Ecology & Community

Social Therapy

A few weeks ago a friend asked me what Social Therapy is. She knew, from daily life what it was but was looking for a definition, a soundbite that encapsulates what is a very idealistic and ‘personal’ profession. It is the name given to the work with adults in Camphill communities and in other curative settings. It is often inclusive of people with intellectual disabilities, but not exclusively so. This was my rather idealistic definition:
Social therapy is the guiding of adults to engage with and carry their personal karma, which is to say enabling adults to carry their personal destiny as unique and self-responsible spiritual/human beings while also recognising we all need support and friendship. It it further the creation of a social and interactive environment where that humanity, and those streams of destiny can live, in relationship, between people.
No small task, or idea. But a good one. What is your definition of this work?
Ecology & Community · general madness

Labels Are For Soup Cans

The term ‘labels are for soup cans’ is an expression from those most easily labeled to say “I am not a label”. Having worked for a decade in Camphill Communities I have encountered many diverse people, including the people we support and have seen labels used both positively and negatively to describe people with intellectual disabilities and other ‘special needs’. About two years ago I wrote the following piece of the same title as a meditation on labels, their use and their shortcomings. Some updates and additions have been necessitated, as well as a more personal and candid approach.

When I first came to live in Camphill Communities over a decade ago, I quickly adopted a sense of ethos, and even a vocabulary which embedded me in my sense of place and social mission. This was comfortable in some ways but I also felt I was getting some mixed messages which mixed deficit models, diagnostics, and depictions of the person in need of special understanding as having a unique and important social mission. Over ten years I lived with the question and intention of some of the leading images I have had shared withma-19261-WEB.jpg me.

One of the earliest images that I had shared with me, with the best intentions in the world, was of a piano player in a slightly run down public house. If we walk into this pub we find someone sitting at a piano, dusty, and to the listener it sounds badly out of tune, perhaps even with some keys missing or completely broken. And in between, in spite of missed notes, and some slightly bum notes, we can hear the intention and tune of Beethovens Moonlight Sonata.

On the surface it was a nice analogy – we are all human and there are certain tunes we share and express – our commonality if you will, but while with some individuals I could perceive the expression of this universal element in imperfect form, I rarely experienced a broken ‘instrument’. I liked the analogy in so far as the piano player, the core Self, the direction was whole, and the experience of disturbance and imperfection existed in the windows out into the world, the expressive element. Still, for me, this analogy did not do justice to many of the people I was encountering.

We also had an introduction or foundation course, where we would encounter diagnostic images of certain ‘types’ of people – the autistic person, the downs syndrome person, the epileptic and so on. This was interesting, and threw up a lot of questions for me, especially as I progressed on my path. I often encountered some of the diagnostic images as crude and caricatured ways of looking at people, with many people using a diagnostic label as a descriptor of how a person lived in the world. Some of these were gross oversimplifications, though they echoed a certain truth that began to also give indications of the soul gesture and social mission some people seemed to carry. There was something behind a diagnostic image, a certain aspect of Truth, but it always fell short for me.

Still the entire prospect of diagnostics trouble me for a number of reasons. A few years ago I was in a Camphill Community as a visitor working in their pottery (throwing, training and generally supporting) and I had a young boy of 11 coming in and working in clay. He was a wonderful, enthused, bouncy child with a real grasp and an interest in how things are made, and in the material, and really had a ‘feel’ for the craft. I have a real sense of awe for people in their wonderful diversity, and I shared my knowledge of pottery with this boy. I also shared my enthusiasm for this young man and his accomplishments when people asked me how them pottery was going, and had him described back to me by two different people as ‘the autistic boy’. This statement told me nothing about the person I met, their abilities, their potentials, their challenges or anything else. It was used as a placating label in place of understanding.

Diagnosis comes from the Latin dia gnosis – through knowing. This knowing has often been replaced with labels that enable us to feel comfortable in our rather superficial knowing. I believe human interest should be the foundation of a human life because we are social creatures, and I believe it is possible in the main street as much as in a Camphill, but do we really take the opportunity to meet the other person?

