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12 Feb 2013

How tough is your skin? Monbiot, Mann, McKibben, various Transitioners and others on what to do if your Transition initiative comes under attack

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As Transition groups deepen their work and begin to have a tangible impact, it is, perhaps, inevitable that those who disagree may express their opinions with vigour.  Over the last few months it has been my own personal experience to be on the receiving end of this in Totnes, and I have to say it has not been especially pleasant.  It appears, finally, to be calming down, and so what I would like to do in this post, with the help of a few names you might recognise who have had a lot more experience of this kind of thing than I have, is to try and draw out some learnings from it.

Your own Transition group may have experienced something like this, or may do in the future, so I hope you will find this a useful conversation.  It’s not something I have seen discussed much elsewhere.  Late last year, I attended the Independence Day conference in Frome. Groups had come together from across the UK to share their experiences of trying to stop unwanted development, new supermarkets, the cloning of their high streets and so on.  There was much useful sharing of ideas, inspiration and experiences, but what surprised me was that virtually everyone reported experiencing a backlash from a local group claiming to represent the community’s ‘silent majority.’  In some cases it had been relatively civil, for others it had been a ghastly experience.  So how best to cope with such attacks?

Of course I could just say, as some that I spoke to when I was experiencing this did, that all you need to do in such a situation is grow a “thicker skin” and get on with it, that it’s par for the course.  However, such an approach, even if it is possible, ignores the effect such things actually have on us, and ignoring those impacts can lead to burnout and stress.  It was certainly my experience that my skin isn’t as thick as I may have thought it was, and that, at times, being on the receiving end of such stuff can be a lonely and isolating experience that can even lead you to question what you’re doing.  It’s not a good place to find yourself, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Portrait of Bill McKibben, author and activist. photo ©Nancie Battaglia

So, I wanted to explore some of the issues this brings up with other people with useful experiences to share. First I spoke to Bill McKibben, a climate campaigner for many years and founder of 350.org, who has been at the forefront of raising awareness about climate change and related issues.  What’s his experience of being on the receiving end of such attacks?:

“There are days when one’s email is dispiriting.  Especially in a violent country like this one, one has to be a little careful.  I get a fair number of death threats and things over any stretch of time.  Mostly I just erase them and ignore them and figure they don’t matter much.  Every once in a while there’s one that seems to me a little worrisome, so I make sure the authorities check it out and make sure there’s nothing real there and so far, thank heaven, there hasn’t been.  I think my working theory is that if someone really wanted to shoot you they probably wouldn’t send you an email first.” 

george Monbiot

George Monbiot, with the author in the background.

Guardian journalist and writer George Monbiot‘s experience is almost identical.  As he told me:

“It’s constant.  There’s scarcely a morning when I haven’t received something unpleasant by email.  Most of the time I just mark it as spam and I don’t need to see anything by that person again. Some of them are very threatening, but I figure that most of them probably live in the Mid West and don’t possess passports, so I don’t feel scared about it.  None of it frightens me”.

However, in terms of how this feels when the attacks are coming from within your community, from people you pass in the street and who may be parents at your child’s school, or who you know in all sorts of different ways, the impact can be more acute.  This is a distinction that Monbiot recognises:

“Of course it’s harder to keep it at arms length when you are talking about real tangible events and real places, that does affect the life you lead.  It does become harder to compartmentalise when it is people in your own community who are attacking you.”

Philip Revell (third from left)

Philip Revell of Sustaining Dunbar (third from left)

Philip Revell works for Sustaining Dunbar, and found himself under attack when the group were awarded funding by the Scottish Government.  A small group of local people, combined with inflammatory sections of the local media, mounted a very personal campaign, questioning both Philip’s, and the organisation’s, competency and integrity.  I asked him how, on a personal level, if affected him:

“Extremely difficult I have to confess, dreading the phone going.  Really emotionally draining.  When you are putting in a huge number of volunteer hours to try and make your community a better place it really makes you wonder why you bother.  It was pretty hard I have to say.”

Gillain Orrell of Hexham River Hydro, front centre (holding globe).

Gillain Orrell of Hexham River Hydro, front centre (holding globe): Photo: Helen Smith.

Gillian Orrell of Transition Town Tynedale’s ‘Hexham River Hydro’ project found that their project’s success in the Energyshare vote, and the resultant publicity, meant that some people locally assumed the project was further developed than in reality it was:

“We experienced the full spectrum.  From people making comments online or to the media, along the lines of “this is the worst thing in the world for the river”, with absolutely no suggestion that they had any specialist knowledge or insight other than just feeling very strongly, to, at the other extreme, the deliberate use of public forums and meetings for an approach that wasn’t necessarily … always productive”.

The common formula discussed at the Independence Day conference was also identified by George Monbiot, who had been involved in a campaign in his own community in Wales to stop a Tesco store opening in the town:

“All you need is one divisive issue, ideally stoked by some utterly irresponsible reporting, and some very angry people on Facebook and you’ve got a formula for some real nastiness.”

How might people protect themselves and put some emotional distances between themselves and the slings and arrows coming their way?

