Monday, February 16, 2009

A Black Saturday

The reflection and learning begins for us all in the aftermath of the Victorian bush fires of Saturday, 7 February 2009. The unprecedented conditions came as a shock and revealed how we cope with the unfamiliar. While anticipated, only in the retelling, can we comprehend.

A profound understanding occurred for me some years ago when I learned to define 'crisis' instead as a 'crisitic event'. The crisis is not the occurrence. It is the event that signifies the culmination of prior conditions. On Black Saturday a timeline of events came together over long and short timeframes, which were anticipated and were responded to in the only way we could.

It is now to the future of these communities that my thoughts turn. From the focus on the pathology, on the loss of life, property and confidence, there is also the apithology, of the rebuilding of lives, homes and community. What we will see is in the dynamics of coherence the places pointed to where assistance would be most intelligently and compassionately placed. One inquiry is to unravel the Gordian Knot of threads of the preceding circumstances to inform the future. The task is not to cut a path to a solution. The task is to see how the puzzle was formed. That unravelling has three threads.

If we think about when a community experiences physical, psychological and sociological shocks, one of these alone is enough to weaken the bonds of human connection. We often survive the physical events of flood, earthquake or drought and while there is a change to the environment that lives on in memory, we recover from this as the repairs and remediations occur. A psychological shock, such as a tragic death in a road accident or other loss tears at us and again the comfort of place and community provide support for the pain that remains. A shock to community cohesion, when one of our own betrays social trust in sociopathy, destroys the innocence of reliance and the community acceptance becomes conditional. From each of these shocks we are weakened, but do recover.

In Black Saturday we have the effect of all three of these shocks at the same time. The loss of the land, the loss of the loved and the loss of trust. For those communities with coherence in their resilience capacity the rebuilding of place, identity and connection will have already begun. It is in the more vulnerable towns, those that had already previously suffered loss of environment, fragmentation of identity and a decline of reliance that will need the greatest support in the months ahead.

The question is will we see within the visible crisis the hidden dynamics of resilience?

Will our rebuilding for the future have the perception of connection?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Manufactured Landscapes

I am not sure what new I can say about Edward Burtynsky's photography. The theme of the scale of the human influence on the landscape that is the built environment is thought provoking for each person in a different way. In spending time with this work in the Arthouse Films documentary by Jennifer Baichwal it draws a reflection. Perhaps the photographer's own commentary on the stills taken from over two decades of work revealed for me the dual aspects of exploration and intention.

The shadow of the human psyche is the parts we deny. In seeking out the natural grandeur and beauty of the non-man made landscape we find solace in that part of nature not yet denied to us. What then is the manufactured landscape if not other than a reflection of nature - being the spore of ourselves reflecting our human nature? Burtynsky has sought this hidden part out, lest we deny it, and deny that part of ourselves.

In the portrayal of the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh recurrent images of the efficient creation and destruction of the detritus of the rainforest kept occurring for me. Within thoughts of the social justice aspects, it is the removal of value from the decaying by the leaf cutter ants that sustains the unsustainable in a cycle of distribution and renewal. In the unnatural landscapes of Burtynsky's record are natural phenomena. Be they the formation of chemical rivers, of mountains that appear through the gradual addition of individual particles, in computer chips or tyres, or the faceted erosion of canyon walls made of slate, marble or iron ore - the human intervention creates natural landscapes no different to those we are inspired by in the environment without man. The difference lies in their toxicity to the life of man and to all other life.

The question asked by his art is not a simple 'right or wrong, but requires a whole new way of thinking', for in this examination of the non-natural is revealed, not the unnatural, but the 'human' natural in a whole new ecology of productive inequity at scales we are only just beginning to understand.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Life and Living

I am doing some work building a capability ecology for an organisation. A strategic conversations group has been formed to explore strategies for making a positive difference in the sustainability impacts of the organisation. The brief includes looking at depletion, pollution, exploitation, extraction, displacement, consumption, globalisation, discrimination, confusion and dislocation at a global scale. Fun topics. The other part of the brief is to turn this around to examine the positive reversal of these dynamics beginning with the organisation's own spheres of responsibility.

In looking at the Messages for 2100 in the time capsule of the remarkable minds interviewed in the 11th Hour, the conversations group made an observation on the different stages of engagement with these issues. They noticed how we (as a humanity) are transitioning into different change phases, in different places, at different times. The patterns were clearly discernible for them.

This recalled for me how Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' integrative work on Death and Dying (1969) has been applied to organisational systems undergoing a transformational change in identity and raised the question of what might this same dynamic look like in the social system that is humanity.

Recalling the stages once more, they are Shock, Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, Acceptance, Decathexis, with Hope underlying and supporting the entire transition. If we examine the global response to not only climate change, but the emergence of a global ethic of the health of the commons - we can see waves of concurrent unfoldment in the discernible stages of the grief cycle.

What is the entity that is dying here? Is it human life as we know it and the biota in which it is in symbiosis? Or is it the identity of mankind as the bounded rationality of separation refinds itself reborn in new identification with the greater commons?

Perhaps the reframe is from the death and dying - to life and living. The object of our identification might be what defines either loss or birth.

I myself am an optimist in that transition, recognising the stages of grief and regeneration needed which are there to be seen (should we care to look). I also understand that someone will have to be there to 'hold the hand of the dying and kiss the tears of the crying' as this path unfolds in hope.