I can honestly say I haven’t always done so. In passing by a person begging on the street am I interested in the person? Sometimes I am busy, or distracted, or disconnected from my own experience. Quite unconsciously I can create an image in myself of who that person is – I have not created a warmness of soul or emphatic interest in the other person. I have made a judgement or categorisation that allows me the comfort of walking by and saying ‘I know’. In my ‘knowing’ I have not seen the person, and if I was stopped 30 seconds later and asked about this person I may not even be able to tell you the age of the person, the colour of their skin, whether or not they had a beard, perhaps not even their gender. I certainly don’t know their story or anything resembling their individuality. I ‘know’ and so I can walk by, but the image I have in no way resembles the individual. What I ‘know’ soon becomes a doppelganger or double, a demonic caricature of truth. It is often also the truth with the way we use diagnostic labels allows us to forfeit genuine interest and knowing in favour of arranging people into comforting Aristotelian boxes. What does this label tell me about the person, or their individuality?

I myself live in the world in a very special way – I am not ‘usual’ and this offers me the potential to look at the world with different eyes. For years I have struggled with this, always avoiding a label but I have come to the point where I can live with my story. When I was 14 I began to really struggle and became clinically depressed. It was the icing on the cake of having lived with being innately different from my peers for a number of years, something which led to me being bullied, socially ostracized, and struggling to make human connections. I was odd. I read a LOT. I retained information in an uncanny way and was a bit of a Fachidiot. My otherness became oppressive when it strongly excluded me from my sense of belonging to the world of human encounter. At this time I also first encountered Camphill, through school work experience. Here I found a certain sense of belonging, in terms of the innate empathy towards diversity there, and also an immense openness in the people with special needs who were referred to as ‘villagers’. These people did not scan you for your social convention or reject you from the human tribe for that otherness. I continued to return and contribute to this place where I ‘belonged’.

The spiritual and psychological crisis abated but never really left me, and I went on with school, entering the workforce after. After the complete lack of coping I returned to my GPs office and saw a doctor who I hadn’t seen before. I described my depression, my lack of coping and overwhelming alienation. On taking out my paper file she looked at my history and looked especially long at one page before looking up and telling me “It says here you have aspergers. Do you think this might be why…”. I had no conscious ownership of this word, nor do remember ever being told that label before this point, but here it was being used to explain away my struggles, to label and placate, by putting me in my box.

I did not like this label. I knew that Aspergers was a form of autism and autism scared me because when I went to school we had to get annual sponsorship for an autism charity. The stark black and red sponsorship card showed a solitary, sullen child, while the card described autism as a lack of capacity for relationship with others, an inability to communicate, an inability to ever be ‘normal’. I was not that. During my adolescence I knew someone in secondary school who was known as a person with Aspergers and they were both bullied and ostracised and that was not what I wanted for myself.

At the time I didn’t know any autistic people. Though actually I did. I met many people at Camphill who, unbeknownst to me, had this label but they were all good, and open and warm, and communicative and it never dawned on me to label them. I also know I lived in blissful ignorance of the labels of autism, Downs syndrome etc because no one deigned to label people. People were people with all of their wonderful idiosyncrasies, they had names, they were not labels. And I did not want to wear my Scarlet Letter on my chest, so I buried it, denied that I was ‘other’ and got on with being human.

My challenges have always reared their head, and I have not always found myself in supportive environments, or personally willing to accept support, but again and again I have been made aware of my otherness, and from this my loneliness.

After a couple of years working in a factory I needed to change, so I went to Camphill as a volunteer to live with extraordinary people, find a sense of home, and by being a carer in an unorthodox setting, I lived in a place where human weakness and vulnerability was no bad thing and caring was something that was not given or received, but where caring was a reciprocity of human warmth that flowed between people.

Now I am happy to live with the fact that I am different and live in the world in a different way. What living in the world in a different way has meant for me is complex. I have my challenges in terms of socially assimilating, and being ‘usual’ – I certainly don’t always ‘get’ people, but in so many ways I have learned to live in the world in my own unique way. I have great gifts of perception, memory retention, and a hunger to approach the world and whatever I do in it in a way which allows me to know anything I put my mind to in the minutia. To think if my me-ness was a little more odd I might be described as the ‘autistic man’, like this autistic boy. This would tell you nothing really about how I live in the world, but this description or label would have the potential to effect how others relate to me, and perhaps how I relate to myself.