Michael Mann

Michael Mann

Let’s return to that notion of having a “thick skin”.  Everyone I spoke to said that feeling part of a group, having people who support you and who you trust who you can get together with and laugh this off, or share experiences and pick you up when you’re down, is a vital part of this.  It has been my own experience that my skin is thinnest, if you like, when I am on my own, or don’t feel I have that support.

At such times, it became the first thing I thought about when I woke up, and the last thing I thought about at night, and at its worst, the only thing I thought about on the several occasions I woke up during the night.  It is an experience that has toughened my skin somewhat, and at the end of this piece I will offer a few tips which I think could help you in such a situation.  But how do others cope with this?

Climate scientist Michael Mann is best known for his work on the famous ‘Hockey Stick’ graph and for being one of the focal points for attack during the ‘Climategate’ nonsense of a few years ago.  In his book ‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars’, he wrote “this is simply what it means to be a prominent figure in the climate change debate in the US today”.  But how did he cope with being at the eye of the storm?  He told me:

“I developed a thick skin.  I recognised that in fact as personal as this might seem, it is in fact not personal.  It is part of an orchestrated campaign of intimidation and disinformation, and you have a role, a role not to give in to those intimidation tactics, to not just roll over, to be out there defending yourself, defending the science.  In some ways it was almost invigorating, or I at least allowed myself to feed on that in as positive a way as I could”.

Yet not everyone is able to develop a tough skin.  As Gillian Orrell told me:

“I don’t have a tough skin.  I’ve never had a tough skin.   Although throughout my life, and I continue to do this, I try and toughen up my skin, I am realistic enough now, aged nearly 40, to know that I’m never going to have a tough skin”.

When encountering this kind of thing coming at you from a section of the community where you live, whether directly or via social media, it can easily take on a scale in your mind that bears little relation to reality. This need to hold onto a sense of perspective was something that for Sustaining Dunbar was really important.  As Philip Revell puts it:

“It’s important to be aware  the vast majority of people are likely to actually be supportive of this agenda and what we’re doing.  It really is a small group of vocal people with too much time on their hands who have some sort of grudge or jealousy about the funding we’ve managed to get, or whatever, who are trying to stir things up”.

It would be all too easy to begin to feel everyone is against you and lose perspective on the scale of this opposition.  I asked Bill McKibben how he works with this:

“It is dispiriting at some level, but it’s all the more reason for me to just go out and keep organising, because then you recognise that most people are actually very happy that you’re doing this, and supportive, and that’s good”.

It might also be worth reflecting on the different ways people react to challenging times and what they perceive as threats.  In the current economic/climate/energy/social context, many people have perhaps, on some level, given up.  Might it be that on one level, hostile reactions are being triggered in those who have decided there’s no point in acting by those who suggest that there still is very much a point to it?  This might be an interesting issue to explore in a future post.

One might also suggest that once peoples heads begin to project above the parapet, there is not only a perception that they are fair game, but that they also become a lightening rod for all kinds of projections, for disappointments and frustrations elsewhere in peoples lives that are then projected onto you.  You become accused of being too organised, too disorganised, too successful, not successful enough, too mainstream, not mainstream enough, too this, too that, etc. etc.  Yet picking apart what is valid and useful feedback, and what is projection and a reflection of a deeper subconscious is no mean feat.

Social media:  good and bad

Some might note the irony of social media being one of the prime outlets for the fabled ‘silent majority’ – as it has also been essential to so many campaigns for positive change.  In days gone by such discussions might have been carried out through the letters pages of local newspapers, at Town Hall meetings or on the streets.  Today, however, people feel able to be abusive and critical on Facebook in ways that they would are unlikely to in daily life.  An excellent piece by Robert Fisk recently on the toxic role of social media (which he dubs “digital poison”) quoted former US diplomat Christopher Hill as saying:

“Instant access to information does not mean instant access to knowledge, much less wisdom.  In the past, information was integrated with experience. Today, it is integrated with emotion… Digital technology has played an important role “in fostering this atmosphere of bad manners, vicious personal attacks, intolerance, disprespect… Bullying has gone virtual.”

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Most of those I spoke to while researching this piece have been men, but for women, attacks via. social media can take on an altogether darker tone.  Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, recently appeared on BBC Question Time and made some remarks in answer to a question on immigration where she suggested that it could bring benefits to an area.  Subsequently she was subjected to appalling abuse, via social media sites and Twitter.  On her blog she reprinted some of the foul misogynistic abuse she was subjected to, which included rape threats.  “The misogyny is truly gobsmacking” she wrote.  She compared the experience as leaving “a sense of assault” and feeling like “a  punch”:

“It was so ghastly it didn’t feel personal, or personally critical.  It was such generic, violent misogyny. In a way, I didn’t feel it was about me … I’m outing this because I have a thick skin and, in the end, speculation on the size of my vagina doesn’t move me half as much as worrying about the next chapter of my book I’m supposed to write. But then I’m lucky”.

