Lesson VI: Assume that change is going to take time

By David Parkinson

A cherry, someday. Patience!

The slow pace of a cool lingering springtime is starting to accelerate into the lazy rush of summertime, when the coast retreats to lakes, mountains, and gardens and sees after its own psychic well-being. The milestones marking off the next few months are becoming visible after a few months when it seemed as though the summer would never properly arrive; but here they come: weekly market days; the fruit-picking season, from cherries and early plums through to late apples; my annual excursion to the Gathering of the BC Food Systems Network, this year in July instead of on the same weekend as our Fall Fair; the Edible Garden Tour in early August, kicking off the fifty days of the Fifty-Mile Eat-Local Challenge; the Fall Fair; and I hear early rumours of a harvest feast in October. After that, the long decline into wetness, to the making of plans, the dreaming of a summertime that seems so far away it might almost never come again.

Each time the same round of events and projects comes around, each one is slightly more complex and connected up with other people, groups, and projects. Little outposts of action become a network. After some time spent waiting for things to change, for people to climb onto a bandwagon, or for actions to catch up with good intentions, suddenly it all lurches forward and slowly finds its pace. It takes patience — or impatient persistence — to stay the course and wait for a project’s potential energy to manifest itself, through the down times when our efforts appear to be spreading out like ripples into a huge blank expanse of still water.

Even as our patience is rewarded in one quarter, any number of new initiatives are cropping up like newborns unable to fend for themselves, sucking up time and energy out of all proportion to any reasonable expectations of the good they’ll do. It takes the fecklessness of parents to bring these things into existence in the hope that they’ll survive at all. And yet, the miracle is that, despite the odds, most of the community projects that I have been involved with — even the most tenuous and shaky ones — manage to thrive. Even the ones that didn’t make it always manage to set seeds before they expire; I’m often reminded of some past project which never quite came to fruition but which has been transmuted into something else while no one was looking. The not-so-long-lived V8A group sprouted into an email list for dissemination of news of local interest, and pieces of the original concept for V8A are still going forward as Transition Town Powell River, the Chamber of Commoners, our regional Sustainability Charter, and a few other groups and projects.

These are the comforting thoughts that come to me when I take time to contemplate the slow pace of change; a pace so slow that it can look as though things are going backwards, erasing progress and making a dark joke of our efforts. I’m not naturally patient, especially when it comes to building the structures that we need in this region in order to be better prepared for continued fraying of the economy or major disruptions in the food supply (which, no surprise, many sources are predicting in the coming years). Progress has its own pace and all we can do is keep applying pressure as best we can and find our allies. We ought to keep reminding ourselves that we are in no position to judge the effectiveness of what we’re doing, and that it’s worth remembering that we can never predict what will come from our experimental projects with groups of people. We do the best we can, cling to as little of the outcome as we can, and hope.

When it comes to forcing change, money is the great accelerator; much of what we see around us travels at a fearful pace because it rides a great wave of cash in search of more cash to mate with. It takes real discipline to tolerate the pace of stimulant-free change, which moves at the pace of the seasons, coming round again and again, wearing disguises and taking its time. The difference between no change at all and total metamorphosis is hard to see while it’s happening — or maybe not happening. Hard to know until we know.


This post is the sixth in a series based on the essay Seven Lessons for Leaders in Systems Change by Michael K. Stone & Zenobia Barlow, published by the Center for Ecoliteracy.


2 Responses to “Lesson VI: Assume that change is going to take time”

  1. 1 W Wallace Mud July 24, 2012 at 16:00

    Hi, In response to your comment [just published at The Mud Report].
    Don’t worry, i’m not about to forget yours efforts. My newly started series about co-operatives at The Mud Report is just begining. Tomorrow it’ll be about a few examples from Vancouver that i like to give some urban examples of hands on solutions. Then it’ll move on to small rural solutions i’ve been involved in and finally it’ll turn toward the ‘home’ stretch with Powell River as the focus. At that point it’ll feature the great existing solutions, like slowcoast and Skookum Foods, and what i see as the possibilities combining PRs Zero Waste goals and the LET’S program into a job creating organic agriculture based Co-op.

    We’re all in this together.
    mr. mud

  2. 2 David Parkinson July 24, 2012 at 16:01

    Thanks! Can’t wait to read the whole series.

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