I deal in people, not labels – each one is uniquely constituted, and I can approach people as people. I encountered a bouncy child, labelled as if known, magnificent in his own unique expression, and with qualities that were familiar to me as exadurated characteristics I could recognise in myself, tempered with years and hard experience. It didn’t dawn on me to use a diagnostic label for what I met. The question I encountered in this meeting was ‘what are your gifts?’. ‘What do you have to offer?’ ‘What are you wanting to become?’ – the essence of our being is in our unfolding, and a much more interesting question than deficit models (the broken piano) is the potential for individuals to offer their own unique gifts.

This question is alive in Camphill in the work and identification with the historical figure Kasper Hauser. Here we are faced with a uniquely constituted individual and we are left with an enigma, which arises out of a meeting with this uniqueness – what is your destiny? What, while being you, and living in the world as you do, is seeking to find expression? What is your gift? Within the enigma of Kasper Hauser is a question fundamental to human encounter and the developing capacity for true empathy – Who are you? This same sense of mystery, awe and potential is innate to all human encounter.

The image of man as described by Rudolf Steiner allows us to live with the question, and to seek understanding without necessarily trying to reach a label or conclusion. Living with complex images created out of layers and perspectives from many angles is fundamental to the process of the College Meeting traditionally used in the school communities of Camphill. This is a true through-knowing, building up a series of images that describe a person from various angles without competing for a true or definitive image. From this arises an after-image of that which is seeking expression and the road ahead in supporting the child in their unique social mission.

Rudolf Steiner speaks of those in need of special care of the soul, while Camphill pioneers such as Karl Konig and Thomas Weihs speak of those in need of special understanding. This special care and special understanding arise out of a perception of the person, and the recognition of the potential which is innate in them.

As far as I’m concerned a medical diagnosis is useful only insofar as it allows medical professionals to do their work in giving the child greater possibilities in life, and adds one perspective on a complex of layered images which offer insight into an individual, but I have no time for labels for labels sake, or the use of medical diagnoses as a placating explanation of who a person is.

I am also cautious with medical labelling during childhood, as many of the developmental delays and ‘disabilities’ of youth are outgrown or upskilled with age. With developmental delays there is the potential to give additional support to ‘catch up’.

Many people diagnosed on the autistic spectrum at younger ages wear this label for their life, but its diagnosis is purely phenomenological, based on certain behaviours at the time of diagnosis. With proper support, and the carefully considered nurturing of lifeskills this same individual may test outside the parameters of the socially diagnosed criteria for aspergers. If we look at some of the biographies of the children of the Curative Education course (a therapuetic consultation in which Rudolf Steiner offered indications for helping individual children to be the best them they can be), after therapeutic interventions, we meet several individuals who have lived fruitful and fulfilling lives which would have been unimaginable if one were to only look at a deficit model and what they initially couldn’t do. Yet the nature of ‘disability’ is it is a lifelong label which has the potential to curb the expectations and aspirations of those who are thus labelled, it can lead to those around the individual to expect less, encourage less and mitigate their responsibility to nurture the potential of becoming because of a label.

While there are developmental potentials and upskilling I am also very wary of ‘normalising’. Working with the insights of Rudolf Steiners Anthroposophy I am brought to the question of destiny – perhaps people live in the world in a special way because they have a special destiny – they are meant to bring certain qualities and impulses. While I am all for increasing the skillset and possibilities of a person, I draw the line at normalising or assimilating as an ultimate goal. I am sometimes asked if I really believe in the ideas of Anthroposophy, and I always answer that they are a working hypothesis. This hypothesis has two aspects. The first is the literal understanding of the cosmology of Steiner and the posits of spiritual science around karma, reincarnation and destiny. These are for each individual to research and come to their own conclusions and I am walking a path of engaging with this hypothesis. The second aspect is a more philosophical or social aspect of this hypothesis – if we were to live in a world where Steiners teachings around empathy, human interest, individual destinies and support and engagement from fortifying spiritual impulses were engaged with AS IF true, what kind of world would we live in? I see the possibility of greater respect for difference, social inclusion of people vastly different from ourselves, genuine human interest and a sense of optimism and support arising from a knowledge of the spiritual world. I cannot definitively prove the reality of such things, but the ideas of anthroposophy as a social and philosophical movement has brought impulses such as Camphill, the Waldorf schools and biodynamics into the world and, at least within their own sphere of influence, have created a better, more inclusive world to live in.