How might women in the public eye experiencing such treatment impact on the willingness of others to get involved in public life and political discussion?  Beard wrote on her blog that “it would be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public, contributing to political debate.”  That personal and gender-specific kind of abuse doesn’t tend to be such an issue for men.  George Monbiot argues that the kind of treatment that can be handed out through such channels needs to be kept in perspective:

“It seems to be a standard human response in the digital age to say wildly inappropriate and over the top things about people in electronic media.  People say things by means of digital communications they would never dream of saying face-to-face or in a social setting.  The first thing is to recognise that this isn’t real.  Even if they are real people, even if they are people you are going to see, what they’re saying isn’t real social interaction, it’s just not the way people would interact if they were meeting you.  I think you can manage the emotional impact that those emails and Facebook posts and the rest of it might have by reminding yourself that this is peculiar to the electronic age, this isn’t how they would be if they met you.”

What practical steps can you take to best weather such storms?

One of the key things that strikes me as being essential to our own wellbeing is that when we find ourselves in such a situation, we are able to compartmentalise different aspects of our lives, so that the shocks we experience don’t ripple through all aspects of our lives (personal resilience, if you like).  Having a clear distinction between work life and home life is vital.  For Gillian Orrell, travel is a great strategy:

“Get away sometimes, go away for a few days, put some space between you and what’s going on.  It’s amazing what just not being physically here for a few days can do for your sanity!”

This ability to compartmentalise is one key element of George Monbiot’s strategies:

“What goes on at home and outside the public eye bears no relationship to the work I do.  When I shut my computer down I really have shut it down, and it very seldom bleeds into the rest of my life”.

He does however acknowledge that this may not be so easy to achieve in a community setting:

“It does become harder to compartmentalise when it is people in your own community who are attacking you.  The great thing about the people who attack me is that I will never meet them … I don’t even know who they are”.

For Sustaining Dunbar, finding themselves under attack was a wake-up call to tighten up their procedures and to make sure that even more than before, they dotted their i’s and cross their t’s.  Also, according to Philip Revell:

“…we support each other as far as possible.  We are much better clued up about how to respond.  We are really trying to make sure we take control of the agenda rather than letting other people drive it.”

Sustaining Dunbar also made a clear decision to not “enter into any debate on any social media apart from our own and our own website”.  Ultimately, he told me, “this is just a feature of community”.  Bill McKibben takes a “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach:

“I mostly just delete the emails and think “OK and on we go”.  If you spent too much time worrying about it then you couldn’t do the important work that was getting you the death threats in the first place”.

This philosophical approach, summed up by Philip Revell as “don’t be surprised if this happens, be prepared for it” was also reflected by Gillian Orrell, who told me:

“When organisations start to grow, and are seen as being based on obviously good ideas, people will initially cut them some slack.  But as they grow it becomes a natural human thing that people will say “you are strong enough now to take a few punches. Although we agree with your underlying aims, you could do better, and we’re going to point out how you could do better, and challenge you and see if you can withstand those challenges”.

This is how human society operates. We nurture things when they are young and frail, and then once they get to a size, we’re not afraid to challenge them, because in the challenging process they grow bigger and stronger, if they survive the challenges, and we do somehow too.  At the macro and philosophical level this is part of human development for these kinds of challenges to exist”.

There is also a lot to be said for seeing such treatment as being an opportunity, for rethinking how you work, how you engage, what the group does and how it presents itself.  For example, Sustaining Dunbar made sure that all staff and board members received media training.  Gillian Orrell found that the most productive response was sometimes to engage directly with those most vocally opposing the project:

“One of our most vocally opposed anglers, he’s incredibly passionate about the river, and I was getting copied on some emails at one point that were very inflammatory I thought.  My reaction was to email him as a person, and say “can you and I just meet and have a coffee and have a chat because I would really like to understand more about where you’re coming from and I’d like you to understand where I’m coming from”.  That was possibly the single most helpful meeting I had in terms of learning about the concerns and history of the river and the background of a previous hydropower development that the fishermen felt had had a detrimental effect on the river.  It also enabled me to immediately to explain to him why this development is inherently very different to that past one, and to show him that I was taking on board that I did think he had genuine concerns”.

Bill McKibben argues that cultivating a compassionate motivation, as far as is possible, is important, seeing your attackers as people with their own issues, their own motivations, their own troubles:

“It is an opportunity to return kindness for unkindness.  Say firmly, “yes I believe in what I’m doing and I think its important and here are the links to some of the articles that explain why, but I also think its important that we’re civil when we talk about these things, and I hope you’ll try to be civil in the future because that’s what neighbourliness and things imply”, and see what happens.  There are some people who are just crazy in this world and there’s no use trying to wish it away, and there are people who are powerful and who get annoyed when you stand in their way”.

It could also, provided you have the right support, and if the key people are amenable and identifiable, offer a good opportunity to practice conflict resolution in a way that could yield great long-term benefits to your initiative.

