Published 10 years ago.
About a 8 minute read.
When I was seven, I was given an Apple Macintosh in the hope that Mavis Beacon would teach me how to touch type. It was an unreasonable expectation, for I was actually more interested in escaping to the fantasy lands of Dungeons and Dragons and Lode Runner. Yet, these games had a lasting, unexpected impact on my thirst for learning. In playing Dungeons and Dragons, I remember being particularly excited each time my archetypal characters would gain ‘experience points’ that enabled them to upgrade their abilities.
I still feel that childlike thrill each time I learn something new. It’s the giddy rush that comes from the outcome of a simple transaction: effort goes in, new skill comes out. And as the acquisition of knowledge or skills opens new doors of possibility, the world around me continuously changes; like reaching the next level on a computer game. What’s more, I’ve discovered I get the same rush watching others learn, and that my experiences are enriched when I participate in learning alongside others.
As my work has expanded to explore how humans can flourish within the planet’s biophysical limits, I’ve also become painfully aware that in some aspects of my life, I’m not very well-equipped to flourish in futures beyond economic growth. In retrospect, my formal schooling gave me a good base in certain skills such as public speaking, writing and analysis, but did nothing to prepare me in other areas of life, such as growing food, relating to animals and building things. I was being prepared for labor specialization, often at the expense of learning practical skills that will matter for us all in years to come. We are now heading into a time when generalists — people who can see the big picture and connect seemingly disparate skills and fields of knowledge — are needed just as much as specialists.
But the rising value of the generalist does not mean we each need to know how to do everything ourselves. Voids in our individual skillsets are actually critical to building harmonious communities. As Bill Kauth and Zoe Alawan say, “We need each other, and we need to need each other." Caroline Woolard of the New York City barter platform OurGoods elucidates this concept in sharing that, “When you take a class in a barter system you know the teacher needs you, too.”
Thus, I recently found myself wondering, what range of skills might we collectively need in order to thrive in post growth futures? Or, if the Post Growth Institute were to develop a platform for ‘resilience training,’ what existing efforts should we be promoting? What would we include were we to extend beyond traditional areas of sustainability reskilling such as growing food, building energy systems and learning techniques to effectively bring communities together?
Loosely sorted into nine categories, the list below contains areas of knowledge and skills I consider most important for collective thriving in a range of possible post growth futures. What would you add, change or remove?
The above ‘kitchen sink’ list appears, at times, focused on individualistic approaches to self-sufficiency that are more about surviving than thriving. Yet resilient leadership has little to do with creating bullet-proof, invincible fortresses of individuals. It’s more about engaging with others in vulnerable ways that drive human connection. By sharing personal experiences we open up to greater sharing of passions, knowledge, skills and resources, as well as discovering more clearly what work remains to be done, both together and alone. What makes the entire system strong is understanding that everyone has something to offer; that, as in nature, complimentary diversity within a community’s skill sets creates greater resilience.
Fortunately, it’s increasingly easy to locate places and means by which to seed and nurture new knowledge and skills. The Skillshare platform, for example, allows us to find ‘project-based classes anytime, anywhere.’ Thousands of intensive, live-in programs, such as the one soon to be offered by the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan, are springing up around the world. Other initiatives, such as the International Youth Initiative Program in Sweden and the Mycelium Learning Journey in the USA, seek to build skills alongside the incubation of a participant’s social innovation.
Sure, there are times when it’s important to learn things alone. It’s just that there is a great deal to be gained from more of our learning happening together, building shared resilience in the process. As Eric Brende, in his book documenting his time within Amish communities, notes, there is a powerful spin on an old proverb, rather than ‘many hands make light work’, it’s worth considering how ‘many hands make work light’.
This post first appeared on the Post-Growth blog on December 3, 2013.
Published Jan 10, 2014 8pm EST / 5pm PST / 1am GMT / 2am CET
Donnie Maclurcan Ph.D. co-leads the Post Growth Institute, an international organization exploring how we thrive within ecological limits.