The use of labels and the unique configuration with which they are spoken also throws up some interesting questions for me. When people have illnesses they describe themselves as, say, ‘having cancer’. Illness is something which happens to us, but is not something that one identifies with in a complete way. Equally in describing many longer term ailments or disabilities, people are described as being people ‘with X’. There is a sense for the wholeness of the individuality or I.

But I am brought to wonder how the question of biography plays into labels and how we wear them. Many adults with aspergers self identify as ‘aspies’. Many people with epilepsy will say ‘I am epileptic’. At what point do we move away from disability as something that has happened to us, and move towards a biographical model of disability. If we work with an understanding of people having special destinies, can the self-identification with a so-called disability describe a way of working in the world and a special destiny? I see this much more as saying yes to a fundamental part of who we are and our task as we live in the world. I do not advocate ‘disability’ labels, but I have seen people positively own their own constitution and to do something with it. On the other hand I have seen some people with a rather fatalistic approach, negating personal responsibility (I can’t do anything as I’m disabled), but where social conscience is there, new labels and identifications can be formed. The identification with what one does and how one contributes, as an artist, or a farmer etc can sometimes be a helpful and can also have a biographical element which is self chosen rather than inherited.

Perhaps I should clarify my definition of a biographical model. When children in need of special care are nurtured we are taking up their destiny, and shaping their future potential. Some children can be nurtured in such a way they make huge strides in development and a wider world of potential opens to them, but at a certain point, the nurture element of a teacher or a parent needs to offer the space for the individual to engage more fully with their own streams of destiny and potential. This usually happens at the cusp of adulthood, and while the work of nurture in childhood is almost carrying the other persons potential for them, when adulthood arises we need to give space for the sense of responsibility to arise. There is the biographical question. What do I do? What do I have to offer? What arises out of who I am? At a certain point the need to live in the world as an adult means encountering our potential, abilities and inabilities as things that define us and are us. At some point disability is not something that happens to a person, but through meeting and working with our own unique configuration, all aspects of our nature become part of who we are, and what defines our lifes course. Arising and working with biography is universally human. We live in a society where a rights agenda holds sway – people have rights, but a humanising and developmental path asks what are my responsibilities? What do I now do with my lot in life?

How we use labels in Camphill communities is interesting and at times also personally difficult. The work with children is in many ways easy – they are children, students, but what do we call the adults in Camphill communities? I have met many creative ways to address this question, some which I find useful or bearable, while other terms being assimilated into our centres trouble me deeply and jar with my sense of mission and ethos.

When I came to Camphill initially the term ‘villager’ was in prevalent use, and still is in some places, to describe adults ‘in care’. Their supporters were and usually are called ‘co-workers’. The term villager arises from the first adult communities of the Camphill movement being called village communities. Villagers were thus people who lived in the village. The language of adult communities is deliberately ambiguous – those who live in a village community are all villagers (including the co-workers) and in a community working together all people who create that community are co-workers. The title coworker for the supporters or volunteers is equally ambiguous as we all work together to build community, and our adults are just as entitled to the title coworker. Thus there is a certain ambiguity in the language of Camphill villages which serves equality and the spaces for mutuality and human support running in all directions.

At some point not all adult communities held the model of the village, with increasing diversification into urban settings. Some places began to call the people who were previously ‘villagers’ adults. The term adult also came into use through the description of ‘vulnerable adults’ in adult protection. And indeed we need to remember adults are adults and need to be treated as such.

Again and again I have also heard the language of conventional care providers sneak into Camphill language through training, in a way that radically shifts what we are actually saying, Terms like ‘clients’ and ‘service users’ move the onus from life sharing and shared responsibility for life, work and community building, towards a language of passivity, in which our adults become recipients of a service. How words are used sculpt how we see ourselves and see each other. I did not see myself or Camphill as a service provider (though on some levels this may indeed be true). In spite of increasing regulation and alignment with the standards of a care industry, we were so much more than that.