Final thoughts and a ‘Survival kit’

For McKibben, the attacks reflect an increasingly desperate attempt to hang onto an old, outdated paradigm, a way of thinking being rapidly overtaken by reality:

“The good news, for what it is, is that that is an ever-smaller cadre of people that is that out of touch with reality and the world.  I understand why they are as upset as they are.  Their worldview is really threatened by physics.  It’s hard if everything you are used to thinking about; that having more is the best thing in the world, that we’re all to be hyper-individualists, laissez-faire, complete ‘every man an island’ kind of thing, the physics and chemistry of climate change are just making it clear that that’s not a plausible future and that we are going to have to learn to work together in all kinds of ways.”

For Monbiot, eliciting this kind of response is actually “a sort of success.”

“Nothing that is worth doing in the political sphere is easy.  The problem that we face is that, in this age without statesmanship, politicians always take the easy route, they always take the path of least resistance, which is why the huge questions, such as climate change, such as biodiversity, such as the rest of the environmental crisis, such as the economic crisis, such as social justice and redistribution, they never get dealt with, they never get resolved.  It’s because politicians are terribly afraid of provoking a reaction, even though that’s exactly what’s needed, so it falls to activists and campaigners to do it.  It’s a measure of success, and if you’re not getting that response, if you’re not receiving hate mail, you’re simply not doing your job”.

“What I tell myself in that situation”, he adds, “is that if something isn’t violently opposed, then it’s not worth doing”.  While I can see what he means, and perhaps he is right in that it is impossible to create change on the scale Transition initiatives aspire to without encountering some kind of a reaction, might there be a better, and less confrontational way of looking at the opportunity that such a situation presents?

I asked Michael Mann for his advice to anyone first opening an unpleasant email:

“Don’t reply to that email.  That’s the first thing.  The most important thing is to not make early mistakes.  Part of their tactic is to expose scientists who have never had to deal with something like this to these harsh attacks that they’ve never had to deal with before, in the hope that they will respond irrationally, that they will make some mistakes, say things they shouldn’t have said in the heat of the moment, do things that they shouldn’t have done.  It’s extremely important not to react, don’t reply to those emails, don’t do anything rash, talk to your more senior colleagues who have been through this sort of thing before, and talk to them about the effective ways to fight back”.

Gillian Orrell offers a few pieces of advice based on her experience with Hexham River Hydro:

Take the high ground: “You’ve got to be ultra reasonable all the time, however much personal energy that takes, because the more unreasonable somebody else appears, the more you need to stick to your logic and evidence, to your reasonable, fair, open approach.  People aren’t stupid, they will see the difference between that and random negative unsupported remarks on Facebook, even though it doesn’t feel it at the time.

Stay intellectually open: “whether that is listening to genuine arguments from other people, or listening to emotional outbursts, and being open to thinking about why those emotional outbursts are happening”. 

Maintain perspective: “you’re talking about a single interest group, and there are many many other interests and groups with a stake in your project.  To spend too much of your time and energy focusing on one interest group means you don’t give an appropriate time and weighting to the others.  One person or one group of people being really loud and clamouring for your attention, actually might mean that you miss other people who are just as important.  To get too focused on one individual, or argument, or interest group, would be to do yourself and your project a disservice”.

My experience has been that they most powerful antidote to feeling isolated and defensive is having a good group of supportive people around you who you trust and who know what’s going on.  This was the key thing that came through from everyone I spoke to.  Journalists such as George Monbiot develop almost a professional thick skin, but for those of us without that professional ‘armour’, as it were, we need other people around us. Perhaps one of the key skills a Transition initiative needs to cultivate, that ability to come together and support and trust each other in such situations.

I hope that this has been a useful exploration of this issue.  I hope it has given you some insights and tools for how you might deal with such a situation should it arise.  I’d like to draw things together with my own tips, your ‘Survival Kit’ if you like:

  • Impose an ‘electronic curfew‘:  give yourself some time at the start and end of each day which you fiercely protect and keep ‘screen-free’
  • See it for what it is:  backlashes can often be driven by an alliance of people and groups with wildly disparate agendas and beliefs, and can prove very hard to hold together over any period of time.  Don’t fall for seeing it as one whole and unified body
  • If it’s unacceptable, disengage: if one particular person or media outlet is behaving in a way that is simply unacceptable and stepping beyond their remit, you have no duty to continue to engage with them.  Make clear that from this point forward you won’t engage and step back.
  • Don’t demonise: although this can be a lonely and deeply unsettling experience, it is important to maintain a compassionate perspective and resist the impulse to demonise your tormentors.  Don’t fall into the “us-and-them” patterns, rather focus on how this might contain the seed of an opportunity to bring people together in a way that hasn’t happened up to this point
  • Respond skilfully: take some advice from someone who understands how the media works and how best to present your case and respond.  Don’t feel rushed, take your time and don’t feel compelled to answer the more ludicrous accusations.  People are good at seeing through those themselves.
  • Make sure your key stakeholders are still with you: check the key relationships you have in the community are still strong and still with you.  Meet them in person and let them know the nature of what you are experiencing.
  • You’re not alone: one of the key elements in this is to have a group of people around you who you trust and who you can laugh about all this with.  Share what you’re experiencing with those around you and tap into their support.
  • Stand by what you’re doing:  Stand by your vision and your record.  No-one ever said it would be easy — keep your eyes on the bigger picture, the longer journey, the prize at the end of all this.  And remember, if you weren’t having an impact, you wouldn’t be getting this kind of attention.

