At the end of the year it’s traditional to start toting up the gains and losses of the last, and seeing where they balance with our wants and desires for tomorrow. I’m usually a little sceptical of resolutions per se, or maybe I should say that I am usually sceptical of my resolutions. The running programs that last to the end of the lane and back but no more, or the abstinence of chocolate bars that lasts until I’m standing next to them in the shop. Ah me oh my. There’s some evidence that you need a 30-day, repetitive practice to create a lasting pattern of change – and not a one-off decision. Instead of resolutions, I prefer ritual: performances of renewal that celebrate change.
[That being said – if mighty oaths and declarations get your mind straight, who am I to argue? Do your thang, buddy]
What I want to talk about instead, in a departure from the usual style of this blog are those lasting patterns of change, and how they are different from the one-off resolutions. [If this kind of thing floats your boat – then take a look at Circle Thrice’s excellent discussions on project management]
I see those patterns as productive, procreative forces rather than abstentious. Adding things in that you do want rather than taking away the things that you don’t. There are many structured programmes of abstention throughout the year; Lent, Ramadam, or Vassa to name but a few. These are useful. Essential, perhaps to retreat from worldly indulgence and investigate who we are and where we’re going. But I’m wary of building my next circuit around the sun based on the things that I don’t want in my life. Like that pop-psychology thing that says the subconscious doesn’t hear no’s, dont’s, or negatives (that way dissonance and repression lies).
Patterns rather than resolutions then: what’s the difference?
Patterns seem broad, resolutions seem narrow.
A pattern of change – be it a new dance class, daily reading, whatever – aren’t so tied to their specifics. I could miss that Venusian Tango dance class, but go instead to the Jive-Doo-Wop one, or go to a club more often than not – or maybe just wobble about in my kitchen.
Patterns seem flexible, when resolutions seem brittle.
We all know that it’s easy to break a resolution. You just don’t do it. Or forget to do it. Or give up because it’s a rainy monday morning and you have work the size of an iceberg heading for you. There’s also a lot of psychic weight placed on a resolution. It either works or it doesn’t. Oh so binary. If this definition is to be of ny use then; a pattern must be diverse and flexible. It must be able to adapt to changing situations.
A Lesson From Radical Politics:
Revolutionary breaks [or, in the parlance; ‘utopian ruptures of the everyday’] are always unexpected, unpredictable, and chaotic – but they don’t come out of nowhere. Rosa Parks sitting on the bus was actually not the first Black American lady to do so, and she was a part of a dedicated, educated and self-educating programme of civil rights activists that links right the way to Gandhi. Societal revolutions don’t happen overnight, they can be many years in the fomenting.
In that same vein, then: a pattern of change is a programme of sustained education that can lead to revolutionary change in our lives.
Resilience, Sustainability, Flexibility
There’s a lot of talk in sustainable circles about the advantages of resilient systems. After hurricane Katrina (2005) a lot of the activist community realized that they weren’t just dealing with the catastrophe alone, but also with the broken systems: How many days did it take for state aid to get to New Orleans again? By the time that Hurricane Sandy rolled around (2012), we saw Occupy Sandy – a distributed, grassroots aid system helping people on the ground in days, and still doing so.
Resilience is a funny word when we think about it. It’s become a bit of a dooberry-fandangle word, with everything from security industries to techfirms using the term “resilient system” to co-opt what was otherwise a democratic effort.
What is resilience? In the language of hierarchy, it is the mitigation of risk. The ability to resist shocks to the system, to bounce back, to be secure.
Without meaning to take away from its original use – I think it’s preferable to talk about flexible patterns of change rather than resilient ones. It’s a difference in the way that we think about what change and risk am?
Change and Risk
A change can be beneficial or counter-productive; but it is always an opportunity. The topography changes, we have to change our behaviors or decide to brazen on through. If we over-concentrate on risk however (like thinking in the terms of resilience) then we end up in that only-thinking-about-what-we-don’t-want; another sort of psychic abstention. Risk-resistence is all about security. Securing our current system of life, mitigating the harm to our safe mode of doing things.
A productive pattern of change, then; has to be aware of risks, but not fixated solely on them. It’s not about building higher and higher levees against the rising tides, it’s about working out what to do with the water when it’s here.
Pulling It All Together: Flexible Patterns of Change
What is the point of all this? Let’s bring it back to where we started – about resolutions and what we want from 2018. I can list a whole lot of things I want in my life; from food “security” to energy “security” – income “security”. To secure my happiness, if you will.
But these are all thinking in the wrong terms. Thinking with the wrong terms.
I’m not sure that happiness is something can be secure: there are always risks to it, always changes to it. We live in this glorious quantumly-chaotic universe, after all. My happiness is not like a king’s treasure trove, jealously guarded with high walls. Happiness is not static, it is a process. The same goes for food, energy, and income. The more efforts I take to “secure” them (basically trying to amass lots of money, it always boils down to) only makes me more reliant on risk-resilience, rather than flexibility.
I’m not meaning to suggest that we should just throw all notions of contentment out of the window – quite the opposite, in fact – but instead, I want to be more flexible in the coming year about what food, energy, income “security” looks like. Not shoring up against shocks, but learning how to ride the changes as they come. Diversity seems a big part of that flexibility. Have income coming from multiple sources, rather than limited ones. Have food coming from the garden as well as a range of organic outlets, rather than reliant upon supermarket brands (prone to all sorts of system shocks).
Maybe all I’m saying is that it’s not about building higher walls; but about learning how to move beyond them.
And if you got to the end of all of that waffle – I applaud you! I hope that 2018 greets my readers with a smile, and you get the best of opportunities coming towards you 🙂