We could, for much of my time in Camphill still lifeshare, and build community together, and be conscious of our power to be either providers of a service from above, or the innovators of a still important and bold social experiment, hand in hand with the people we choose to live with. This has shifted in recent years and the social dynamic and living quality of the organism of community has suffered as a result. Though I have moved on from Camphill I believed, and believe in the model of genuine lifesharing, but with increasing regulation that does not leave space for people or have understanding for these values this model is nearly impossible to successfully implement anymore. In another lifesharing community, L’Arche, they have decided to refer to the adults as ‘core members’ because it is around them that the community has come about and continues out of a listening to their own needs, and our own needs and motivations as supporters in being there and creating community with people.

I still know the ‘autistic’ boy I mentioned. He is like me, very like me and this awakens a deep empathy in me for the struggles he will encounter, but I also see the potential that was in me in this boy and believe in his potential to shine. Most importantly perhaps, it is through him that I learn to love myself exactly as I am. This is, I think, why I stayed in community for ten years – because in spite of bureaucracy I have been better for knowing all of the people I have met, some ‘disabled’, some not, all exceeding all labels in their unique configuration. The people I have encountered, who have encountered me with an open heart, have stirred and developed a love of people in me. This love has grown to the point where I no longer feel ‘alone’ or ‘other’ but human, and that humanity lives in the space between people. I have finally put on my scarlet letter publicly because I believe in a humanity that has space for me, and this ‘autistic boy’ and the many others who are marginalised by labels and their social implications and I want to share my story so that others know they are not alone…

I have shared these few rambling thoughts because I appreciate the question that arises in me again and again – what does it mean to be human? And in living with this riddle, I also appreciate that easy labels are not nearly as enlightening as an open heart and a sense of awe for humanity in all of its infinite diversity.

I began this thought with a leading image that was shared of me – of the piano player on the broken piano. I would like to conclude with the leidbilder I have developed out of these seed thoughts, a story behind the story. While we have walked into this bar and seemingly heard, between everything, the Moonlight Sonata, something else entirely was going on behind the scenes. A musical prodigy has a special mission and vision for the future of music, and so he has spent hours and hours tuning his instrument so it can perfectly play what is seeking expression in his soul. And he has composed a very special piece. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is his unique contribution to music. Afterwards some simple soul, knowing nothing of his intention or lifes work, or the hours he spent tuning the piano ‘just right’, strolls up and says “yea. I thought I recognised that. The piano is totally out of tune, but wasn’t that Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata?” What could the prodigy do but smile? A truly visionary artist is never recognised in his own time.

This my friends is why I say labels are for soup cans.

If you like this blog, LIKE, COMMENT, FOLLOW and SHARE (or any combination thereof)

Ecology & Community · Strangeness

A Druid Perspective on the Land

After my post on Sunday about an act of imaginative personification of the land in our work as stewards of the land, be it a farm, a community or a city park I came across something shiny, new and very relevant to this thread of thought. An unexpected pleasure, and a moment of utter synchronicity was this talk by author and self professed Druid Penny Billington which deals with a mytho-poetic approach to the land and its personification as alive in the druid tradition. I highly recommend it (a sheer pleasure to listen to) so if your sense of God is found in nature, or if you are searching for Her there, this is well worth a watch!

For more transmissions of the strange things in my head and in my life, LIKE, COMMENT and FOLLOW!

Ecology & Community · general madness

Beating the Bounds

The landscape is filled with places where spirit is present. Every time we experience it, this presence encourages us to make an imaginative act that personifies the place to us. Then we perceive its qualities personally. This is the anima loci, the place-soul. When this is acknowledged and honoured, ensouled sacred places come into being.

Sacred places come into being when humans recognize and acknowledge them. They are ensouled locations where we can experience elevated consciousness, receive religious inspiration and accept healing

Celtic Sacred Landscapes; Nigel Pennick

In Camphill communities Palm Sunday is marked with a Boundary Walk. I was asked to explain the significance of this. This was my response:

The boundary walk seems to be a British custom with the beating of the bounds being a common agricultural practice.

Other than this it is an act of land stewardship when we turn our attention to the land in our custody. In holding a place in our consciousness we hold the fullness of its possibility. At the start of spring we hold the entire image of the coming years growth from budding and unfurling to flowering, fruit and the losing of the leaves. When we hold a consciousness of the land we hold an image of its wholeness – the whole of the land and the wholeness of its cycles. In biodynamics we speak about the farm or estate as a ‘land entity’ a coherent organism or identity. We create this coherency by extending our consciousness to the land, knowing its boundaries which contain it, and in so doing create an affinity with what is at the centre of those bounds.