I’ll close with something that Bill McKibben said when I spoke to him:

“One way to think of it is that one of the highest goals towards which we’re working is stronger communities, higher levels of civility, more neighbourliness, all that ability to work together, so maybe when things like this happen it’s a good opportunity to practice a little bit some of those virtues that we’re hoping will get wider currency”.

I couldn’t agree more.  It would be interesting to hear your experiences, or if you have any tips to add to these.  Thank you for reading this far, and my thanks to all those who gave their time to be interviewed for this post.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.

29 Comments

Claire Milne
12 Feb 5:38pm

Hello Rob,

Thank you for sharing all this … this is something I have personally faced whilst coordinating the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign … I learned so much from this experience which culminated in pretty much being blamed in the media for causing the ‘riots’ that happened when 160 riot police descended on our peaceful community.

As pointed to by a couple of those you have interviewed, for me compassion seems to be a pretty key aspect of being able to navigate these potentially stressful situations. Compassion that is for whoever is attacking you – recognising their own humanity and the inevitable distortions they are acting out … as well as compassion for yourself and the importance of self-care in these sorts of situations …

What seems most salient for me though is the role of emotional resilience in being able to navigate these sorts of situations in the most constructive way possible – as well as in ensuring the effectiveness and longevity of our activism more generally.

What is emotional resilience? I know this is something you explored in your PhD Rob and it is something I am exploring through the courses in Sustainable Activism that we run at Ecodharma http://www.ecodharma.com/courses-events/sustaining-resistance-empowering-renewal

My sense is that this is an area that really needs more attention … I’d love to hear from anyone working in or exploring emotional resilience …

LOVE
Claire

Barry Woods
12 Feb 5:40pm

There is a risk that must be guarded against, that all if any criticism is thought of as an attack. Sometimes there may be avalid criticism, misunderstanding or concern. Ie like the fisherman

Where anger appears in some, is it perhaps because they feel ignored, denied a voice or labelled.

Ie Michael Mann vents quite regularly about climate deniers, and this is offensive to many, so being the USA he gets angry responses, and uses it to ignore the moderate or quieter voices or criticisms, a vicious downward spiral. No scientist I know would call me a denier.

Alan
12 Feb 6:08pm

Excellent article Rob. Tough to accept that these things go on, but good sound advice. So many people these days connect more and more on social media. My recent strategy was to LinkOUT and not LinkIN ! Far too many people willing to write and moan about X or Y online forums but none are prepared to step away from their keyboard and actually do something positive for their community.

Thoughts go to those that have had to thicken their skin.

Rikki
12 Feb 6:12pm

From my experiences of setting up very controversial projects (hostels for homeless drug& alcohol abusers) I learnt three things in particular:
1. Some people are angry and fearful for their own reasons and latch on to anything they can use to vent their feelings – (accounts for most cyber nastiness I imagine)
2. Most people simply want to be heard and taken seriously – and once they properly understand what you are doing and feel they have been respectfully heard – will calm down (like the fisherman)and sometimes even become supporters.
3. Life is a contact sport and sometimes stuff will get to you. A sense of detachment (how important will this seem in a year’s time?) and support that helps you detach (rather than gets in the mire with you) is really helpful.

And, as I think George Monbiot said – treat opposition as a positive sign that you are actually achieving some success in challenging the status quo.

michael Dunwell
12 Feb 7:31pm

Some of us experience ‘grief for the world’ as described by Joanna Macey and it has been very strengthening to have this experience validated by her. May there not be more frightening ways this grief can be felt, that people have not been helped to understand? It would be disastrous to call those people deniers, as Barry indicates.
Apart from those who use the media as cover for unpleasantness they would not offer face to face – and they are not too formidable – there are surely others who are actually being threatened by fears not recognised. This will lead to attacks on people who trigger those fears by talking about the dangers of climate change.
When I am attacked, avoided, ignored or got down by getting nowhere it helps to remember the grief, how very real it is and how it may be affecting people in all sorts of different ways.

Annie Leymarie
12 Feb 7:39pm

Many good points here but one sentence made me think: “Having a clear distinction between work life and home life is vital”.
Aren’t we hoping to transition towards societies where work is fulfilling, creative and nourishing, where colleagues are also friends, where our schedules are more in tune with the rhythms of nature than with man-made clocks, where we gratefully share space with other generations and even other species, where work is not dissociated with the rest of life and is a joy?
As a volunteer working in the gift culture (organising free skillshares on all kinds of topics), I’ve had a little taste of what this could be like. This evening I’m off to a talk by Vandana Shiva and will see in the audience many faces of friends and colleagues. Is this work? Is this play? I’m happy for the distinction to blur…
Though of course the advice to take time off computers is crucial. Can we, should we, consider transitioning away from them? How? That’s a big one!

eartheart
12 Feb 11:13pm

Good article. It was part of what I was getting at in the Transition Film.

