As ecosystems around the world collapse; species disappear, rainforests burn and the gap between the rich and poor grows wider, as mental health issues in young people soar and public services are crippled by funding cuts, the work of environmental and community resilience-builders moves from the wings, towards center stage.
For those of us who look at the trajectory of our civilisation and cry out for someone, anyone to pull the emergency brake, the essential question has always been ‘How on Earth do we turn the runaway train of progress away from the precipice it is speeding towards?’. I think that within each of us asking this question, there is a child pulling helplessly at the sleeve of a disinterested parent, begging to be heard and bewildered by the lack of response. Perhaps the parent is checking their Facebook page, shopping on eBay, hypnotised by the latest clickbait news article or counting their winnings from betting on the stock market. That scared child within us watches the beauty of our world disappear piece by piece and weeps for what is lost, yet those very tears water the parched earth and flowers bloom where they fall.
Then something so unexpected happens, so suddenly that we are left blinking in shock. It all stops. The brake is pulled. The train skids, screeching and bumping to a halt. Not because of the streets full of protestors, nor the desperate pleas of children, not the warnings of scientists, nor the growing reality of climate change. No, it is COVID-19 that halts our civilisation in its tracks. Nature itself provides the impossible, the unimaginable. And, in the blink of an eye, the planes stop flying, the cars stop driving, the trees stop falling, the factories stop churning and every ecosystem on Earth breathes a sigh of relief.
It is not a Disney moment, people are terrified, locked in their homes, eyes glued to screens showing hospitals running out of beds and people dying. Suddenly our parents are in danger. Wild statistics quoted from every news outlet, prophets quoting plagues of locusts and rivers of blood could not do a better job. Suddenly we hold the fate of the elderly in our hands, those we have for so long pushed to the margins, ignored, drugged and, so often, left alone, frightened.
We are eating poisoned food, drinking poisoned water and breathing poisoned air, while the days slip by behind the window, unseen as we sit in front of our screens. We are a civilisation of the unwell and, suddenly, the unwell are at risk. Fear… it spreads like a shadow, like a virus, like a pandemic, it speaks through us as we argue with our families, as we glare at our neighbours as they shake hands with a friend or get into their cars, it makes us want to hide, it makes us angry.
My name is Joseph Rose and I love this world. I will not be quiet about this, or embarrassed to say that I love the trees, the rivers, the mountains, the oceans, the colours and smells, I love the endless variety and the limitless beauty that waits for us beyond the window. Sometimes I am afraid and the window is closed and shuttered and I cannot see the beauty out there. Then, I remember to breathe, to relax the churning of my mind and, for a moment, to just be. As if by magic the shutters fall away and the window opens, the world once again beckons to me.
I write all of this as a message to the resilience builders out there. To the medicine men and women, to the activists, to the environmentalists to any human being who dares to imagine that a better future is possible. This message is simple and undoubtedly many of you are already spreading some version of it:
This is the moment we have been waiting for.
The story of unquestionable economic prioritisation is lost for words, tongue tied. The idea that things are what they are and that change is impossible has its shoelaces tied together. This lurch in the status quo, this sudden emergency stop is a window of opportunity that most of us have hardly dared pray for. We have reached a crossroads, many paths lead from this place, some in the same direction we have been following, some towards an authoritarian dystopian future and some to a future that shimmers with possibility. More than ever, our future is held in our collective hands.
To any of you reading this, I ask you, no, I beg you, use this time well. This is the time to organise ourselves. The Corona Pandemic is showing us the instability of our system. It is a tremor that shows us how unprepared we are for the earthquakes to come. It shows us our true priorities. If our system collapses, where will our food come from? Where will our water come from? Where will our energy come from? How well do we know our neighbours? Our Community?
Resilience is found in the connections between people. Within our relationship with the Earth, it is the basic skills of survival, the ability to speak and listen, it is the choice to care for one another, the choice to be generous. Resilience is gratitude, it is community, it is our love for life and it is in our very DNA. Building resilience is not a hardship or a burden. It is poetry and art. It is doing what feels right. It is learning the skills that are our birthright. It is planting a seed and watching something grow. It is harvesting food that we have cared for. It is symbiosis. It is collecting rainwater for your garden. It is noticing the first apple blossoms. It is making new friends. Resilience is doing the thing that you have always wanted to do. It is taking a deep breath and letting go of all the drama.
I have heard, time and again, that we have to choose between love and fear. I think there is so much confusion about this. When you love someone, you fear for them and when you fear, it is of losing what you love. Within fear, there is love and visa versa. They are not separate so how can we choose one over the other? For me, choosing love over fear means looking beyond the confines of myself. It is whether I metaphorically lock my door and hoard my food or share what I have and trust that I, in turn, will be cared for. Choosing love over fear is embracing connection and community and it is the mortar that binds us together, that makes us resilient.
Thank you to Joseph Rose, educator, activist, councillor and BLC Associate for this passionate invitation to build resilience.