On Palm Sunday the gateway is a significant place because Jesus entered Jerusalem on an ass. The theme of entering into, traversing the space of inside and outside is much more than just here and there. It is a consciousness that defines inside as as the core which is filled. When we enter an empty house it is a house, but when we occupy and mindfully fill it, it becomes a home. Our land is brought to life by identifying with it as a wholeness. The bounds define its limits, but it is us, as a community that fill that land with love, and bring it to life. This quality of life can be found in many places which are ensouled through our engagement, from grottos, to farms to ancient places that are visited and worked with. Over time the place takes on a kind of individuality, called the geni loci or spirit of place.

The farmer made his way slowly around the whole of his land beating the bounds with a handful of freshly cut birch twigs performing the rite his father had taught him and his father before him on this very land. Finishing his round at the main gate he left some bread, made by his wife that morning, and cheese from their cows on one of the posts and poured a shot of whiskey on the other. He nodded at the invisible outdwellers and continued on his way up the hill to the threshold where field met hedge. His wife waited for him there with a luncheon of food and drink from their land and hard labour. The farmer took a knife out of the sheath on his belt and cut a large square of turf full of grass roots and set it upon the earth beneath the trees of the hedge. Together they ate their meal off of the turf; eating the beef they had raised, the bread baked from their grain, wild greens and berries harvested from the hedges, and drinking water pulled from the well. They ate in silence smiling at each other in contentment. After placing the remnants of their small feast in the hole the earth clod was cut from, they poured out a portion each of milk from the cows, honey from the hives, and water from the well, and put the clod of earth back from whence it was cut. Farmer and wife looked into each other’s eyes knowingly; the rite was complete with the land bound to them for another year.

Sarah Anne Lawless, Land Guardianship


Ecology & Community · general madness

Earth – It’s Not All Pretty (Quote)

It’s not all pretty. The earth knows terrible things. She receives all deaths, gentle and brutal. She bears the pain of every birth. She turns all things back into herself; she worries the bones to dust. She is changing, always changing. Layers shift. Her own bones crash and break. Tides heave. Rock erupts into fire. It’s not all pretty. Beauty never is

Ellen Cunningham

Ecology & Community

Doing Stuff: More Threads of Transition

I posted here a few days ago about The Power of Just Doing Stuff, and before that I posted an introduction to Transition initiatives and shared a transition initiative map for Ireland and Northern Ireland. I believe there is power in just doing stuff! But I know not everyone will get their start or inspiration from reading a book. Why read about it while you can do it? So I figured, since Transition went to the trouble of creating videos of their stories, I would share them and give you the opportunity to see them. I have one friend in particular who when I reference books, asks “is there a video of that?” and I always have him in mind when I share accessible media.

This first video is a snapshot overview, a call to action and a quick flick through the projects.

If I’ve got your attention there is the long overview and nuts and bolts of it, Transition 2.0. Some bits are in foreign languages (as Transition is a worldwide movement) but for those bits there are subtitles) and if you don’t read at all (ie if you are visually impaired and use a reader to read this post) you can still easily follow it.

And this is just one of many stories and videos. You can check out the Transition Networks Youtube Channel for more.

As Always, LIKES, FOLLOWERS, COMMENTS and other interactivity is welcome and encouraged!

Ecology & Community

Book Review: The Power of Just Doing Stuff

unnamed2The Power of Just Doing Stuff
by Rob Hopkins
Green Books

ISBN:9780857841179
(Consider buying from an independent bookstore)

So I’ve mentioned my unabashed enthusiasm for the Transition Network, and the idea of transition towns, villages, Village Communities (hint, hint Camphill!), businesses, schools and more. Over the last number of years a few books have popped up about Transition and Transitioning to a Post Peak Oil Future. One of these is Rob Hopkins’ The Power of Just Doing Stuff. 