Trish Knox
13 Feb 4:53am

Challenges and conflicts do come up within ones group and the best way to face them is to do just that: face them head on. Be honest about how another person’s tone and words are coming across to you. Honor your feelings and ask for clarification otherwise resentment can set in and turn into a monster.

Take personal responsibility for ones own tone and words. If we speak from the heart and not ego I have discovered that conflict can deepen friendships.

In this field of Transition we can get beyond the old blame game and me vs. you mentality and put our energy into focused and positive action rather than dissipated pettiness. Afterall, we do care about one another and the common vision we share.

Finn Jensen
13 Feb 11:34am

Sir David Ingham – Thatcher’s former press secretary – has a monthly column in Hebden Bridge Times because he had his first job as a journalist there. He lives in the South of England but still comments on everything going on in Hebden Bridge and Calderdale.

His style of writing is very polemic and unpleasent. For years I have debated climate change, nuclear energy, renewable energy – particular wind turbines – with David Ingham not because I think I can convince him but because it gives an opportunity to get a transition view out to a wider public.

mark alison
13 Feb 11:48am

great feed. it will help sutain me in the battles ahead.internal strife is sometimes worse than stranger attacks.when people you thought you could count on, start to attack, it is free information and should be treated as a gift.you know who to trust and they give their game away. let their lack of composure work to your advantage.if their point is valid you will learn from it, if it is just sour grapes etc, then there is no learning to be had except to cross them off your christmas card list AND CARRY ON

Barry Woods
13 Feb 12:45pm

need to be careful not to assume that all criticism is an ‘attack’ and to stop listening to people.

Patrick Cleary
13 Feb 1:18pm

Just reading a very powerful article comparing the struggle against slavery in the USA with the modern day equivalent on climate. It includes the following paragraph about early day abolotionists:

“far from being admired as the morally fearless heroes we remember them as today, they were derided and reviled by their contemporaries. The word “abolitionism” was most often used as “a slander meant to convey what many Americans considered its essential qualities: unreason, impatience, implacability.” Stephen Douglas compared his arch-rival Lincoln in 1858 to “the little abolitionist orators in the church and school basements.” In 1860, Lincoln — no abolitionist, but an antislavery moderate who gradually came to accept abolition — distanced himself from the radical movement.”

Read more: http://thephoenix.com/boston/news/151670-new-abolitionists-global-warming-is-the-great/#ixzz2KmRn7nPU

Until the climate struggle becomes truly mainstream we will have to wear attacks from vested interests as a badge of pride. I also know from experience that if you do put yourself out there but aren’t fully supported by those who share your vision it can be very damaging so its really important to fully support anyone we know who is suffering unwarranted and hurtful attacks.

Jon Knight
13 Feb 1:38pm

Interesting and useful article – thanks for pointing it out Rob. Thankfully so far Transition Loughborough hasn’t really had this sort of reaction, possibly because we try to always involve people. We don’t have a “core group” or closed meetings – everything is open to anyone and decisions are made collectively. Of course it might also be that we’ve not really done anything terribly controversial so far – bike maintenance workshops and helping people grown veggies aren’t really hot topics for major dissent! ;-)

It is worth pointing out though that the fear and anguish felt by some in the Transition (and wider green) movement about the unpleasant things some people say can also apply to folk who are doing things we might object to. I bet the Tesco new build supermarket developers get just as much hate mail as the wind farm developers. I’ve seen plenty of unpleasant things written online aimed at “climate deniers” and even eco-friendly folk at different levels of “green-ness” or favourite renewable energy microgen technology, etc get heated and unpleasant with one another. Human nature I’m afraid but the mud gets flung in all directions, not just towards us.

Its also worth remembering that whilst the anti-greens might not really be voicing a “silent majority”, we also don’t necessarily speak for that majority either. This is where encouraging engagement can help – if decisions affecting communities are made slowly, carefully and with the ability of anyone to help steer the results we run less risk of such unpleasantness. Ask the vocal naysayers to rouse their silent majority and bring them with them to Transition meetings to give them a voice – Transition is after all supposed to be all about everyone in the local community having a chance to tackle the issues that they feel are important in their locality in a way that the majority of the community are comfortable with.

Rosemary Bland
13 Feb 3:42pm

Just wanted to express support for anyone who has had to put up with aggressive opposition.

People at the forefront of bringing about change have often been vilified throughout history. Although it is now clear to us that slavery abolitionists had the moral highground, they were attacked and hated at the time and considered extremists.
Suffragettes were even spat at in the street and received hate mail wishing them long stays in prison.
I find it reassuring to think how future people will see things.

I guess the time when it feels the worst is the very moment that our work is the most essential. Good luck to all and keep going!

Jo Homan
13 Feb 4:00pm

I’m really sorry you’ve gone through this. Pretty much everyone I know values and appreciates the work you and the Transition Network does. No one there deserves to have to deal with this kind of energy-sapping criticism. For me it’s been life-changing and rewarding to be able to join in with such a positive movement.

