by Jacob Corvidae

I was radically changed by my experience of moving to the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in its earliest days and trying to build a new society starting nearly from scratch.  Having just spent most of my 20s trying to do some good things in the world and thinking a lot about what was important to me, I had nonetheless found it hard to enact my beliefs in every day life. And then I moved to the ecovillage, where the whole point was to enact many of those beliefs.

My mother sometimes jokingly (mostly) referred to it as Voluntary Hardship. But the irony was that the work was a pleasure and blurred the standard connotations of “work.”  It was, if you’ll forgive the jargon, empowering. Instead of “work” draining my soul, it fed it, and thus my work gave me energy. It gave me power. I wouldn’t be the first to point out that this may be our most significant kind of renewable energy.

One of my favorite Dancing Rabbit sayings came from those early days. We were trying to build a sustainable society, but many of didn’t have the skills we wanted.  And when it came time to do something new, we had to just launch in and do our best. Thus we had the saying:

If you’ve seen it done, you’re good at it.

If you’ve done it once, you’re an expert.

This was later amended with “And if you’ve read about it, you’re a consultant!” We’d say it with a laugh, roll up our sleeves and make whoever had done it once teach the rest of us. We did a lot of reading and research and sometimes we made some horrible mistakes. But mostly we got a lot done by not letting our own limitations get in the way. It completely changed how I approach living in the world.

I was reminded of this when reading Derrick Jensen’s recent article in Orion Magazine, Resistance Resisters. I’ve long been a fan of Orion and I know many people who are big fans of Jensen’s. I’ve personally had mixed reactions to different things of his that I’ve read and this article fit the pattern.

I appreciate Jensen’s clarion call for deep change and his dissatisfaction with piecemeal efforts. However, I also find his rhetoric to be anything from unhelpful to damaging as a strategy to achieve the very ends he’s pursuing. For now, I’d like to focus on one particular aspect: action.

Jensen’s criticism is a strong call to action. And as per my own experience, action becomes a very useful teacher. The overcoming of inertia is a mighty feat by itself  (one of the reason’s why I think Jensen’s condemnation of small steps is misled), and more importantly action leads to feedback. Action and learning are not separate acts, and in fact action often spurs greater learning than just reading or thinking, for action provides new information about the particulars of the exact scenario in front of you.  So  I agree with Jensen that we must take action.

But actions taken out of fear and anger tend to beget more fear and anger. And this is the problem with Jensen’s treatise. Even if one is deciding to take a direct action civil disobedience approach, even if fear or anger provided the initial impetus and spark to action, being driven by these twin demons rarely results in a greater good for the world.

I’ve certainly found this to be very true in my personal life.  It’s such a simple premise, but I saved myself tremendous trouble when I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t make any major decisions or take any major actions when feeling miserable, but only once I saw something that I felt hopeful about to move to. I don’t think this maxim always holds true, especially when one is in danger or under threat. But once those kinds of threats are out of the way, I found that I did much better when I waited until I found, felt or saw something good that I wanted to move toward instead of just moving away from something that was hard. When I acted out of pain, then I was usually not happy with the results.

If we carry this analogy forward to Jensen’s article, it calls into question the danger-exception. He eloquently points out the danger and threat to many forms of life currently underway. So the call to action stands. Still, when we ask what actions we will choose I’d rather take my chances with hope and love than fear and anger. I think we’ll build a better future for all life that way.

This doesn’t mean choosing to not act at all, however. Even given my maxim. The top priority then becomes seeking the actions that provide positive directions. We still cannot ignore the dangers and damage.

Looking through the various posts of the recent blogathon, I came across this beautiful description from Liz McClellan, organizer of Hyperlocavore – A Free Yard Sharing Community about her visit to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage back in the early days. I think it makes an excellent mantra for this topic. It’s what she said she learned from that visit:

Stop talking. Do.
And while you do, Dance.

13 Responses to “Choosing Action”

  1. my pleasure… If you're not familiar with Dancing Rabbit, Pam, you might want to check it out at http://www.dancingrabbit.org

  2. I still quote you, often, Jacob in reference to your quote early in the article. And I was thinking about fear a lot in the last 3 days, how it is the single worst thing to act upon. You're a wise man. And I'm still trying to figure out how to run fear out of my head (the media thrives on fear mongering and it affects me much as I try to disable or deconstruct it).

  3. Sounds to me like a media fast might be a good thing for you. At least for a while.

  4. Doing/being/doing/being: dobedobedo

  5. dobedobedobedo….. (although I absorb almost no external media whatsoever, Lois, so I don't think a fast is generally what I'm needing. If anything, it could be argued that I need to connect with the rest of the world a bit more….)Natasha — you're very kind — although I should note that my fellow bloggers were probably the originator of that saying – not me. Let me know how it goes with the eradication of fear…Oh – wait, Lois, I just realized that you were referring to Natasha's comment…. Maybe that's part of my secret to trying to live without fear!

  6. I’m so glad you liked the blog about DR! It really was a life changing experience and a deeply pleasing post to write – so many great memories.

    I liken Jensen to the stern and scary monks of dark ages Christendom who served Christ by whipping their backs bloody, and the Rabbits to a simple enclave of sweet faced laughing zen monks… simplistic stereotypes both…

    I just don’t think Jensen’s vision will move anyone but angry young people who are still wrapped up in rage and judgement – mainly because they’ve never had to be responsible for anything…we all make all kinds of horrid compromises everyday…

    We need to show not harangue and being neo primitives is a ridiculous idea…should we despoil even more land?

    - Liz McLellan (no extra C)
    hyperlocavore.com (our permanent link)

  7. Thanks for the spelling and link corrections, Liz. I think Jensen represents a powerful voice for people who are enraged and scared about the ecological events that are unfolding. And I think those emotions are real and sometimes well-founded. Unless people hear those emotions expressed, I think they often don’t really believe that a speaker or author really ‘gets it’ and they need someone to ‘get it.’ Thus you can have someone like Thomas Friedman or Al Gore who seem to be genuinely concerned about climate change at least — and regardless of the policies their calling for (which have various pros and cons) many listeners who are scared or angry aren’t likely to resonate with them as credible sources.

    What I’d prefer to do is direct Jensen’s followers toward people who express that deep green ethic with an expression of the anguish they feel, but who advocate more of a disciplined non-violence approach. Anyone have any suggestions of good examples of such authors?

  8. Lois was talking to me, lol! Funny, because FB is the sole media I encounter (I'm like you Jacob! probably I need to interface with all of it a little more if anything) — no TV, no news sites, no blogs, no radio. Still… it creeps in nonetheless.

  9. I think it's important too, to let go of expectations of seeing results inthe larger sphere from the work you're doing. You do the work because youdo the work. You can't know the full extent of who or how it will touch. Yesterday I received an email from someone I didn't know, telling me of howa whole valley in Washington state was influenced by a book I wrote 25 years ago, now out of print. I had no idea.

  10. No it's good (for your soul and mental well being) to keep it all off. Most of it is censored, not the whole story or just completely inaccurate and all of it is negative as all get out. So much of it is just plain weird and disappointing. Unfortunately I can't avoid just stumbling upon it from time to time especially from all the mailing lists I am on. It is important to be well informed of course but it is so much better to be living life (being the change you want to see) than hearing all the negative that can get you down.

  11. [...] technologies (and the many social solutions we’ll need) to save ourselves.  Without people making choices, changing policies and doing the work to make those solutions emerge. If we keep our focus on the [...]

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