Finding space to talk about collapse
“At a very young age I realised that human beings are destroying each other and the world around them. Later I realised that human beings are destroying themselves and the world of which they are (for now) an integral part. I am learning how to live with the pain of knowing this.”Diana Reynolds
How I first grew collapse-aware
As a child, I felt the extent of our predicament – the mess which humans have made and are making – from a very young age. I felt alone and misunderstood. It gave me feelings of anger. I felt that I should repress my feelings but I couldn’t. I am autistic and have a very limited ability to pretend. I did a lot of reading which confirmed my initial intuition that our human systems are broken. I told the adults around me about this but they couldn’t understand me and didn’t do anything to fix the situation. I felt overwhelmed by guilt and shame.
To cope with what I was going through, I felt that I had to accept what was true for me. I came up with a three part plan: 1. Ignore myself and my thoughts; 2. Stay really curious; 3. Do helpful things. I followed this plan, through depression and discovery, for the next 40 years. Until one day I realised that I had begun to accept myself. Since then I’ve come to understand how I can notice myself in each moment. I have learned to love human beings despite the horrors we cause.
Now, I run a 20-year internal behaviour change program for the Welsh Government. We’re eight years into it. I’ve been attracted to it because it’s about helping people within the framework of sustainable development and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. My job is to help others with pains like the ones I face and to help us all to change ourselves for the better. If we are to learn how to live well, there is a lot to relinquish. It involves making big efforts for this to happen equitably and in healing ways.
I’m glad I’ve had this awareness about collapse from early on because, sooner or later, I would have had to face it. At some point, I would have become frightened about the extent of our predicament. This way, I have had time to practice and to learn how to make my contribution.
What I found in the Deep Adaptation Forum
After I read the DA paper, Jem Bendell twice gave me an hour of his time to discuss the paper, and I felt very honoured to be able to have this conversation with him. I was also glad to be able to share with him that I had been in this mental/emotional space for decades, and for us to share how we felt.
Afterwards, Dorian introduced me to the Professions’ Network forum. I joined with a vague intention to meet people with whom I could discuss my work on collapse (more than my feeling about it, as I do get to discuss these with my husband). My intention has deepened; now I feel I am here to listen to what others have to say, to learn from them and to come, if we can, to collective understandings.
Since then, I’ve attended talks, watched many recordings, made several new connections and attended the Cadence Roundtable gatherings.
Attending these gatherings has given me a huge sense of relief and connectedness: finally I heard people saying similar things to me. Previously I had only read such words. I also felt excitement, knowing that I could learn something from people, who would be newer to this field and thus spotting things that I’ve grown rusty on because I’ve sat with this lens for a long time. Even though (or because?) these are very difficult topics, it’s such a blessing to find people who live with the idea that things are worse than we can possibly describe in words, people with whom I can speak about these things without fearing that it’s going to cause them a massive shock.
I joined discussions on behaviours such as panic, suppression (of information or feelings) and the writing of more and more reports (instead of taking action). These discussions help me understand what it is like for people who don’t assume collapse. When I am at work, these discussions help me feel more sympathetic and to explore new ways of responding to my colleagues.
What has changed for me
In the forum, I have also made many new friends, which has given me renewed confidence; and this confidence has led me to “come out” in a public talk as collapse-aware (see here). This has enabled me to articulate my feelings, accept even more of how things are and so do my job better.
I’m now able to have deeper conversations with more people, although sometimes it’s only about an element of our predicament, sticking to the part that people want to solve now, while keeping the broader context in mind and developing a shared understanding of the interconnections.
For example, the day after my “coming-out” talk, I was able to have a fruitful conversation with one of my coworkers who had previously been avoiding talking about collapse. Suddenly he was able to discuss it. Seemingly, something had shifted in me that helped him to express himself.
Finally, I don’t think we would have done the Work That Reconnects workshops in my workplace without the confidence that I received from being in the forum (see here). I’d like to thank the Deep Adaptation forum, the Work that Reconnects network, Cadence Roundtable and the Climate Psychology Alliance for their support.
If you want to know more about my work or to get in touch you can find me here.
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