Greenpa
13 Feb 7:14pm

Excellent stuff, Rob. Yes; it needs to be dealt with. One of the great attraction Transition offers to many people is a forum which is polite, considerate, and listens. That’s wonderful. But it may leave some of the members vulnerable when the inevitable whack-job (technical term for socio-psychopath) surfaces – INSIDE the group. It will happen. Being prepared helps.

30 some years ago, I founded a greeny non-profit, now thriving; but struggling in the early days. I’ll share with you here my Rule #256, germane to this point, and based on years of experience in attempting to forward an utterly benign and beneficial program. The Corollary is true- and useful.

“#256.
It really doesn’t matter what you say, or do; whether merely words, or more powerfully an “action”, it will piss a bunch of people off. If I printed a letter stating that the “sky is blue”, I would receive irate letters, and bomb threats, from numerous people who believe this is a dangerous oversimplification, and liable to directly cause the destruction of humanity and/or the remnants of the natural world.

“Corollary: An equal number of persons, previously totally uninterested in the situation, will be mightily pleased that the above people have been royally pissed off, will become staunch supporters, and even contribute money to the cause.”

Count on it. It WILL happen. Developing the “like water off a duck’s back” capability is your best defense; and entirely warranted.

Both Lao Tse and Master Kong, incidentally, advise us to “avoid the company of stupid/bad persons” – because they waste your time, and drag you down- and they are unfixable. Good advice from thousands of years ago.

Sophy Banks
13 Feb 7:53pm

We don’t break free from denial and repression by gritting our teeth and trying to be nobler and braver citizens. We don’t retrieve our passion for life, our wild, innate creativity by scolding ourselves and soldiering on with a stiff upper lip. That model of heroic behaviour belongs to the worldview that gave us the industrial growth society.’ Joanna Macy

This is from a personal resilience workshop that a colleague ran here in Totnes. There are many great suggestions and comments already to this great piece. I would encourage anyone involved in this kind of situation, but leaders especially to:

- get a level of support that matches your visibility, risk and stress. Is it one to one professional supervision? Is it peer to peer mentoring? Is it ok to get what you need from friends, family or colleagues? Getting enough support into the system of your life and your organisation is a part of creating something sustainable and healthy. This is about creating resilience at the personal level.

- Bring those affected together for mutual support and connection, to exchange information, and share feelings. Make this as important as the “doing” of your work. See it as a well spring for action, a place to reconnect deeply to the purpose of the work. This could just be a time to share with little structure or facilitation. Or it could be more in depth and include things like..

- Find a friendly facilitator (e.g. work that reconnects facilitators) to hold the space so no one involved has to. Do things that create good reality – name your connections, actions, support, resources, intentions, appreciations of each other, what you are proud of, grateful for. Give a good amount of time for feelings of fear, pain, hate, anger, grief, not knowing, numbness. Reframe these as our pain for the world – a result of our being open, available and alive. This is part of our life force – a vital ingredient for any movement for change to include. Our system has violence in it, causing pain and fear. Toughening up takes us towards becoming desensitised. Does that help resilience? Sometimes perhaps it’s needed. Sometimes resilience is about being broken open and still available and loving, and willing to act. Give space for creative responses to the situation, from a place of feeling resourced and connected.

Joanna Macy’s work, and her new book written with Chris Johnstone, are great resources and guides for working with any kind of negative situation or feelings.

JayD
13 Feb 11:43pm

Aaah…..the scars of wind turbine-gate run deep…in our village they have still not heeled after 10 years since refusal. It would seem that they should mostly be located in the sea or Ireland! The old guard continue to call the shots.

[...] “Transition Culture”. Traduzione di [...]

Amanda
14 Feb 5:04pm

JayD’s comment about wind turbines resonates today in Totnes; with Tresoc’s application to site 2 windmills being turned down, I wonder whether the village of Harbertonford will experience ongoing discord – and one of the reasons it was turned down was ‘divisiveness in the community’…

Rob Hopkins
14 Feb 6:04pm

Thanks for the comments everyone. I just wanted to pick up on Sophy Banks’ point about mentoring. For me, having the mentor who offers support through Transition Town Totnes the experiences discussed above would have been far tougher. That kind of support is invaluable. If your Transition group has people around with those expertise, offering mentoring for those whose heads are highest ‘above the parapet’ is invaluable.

Karen Eberhardt-Shelton
14 Feb 7:07pm

I’m not much bothered any more by angry assaults on anything to do with the well-being of Earth and all its interconnected life. People who condemn various efforts to ensure the Earth’s multiple rights to life (which would include a cessation of more roads, more housing, more supermarkets, more people, etc.) are burdened with a FIXED MINDSET that prevents them from considering controversial issues objectively. Read Dr. Carol S. Dweck’s very enlightening book MINDSET and find out how many ‘reject an opportunity to learn,’ and where that all leads. If you lack a ‘growth mindset’, you’re stuck in a hole where the will to connect with the Bigger Picture is absent and thus fail to grasp the significance of its problematic issues. How do we get ‘ordinary’ people to THINK and see what’s really happening and react accordingly? That, to me, is the Big Question. Karen

Paul Sousek
15 Feb 6:46pm

I think that most of the worst attacks on Twitter and various other on-line platforms are able to be expressed because of the anonymity of the authors.

