“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
Permaculture is not only about sustainable living (how we design and use our energy, water and food systems, etc) but also about people.
Social Permaculture or people systems are also where I am more comfortable because before Permaculture came to my life, I’ve been a teacher, a psycho-pedagogue, community worker and career counsellor.
And the social (and psychological/spiritual or inner) aspects of Permaculture have been less explored than sustainable gardening, natural building and so on…
While Lobby McNamara has been probably the author who has explored social (and inner) Permaculture more (through her book People & Permaculture), I find that this is a poorly tended aspect, and probably the most important one; after all, we are where we are because of the actions (and inactions) of people, and not because Mother Nature guided us to this…
As Permaculture is becoming more “mainstream” and more people are approaching it as a positive-solution toolkit, lifestyle, philosophy or verb (however you want to see it), the people who want to “adopt” Permaculture are also increasingly diverse and so their struggles.
Traditionally, the people drawn to Permaculture practices where young or at least fairly independent; they tended to leave “mainstream society” and wouldn’t take regular jobs nor live regular lives: many bought or rented land, built a natural home, went off the grid and raised their children with these values; others started teaching, travelling the world offering their expertise or attracting learners and pilgrims to their homesteads. Most lived off the land and practiced a trade apart from farming; those living in cities would live a bohemian life and some may open small businesses.
With few exceptions, most of them have been also white, fairly young, educated and from middle-class families.
Digging on practices, most permaculturists eat healthy food, usually local and organic; practice yoga and meditation and are usually open-minded, peaceful people who are not very involved in politics or too much activism.
However, if we take “People-care” seriously, we need to accept that this picture does not represent the majority of the world. And it is the majority of the world who is either already struggling with climate change impacts and resource depletion or will experience the effects of those two monsters very soon and very close…
There is also an increasingly bigger mainstream population of people discovering the reality of these predicaments and looking into Permaculture as a potential toolkit for both mitigation and adaptation…trouble is that when they peek into the Permaculture world, they feel overwhelmed and ask:
- How can I leave my 9-5 job and go off the grid if I am attached to a mortgage and debts, a lifestyle that seems impossible to leave behind, land is out of the league for me and city by-laws don’t allow me to grow food, have chicken or use composting toilets (just to name a few restrictions!)?
- How can I “practice” Permaculture if my partner thinks I’m crazy and doesn’t support this?
- How can I do all the things I’m supposed to do if I am old, tired, unfit and super-busily trapped by this life in the city/suburbs, etc?
- Would I be accepted in the Permaculture world if I am “different” in any way (i.e. black, aboriginal, an immigrant, with disabilities, etc.)?
Some of us are also tortured souls: there are many reasons for this, different and similar for everyone, some internal and old and some a reflection of the state of the world.
“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
~ Rosa Luxemburg
Of course, there are the other ones: those who have no idea of what is going on (and every day it passes I am more and more convinced they are the majority). For them not only Permaculture is inexistent or something “hippies” do: they are also unaware or in denial…which doesn’t mean they don’t need to start learning about mitigation and adaptation…
My questions today are:
- How can we invite these people in so they don’t feel so overwhelmed?
- How can we make Permaculture look less as a “cult” and more as what it is: a solution that helps people in their mitigation and adaptation to an increasingly unsustainable system…while has the potential to also free them from it and change the system from within?
- How can we make Permaculture more “social” and less “individual” so the regenerative and systemic changes needed happen faster and with less pain for all?
- How can we invite Permaculture to the cities and suburbs, where most of the people of the world live?
- How can we help those struggling with unsupportive environments so the huge changes they have to make are not felt as a burden but as liberation instead?
Self-sufficiency and self-reliance
The more I read the foundational books for Permaculture and its authors’ other books, I am more and more convinced that none of them (Mollison nor Holmgren) started this as a toolkit for self-sufficiency: that was never their vision nor the reason for their research.
Permaculture was born as a response to a society going overshoot: it was a response to climate change and resource depletion, to a society who would destroy and abuse not only the planet but also other peoples and was leaving behind the most basic skills for living sustainably and responsibly in this world.
Permaculture is not about self-sufficiency but about self-reliance and inter-dependence; there is a huge difference here, although the terms sound very similar:
Self-sufficiency is defined as: “able to maintain oneself or itself without outside aid : capable of providing for one’s own needs” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)…in other words, the goal is independence and an isolated life (and, if you want my opinion, a very selfish and unrealistic one as well)
Self-reliance, in the other hand, is defined as: “relying on oneself or on one’s own powers, resources, etc.”(from Dictionary.com)…in other words: being “accountable”
The power of one, or the power of none?
There is lots of argument about whether our actions as individuals count (or don’t) when it comes to “save the world”…
First, in my humble opinion, the world doesn’t need to be “saved” and I think anybody with those ideas in her head would be a bit ignorant (of how the world works) and arrogant: even in the worst case scenario of climate change and resource depletion, pollution and all the horrid things we have been doing, the world (i.e. planet Earth) will survive: it has done so before when faced with extraordinary events such as meteors, cataclysms, ice-ages and mass extinctions.
Having said that, what is at stake is our own survival as a species, the survival of many other species and ecosystems we depend on and, in the best case scenario, the survival of civilization.
Let me be clear: our civilization is doomed. Period. There is no way we will continue as we are in the next 20-30 years without having some type of consequence: we are already driving other cultures to extinction by exporting a way of life that cannot be supported for long and we are now fighting miserably to get the last available resources so fewer and fewer can live the “American Dream”. So no problem here, neither Permaculture nor any other philosophy, toolkit, etc would save Western civilization (which is, in a way, a relief)
Back to the original argument, the question is: are our individual actions of any value at all?
For me, that is a wrong question: are we changing behaviours because we have a goal to achieve or are we changing them because we have learned that this probably the only reasonable and caring thing to do?
However, if I run away from society and strive for self-sufficiency and independency, navel-gazing and only thinking on how to save my soul that for sure won’t do any good to anything: not to other species, not to other humans and not to all the failing systems that need change or repair.
Truly caring for people
Individualism (and myopia) is what makes some people think that if you change yourself the world would change.
Changing our individual behaviours won’t make a difference and is uncaring and selfish; when others are suffering, struggling or trapped it is our duty as social animals to be there for them: from awakening to sharing experiences, from providing support to being kind and making somebody else’s day, there are many things we can and need to do if we truly “care for people”.
People care is also about not being silent about the things that matter. Some of us may be able to show up, some may be able to write and spread the word, some may have the gift of teaching or sharing…but not intervening is not “People-Care”.
While change is slow and starts within, in order to be real, it has to touch others…
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World
Climb Mount Fuji
But slowly, slowly!”
~ Kobayashi Issa