiting for governments to take the initiative is hopeless but , yes, individuals and some companies are making great strides and more and more of us are willing to pay more for their products and services.


  3. Victoria Callen March 1, 2020 / 10:26 pm

    Sounds like book worth reading, thankyou. I remember being at school as quite a young child and being told that my imagination would be the death of me! As a teenager I was told that imagination wouldn’t build me a life, certainly not a life worth living! As an adult I just want to say that my imagination has kept me alive, happy and creative.
    I agree that being of the ‘like it’ persuasion is my preferred route. Sometimes I worry that I do too little but then most times I feel that at least I am doing something and hopefully inspiring others to do a bit as well. When I look at the world it mostly saddens me but just occasionally I see something magical happen and it renews my faith in goodness. My imagination keeps me going.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales March 2, 2020 / 10:58 am

      I love your imagination and your positivity in the face of some big difficulties you have had to grapple with. How sad that adults tried to squash it out of you when you were young! If we all do what we can that is all anyone can ask.


  4. fifilefou March 2, 2020 / 10:26 am

    The three options of like it, lump it or leave do seem to fit all situations. I have never heard of them before but they are most apt. To look at the state we have brought the world to is very disheartening and the enormity could easily lead to utter inertia ….the lump it or my own version ….the ostrich option. I know that my piffling attempts at being greener on their own won’t make a difference to the larger scheme of things but I do hope that by spreading the word and encouraging others to think imaginatively we can create a wave of change. My current obsession concerns disposable nappies and I am working hard to persuade my daughter and her friends to at least try washable ones!!! If it became a “fashion ” choice their use might become more widespread.


    • Jasmine Dale March 2, 2020 / 10:52 am

      Check out ‘no nappy’ method, we did it with our second child, surprisingly easy…there was a good book we followed xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • fifilefou March 2, 2020 / 11:07 am

        Ooh that sounds interesting….can you remember the title of the book, it might make a good gift….if not a little too pointed.


      • Going Batty in Wales March 2, 2020 / 11:07 am

        A lot too late for me but thank you for taking the trouble to offer help to others,


    • Going Batty in Wales March 2, 2020 / 11:03 am

      I ‘m glad you found the three options interesting and I like ‘the ostrich position’ as another way of describing ‘lump it’! When my children were small everyone used washable nappies though we did use plastic covers which were washed until they became too brittle and broke. When the children were potty trained the nappies became cleaning cloths. But do look at Jasmine’s comment too. And thank you for following my blog – I hope you find other posts as interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • fifilefou March 2, 2020 / 11:09 am

        Only discovered your blog the other day and am loving it!


  5. Jasmine Dale March 2, 2020 / 10:49 am

    Thank you, this blog articulates many important points. I wrestled with political change in my twenties following my degree, then attempted to do everything as ecologically as possible in my thirties. Now at 46, I agree with sue’s conclusion: activity, creativity, kindness and discernment in our personal lives is the best I can do. Regards climate crisis and reducing the ‘solutions’ to one factor (carbon dioxide) and then financialising this factor (profit regime) seems to continue the polarising and reductionism that has created many of the challenges we face. This essay https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/extinction-and-the-revolution-of-love/ has many interesting points relevant to Sue’s article and Rob Hopkins’ book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales March 2, 2020 / 11:06 am

      Thank you Jasmine. I will follow the link and read the article. Like you I didn’t really appreciate the complexity of the problems and was full of idealistic zeal. Now I am older I realise that each small change I make has a ripple effect most of which I will never be aware of and which may be for good or ill or a mixture of both. Love and kindness seem pretty safe bets though!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. DawnGillDesigns March 3, 2020 / 9:17 am

    I love ‘Life Scientific’ I try and listen every week. Now you’ve reminded me I should add it to my favourites in BBC Sounds, and get it saved. Thank you. And yes. Incrementally, we can all make a difference – like that story about the kid on the beach tossing turtles back into the ocean.


    • Going Batty in Wales March 5, 2020 / 10:48 am

      I don’t always understand the science in the episodes of ‘Life Scientific’ especially quantum physics but I always enjoy the biographical bits. I dont know the story about the turtles but I will look out for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. nanacathy2 March 6, 2020 / 8:03 am

    Fascinating post, and interesting thoughts on Like, lump, leave it. The comments are all a good read. I am a firm believer in buying local and using small local firms and producers. I will be interested to see how you carry these thoughts further.


    • Going Batty in Wales March 6, 2020 / 11:20 am

      Glad you enjoyed it Cathy. I enjoyed reading the comments too! I am sure that more posts about my ‘thoughtings’ as my husband used to call them will appear mixed in with the gardening, crafting and visiting!


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