For those of you who perhaps don’t know, Rob Hopkins is one of the founding innovators of transition initiatives, and is a poster child of sorts. I say of sorts, because he is a sort of anti-hero. He’s nice, charismatic, enthused (in an almost geeky extreme), considered, and not really the stuff of comic books. But like all great superheros he dreams of a better future and puts his full energy behind that dream. Now anti-hero may seem like an insult to some, but I consider an anti-hero a very desirable quality. We all know the typical caped crusader, going it alone or perhaps begrudgingly collaborating one minute, while freezing people out the next (in case you didn’t notice, most comic book heroes are jerks with issues). He is brash, territorial, almost aggressive to others. So it is nice to experience someone who is radically inclusive and who disavows any special privilege. “This is something you can do” we are constantly told throughout Rob’s books (and other, free media), and we are invited to both innovate and collaborate, creating extraordinary happenings through the medium of individuals, guys, mere mortals like you and me.

I have spun you an appealing story. Perhaps even an enlightening story. And a true (if slightly over stated) story. As human being we need story. Stories create a sense of identity and community. The Power of Just Doing Stuff is a series of true Fairy Tales of mere mortals just doing stuff, and amazing things happening. While macro economics (the balances of big business and countries) are made up of facts and figures that are often cold to those on the ground to whom this ‘reality’ does not seem to trickle down, the micro economics of people ‘pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps’ is made up of stories and narratives, individual experiences of creating change and being masters of destiny.

I first read The Power of Just Doing Stuff in 2015 in e-book format and subsequently bought the paperback version second hand from World of Books. This sense of doing stuff together hits us as soon as we pass the contents page and are faced with a sea of names, acknowledgements of others whose contributions are also honoured over 2 pages. Then the introduction starts with an invitation:

This book is an invitation to explore a new approach to how our economy might work, how we create employment and wealth, and how we live and work in our local communities.

Just look at that language. Invitation. Explore. Our. We. Local. Communities. Intention is clearly set out in skillfully crafted words. The first chapter is mainly a laying out of this new vision. The realities of economic ideas that don’t quite measure up from infinite growth to trickle down economics, the realities of peak oil and global warming and the need to do something different. The ideas of new economics are introduced (finite growth, localisation, local resilience), the idea of resilience is explored, and a call to action is provided. In among all of this a narrative is carefully woven through tangible examples. Rob reflects on a country with a different economic model through sharing a visit to the aptly named Market of Hope in Santander in Spain. He describes a local market with locally sourced fresh food that directly feed back into the local economy. Equally, rather than the profits going to the shareholders of a Tesco or a Lidl, the money stayed with the local vendors and was spent in the local economy. He relays some of the journey and successes of Transition Town Totnes, and finally (in typical anti hero fashion) he points out that its not just a case of ‘aren’t we a brilliant exception’ but that change is happening Now around the world. Within Transition. Beyond transition. On a massive scale.

Each chapter ends with a Chapter X in Brief as a good way to digest the big ideas in the book.

rob.jpg

Each subsequent chapter is a narrative of big ideas, places and situations where they have been implemented, and real stories of people and communities where they have created real change. Chapter two deals with Transition as an idea and experiment, while shifting the focus from inevitability and probabilities, small seeds of hope and the feeling that some action is possible. Chapter three deals with grass roots activism starting with a small group, making a plan for the future, and the immediacy of it having practical fruits. Chapter 4 is about starting now (you as a group can create change). Every place going through a process of changing/ transitioning will do it their way, and that when we start with small deeds, and link them together they can make real change.

At the end of this I found myself looking at myself and asking some harsh questions. Am I am idealist? Am I unrealistic in my ideals? Because I found myself essentially agreeing with this book. I have come to the conclusion that yes, I am an idealist, however I do not believe I am unrealistic. Every day people do amazing things, people who like me, and like the mild mannered author of this book, everyday people who, with good will, cooperation and a bit of fumbling are making a difference. This book is full of their stories, struggles, failures and successes and I am excited by it. I have often heard that it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.

I bought my print copy of The Power of Just Doing Stuff from a second hand book seller. When I opened the first page there was an inscription from the author to two brewers: Brewers of the world Unite! If this were true of farmers, brewers, shop owners, retirees, mechanics, doctors and all other manner of folk, I think it is not only possible to expect great things, but highly probable.

We are all stories in the end, so you’d better make yours a good one!