In a face to face situation or even on the Internet but when the name and address of the author is known, the worst of these attacks do not occur. You may of course still get strong arguments, you may get some anger or questioning your motives, but personal reflection seems to come in and suppress the outright swearing and attacks that otherwise occur quite regularly.

The anonymity of the Internet has lot to answer for!

Greenpa
17 Feb 8:25pm

Paul- as a person who uses the anonymity of the Internet constantly- I’d invite you to visit my site, and look at the comments. I know it’s not possible to police Twitter, and other people’s sites- but it’s the stated policy on my site that- I do not tolerate crap, in any form. Adult, civil, honest discussion- in any direction is welcome. Nastiness- is edited out before it goes up. Good heavens, I wouldn’t put up that such behavior in my home, not from my children, not from visitors. Why would I put up with it anywhere? The result is- surprise; the trolls quickly go elsewhere, because I starve them. I have to edit out about 2 bad comments a year at this point.

And; on other sites? If the site owner doesn’t do a reasonable job of moderation, so the conversation is adequately civil – and honest- why would I waste my time there? LIfe is long. But too short for that. : – ) Vote with your feet.

Terry
18 Feb 12:59pm

I would recommend the book ‘Engaging with Climate Change: Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives’ Editor Sally Weintrobe. Here is real insight into the reasons for climate and environmental damage denial. Fear, anxiety and sheer terror at what may lie ahead. The section on ‘Great Expectations’ and the parallel in our psychological response is particularly good.
Understanding trumps blaming all along the line.

Louise Nicolson
18 Feb 11:55pm

Hi, in the interests of balance, Id like to just answer simply on behalf of myself, as a resident of Dunbar.
I was forwarded this article by a friend, who thought it would interest me.
I am aware of Sustaining Dunbar and of some of the attention that the group & its activities has attracted within our local community (especially on Facebook). I admin one of the Community Pages where discussions of various local issues take place.
I have even asked some questions of the groups activities myself.
Speaking personally, the reason I have asked questions is simply & purely to glean more information about this prominant local group – there is much information available through their various websites, in local press and elsewhere – but I, like others sometimes need further clarification. Details, hard facts. Naturally, then, I ask questions !
I am also aware that some who answer for the group, have voiced that they feel some of the attention they receive is unpleasant and unnecessary.
At times, some information has been clear & forthcoming, at other times it hasnt, so I would very much agree that the definate frustrations that I have witnessed during these online discussions could arise (as Barry Woods suggests) “perhaps because they (this could apply to either camp!) feel ignored, denied a voice or labelled.”
Certainly, a lot of difference of opinion is expressed – thats natural & healthy – and needs to be accepted (so long as views are expressed in an acceptable way – good manners should prevail! Perhaps it could be borne in mind, that critics of the Transition Movement may simply have been through different life experiences, which have led them to an alternative outlook, with different values and priorities held dear.
Maybe, as well as a thicker skin, a consideration that there may be more than one valid opinion, would be useful to some who are sensitive to public scrutiny. Also -are those responding to criticism, doing so fairly, without preconceptions ?
Trish Knox comments very fairly (in my view). Perhaps those who might be seen as the harshest critics are actually just as interested in the issues at heart – but they may have a different solution in mind, thats all.

You cannot really complain about communities being interested – especially when public funding is concerned – surely scrutiny must be expected ?
Not every critic is an attacker. Not everyone who questions is a troll. Such labelling is not helpful to greater understanding of the myriad of opinions connected to issues of contention.

Marian van der Veen
24 Feb 8:34am

Oooh yes.. Thx a lot, how I learn from these comments here. And I like to add, that a difference in age (I am 62) shows me, to not dwindle in sour grapes, when the very young TT Utrecht group split up and dissolved, each member having fullfilled his or her urge for manifestation, without a sense of knowing how to sustain and “hold” a communal space. No response to my mails, while arranging my presentation on food and intuition for the monthly TT meetings, caused initial frustration and anger. Now, after 5 years chewing the subject of communal skills thoroughly, I think it’s time to join the only remaining member of TT Utrecht to show if my talk equals my walk ;) and aim at a revival of it.

Marian van der Veen
24 Feb 8:55am

And to be honest, I had to have a hard look at myself, learning about compassion. I know I can be like a sword with words, hurling it to cut the crap. Now I try to make things work, as a team, in a team effort, so that the benefit of “being in the right” is to all and not to ME MYSELF AND I.

Marian van der Veen
24 Feb 7:20pm

Who says we need to reach so called ordinary people? If energy follows attention, you and I as warriors, paying attention to lady Gaia, are in the same boat with those who do the same to the safety of money, www, central heating and the lightningdistractor of the Vatican St. Petersdome. How about this: If we pay attention to “crisis” it will show up in our world. Which counts for abundance as well, naturally, when following that same line of thinking. To me, Michael Jacksons “What about us?” says it all, a question holding the answer within :)