Training to save the world
When my friend Mandy first told me about “Transition”, I remember feeling a bit underwhelmed and sceptical; it didn’t grab me as something I wanted to spend the rest of my life engaging with. But then I was there in 2007 at that Big Green Gathering where Rob Hopkins gave his talk about Transition and that’s when the consequences of peak oil and climate change converging sank in. I remember physically reeling, as if I’d tripped and fallen over. I’d just seen the end of our world as we knew it.
I was amazed that once informed of the fact that we were entering the twilight of the Western way of life, there wasn’t a general panic. That there were no mad hordes stampeding down high streets, demanding that the powers that be did something. People shrugged and carried on with business as usual, at best a little irritated with me for telling them that their futures were going to be very different from what they were expecting. That’s when I understood the power of denial.
Later that year, in the autumn, Mandy and I travelled down to Totnes to take part in “Transition Training”. We’d already been active in our local Transition Initiative; Transition Bro Ddyfi Trawsnewid, with whom we’d put on several very well attended awareness raising events. We’d read the Transition Primer several times, but we wanted a deeper, fuller immersion into Transition as a community process, seen a lot of the ethos and methodology was very new and challenging and we wanted to make sure we “were doing it right”. We felt that the wonderful new ways of Transition were fragile somehow, easy to misunderstand or even abuse. The emphasis on community empowerment, give away and sharing was so alien to the then prevailing and accepted culture of egocentric self-realisation and unashamed power grabbing; it took some effort even from dropouts like me to get into the right headspace. In the end, it turned out to be an amazing life-changing experience. To be in a room with about 20 other passionate transitioners and to be allowed to talk transition and related issues, for two whole days was not just fun, it was exhilarating. It was like finding an oasis with sweet, cool water, after years in the desert; it turned hope for a better world into a realistic goal, because you didn’t have to do it by yourself, there were all these other people walking with you towards it.
Come Sunday afternoon, Mandy and I were asking Sophy and Naresh (at the time the only transition trainers in the world!) whether they were thinking of organising a “Train the Trainers” and if they were, would they please consider us as candidates? We couldn’t think of a more effective and fun way to spread Transition through the land than by running transition trainings everywhere. In June 2008, we found ourselves back in Totnes, at Transition HQ, 43 Fore Street, crammed into their small meeting room above the noisy high street with a number of very inspiring people, some of whom have become lasting friends. It was pretty overwhelming; I’ll never forget the session with Rob Hopkins, where we took apart the “Twelve steps of Transition” (by then the Transition Handbook had been published) and turned them into “ingredients”. Rob’s willingness to be questioned and prodded, to have his ideas scrutinised and challenged was awesome. I have a feeling he welcomed our critical eyes as just another opportunity to make changes for the better in the whole concept. This was where I saw the principle of “Letting it go where it wants to go” in action. There was no desire to hang onto control, not even by the person who was the main driver behind the whole thing.
Since becoming a Transition Trainer and bringing more trainings than I can remember to five countries, I don’t think I’ve delivered the same training more than twice, making changes in response to participants’ feedback all the time. Nearly all the power point presentations have gone, in favour of a more interactive, participant led approach and in this way the training reflects one of the main and most powerful characteristics of Transition; it is able to change in response to what is needed. Guided by just a handful of strong, clear principles, as a process, Transition is able to morph into the culture, language and history of the place where it’s made to happen. Its goal is always the same: to create resilient communities in the face of great and to a certain extend, unknown changes. The training aims to make it easier to facilitate this process AND to keep it true to its nature.
It now seems like a lifetime ago, when I came to Totnes to take part in the first ever “Train the Trainers” event. There were a couple of frantic years where as well as trying to bring Transition to our locality, I was travelling all over the place to deliver trainings. And then the demand for trainings just dwindled. It’s been a long time since I last facilitated transition training; I’ve lost count of the number of trainings that were planned but cancelled because of lack of participants. It leaves me and the other trainers wondering what is going on. Sadly, at the same time, I also hear of more than one Transition Initiative folding because of control issues, burnout and problematic group dynamics. It’s frustrating, because I know that the training has practical answers in relation to those problems, that’s why it was created. As I already said, it can be hard to get your head around the “Transition way of working”. As a transition activist you are trying to help your community give birth to a new paradigm in which we, to use David Korten’s words:
“give priority to life values over financial values”
This could not be more in contradiction to the way our politicians are steering proceedings, where in order to safeguard banker’s bonuses and share holder dividend, ordinary people have to suffer austerity. It will require a shift in consciousness because:
“... any new structures, patterns will shrivel unless they are deeply rooted in our values, in our belief in what is worthwhile, in our assumptions about the nature of reality.” Joanna Macy
I wonder if for the moment people are sitting on the fence, confused by politicians telling them that the economy is recovering, whilst they find their pay checks cover less of their expenses each month. Confused, because the government tells them there are jobs for those who are willing to work, but they watch their children move desperately from zero hour contract to unemployment to minimum wage job with seemingly worthless but hard earned degrees in their pockets. Confused, because they see their elderly parents after working for 40 years or more, penalised by a “bedroom tax” for their two bedroom semi, because they don’t want to move out of the neighbourhood they have lived in all their lives and there are no single bedroom properties available. Confused, because the media tells them one thing, but their day to day lives tell them another.
Any day now, I tell myself, people will wake up see through the lies; they’ll stop waiting for the government to help them and look to help themselves. Any day now and then I hope a fair number will turn towards Transition as a practical, simple way to start bringing about positive change for communities and individuals. Transition training changed my life beyond recognition and I’ve never looked back. In these times, I simply couldn’t live without the hope it’s given me:
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy
Photo's: BGG 2007 (creative commons)/ Sophy and Naresh ( Transitinculture.org)/ Mandy teaching first transition training in Portugal (Transition Network)/ Don't sit on the fence (GoChangeMove blog)