As we look at the multiplying signs of failure across our economy and the environment, society is slowly realizing that we need to start doing things very differently. At least if we want a positive future in which we can believe. Those awakening to this are asking: What should we do?
I think a better question to ask is: What’s possible?
That’s the question that has been waking me up early in the morning for the past few weeks.
It springs from Ben Falk’s book on whole systems design and permaculture entitled The Resilient Farm and Homestead. It’s a great book, packed with lots of useful ideas and systems to consider.
It’s opening line reads:
“Regeneration involves seeing things as they could be, while resiliency requires dealing with things as they are.”
I like that pairing a lot. It’s ‘what is’ AND ‘what could be’ Resilient AND regenerative. It’s combining what you already have with what’s possible.
Why Regeneration Matters
Regeneration is about the future. In working with living systems, the soil, the microclimate, the sun and a dozen other major variables all come into play. To be of a regenerative mindset, one must be able to see both what’s there AND what isn’t there yet, but could be.
Each acre of land or water source is more capable of doing certain things than others. The same is true with people, communities and cultures.
Where Joel Salatin found a farm with ruined soils (listen to our podcasts with Joel on regenerative farming and on ‘rogue farming’), he knew it was possible to rebuild the soils to incredible depth and abundance without using any outside inputs. He showed that a whole new approach could yield results that had entirely escaped the previous owners of that land. He saw what they didn’t, or perhaps, couldn’t (all hail the blinding power of belief systems!).
Where the founders of Singing Frogs Farms saw local organic competitors grossing $17,000 per acre, they showed what’s truly possible by ‘farming the soil’ and yielding $100,000+ gross revenues per acre. Their operation is regenerative for the landscape, their workers, and their many loyal customers. (Listen to our podcasts with Paul and Elizabeth Keiser here and here).
To place this concept within a business metaphor, if resiliency is having multiple jobs, regeneration is about starting your own successful business after noticing what wasn’t already there (but could be).
Business resilience is having a deep inventory in case of supply disruptions, or a solid balance sheet to weather the inevitable downturns. Regenerative businesses have cultures that allow for fresh ideas to emerge and change the company even if they challenge existing products or services. More than that, regenerative managers value these innovative ideas, products and practices because evolution is the lifeblood of longevity.
Resilience: The Critical First Step
For a long time, my fellow co-founder Adam Taggart and I have been all about helping people become more resilient.
That’s a worthy goal, one we’ll continue to promote. Resilience is critical to future prosperity, and it must be cultivated. Full stop.
However, it’s not an end point. What is the overarching goal driving our efforts to become more resilient? This is a question we’re hearing from the cadre of Peak Prosperity members who have successfully built up resilience across all the 8 Forms of Capital.
Once you’ve achieved resilience, then what? What is it exactly that we are seeking afterward? What problems are we hoping to solve? What would the world look like if we could design it exactly as we wished?
In his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, Charles Eisenstein asks, “In a time of social and ecological crisis, what can we as individuals do to make the world a better place?” The answer, at least in part, is to begin to allow ourselves to imagine ‘what’s possible,’ without necessarily having a single clue as to how to achieve that or even what the next steps might be.
Whatever is going to come next, by definition, will emerge. And it will require the deep dedication of passionate souls to envision ‘what’s possible’ long enough for it to take root and grow.
‘I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On’
Is there any more worthy goal in life than to make a difference, especially in trying times?
Those of us who can see the broad outlines of the coming difficulties society will face have a choice to make: Do we want to play an active role in the recovery?
This has been a refrain around here at Peak Prosperity for a long time. One resonant moment for me was back in 2016 when I first had the chance to interview elder wisdom scholar and philosopher Stephen Jenkinson.
We were discussing the tyranny of hope; specifically how to be in these troubled times, when Stephen said:
Samuel Beckett, the great Irish writer. He has a book title. And the book title says what you and I are talking about right now. The name of the book is; I can’t go on, I’ll go on.
Now, if you do not pay attention to how he has phrased it, you think what he is saying is I cannot go on; I can go on. But he doesn’t say that. See, that is hopeful and hopeless again.
He says I can’t go on, I’ll go on. And at the risk of cheapening an elaborate and well accomplished book just by making a phrase of the title, I believe his title says this:
I have an obligation in a troubled time to go on, not being able to.
If you let that stand and you do not try to resolve that, and you recognize the inability to go on is no more predicting of the outcome than the ability to go on is. Neither one of these foreclose on what may yet come to pass.
However, the depths of the trouble mean that there is such a thing as not being able to go on and you turn away from that at your peril. The recognition that you cannot go on is a real time in people’s lives. It is not a failure, moral or otherwise, it is not a collapse. It is a true thing, and it takes courage to know that you are at a time when you cannot go on. And what Beckett is saying is, there come times in our lives when we go on not being able to.
He described exactly how I feel; that I have an obligation in a troubled time to go on, and not being able to. Obligated, but with little more than a push from behind that says “Somebody has to do something, and that person includes you.”
There’s not a lot of instruction beyond that.
So we can’t go on, yet we will go on. Such are the troubled times in which we live.
The tides are turning. The social mood darkens. The Fourth Turning is upon us.
Despite all the attempts to force happiness on society based on record stocks and bonds prices, fewer and fewer folks are feeling the joy.
“More of the same” is no longer compelling.
Instead, people are increasingly hungry for new ideas and new paths that offer compelling solutions
Don’t look to the government to help. It’s proving it’s dominated by mainstream politicians who aren’t aware of exactly what’s at stake or how to go about addressing it.
Don’t look to the private sector, either. Corporations are mostly locked in a battle for a pie of profits that has stopped growing.
So, it’s up to us. You and me. We’ve got to figure out what new models will yield a sustainable, prosperous and happy future.
Though to be truly compelling and sufficient, these solutions will have to go beyond ‘resilience’. If a storm is coming, resilience is exactly what you want. But if a hundred years’ drought is settling in, you’ll need more than well-stocked supplies. You’ll need regenerative systems to weather through something that long in duration.
We’ll need each other in new and more profound ways. Ways that combine both resilience AND regeneration.
It’s time to find out what’s possible.
Now, a number of you readers are aware I’m hard at work on designing a living community that is both resilient and regenerative.
In Part 2: A Vision For Living Regeneratively, I share my current notes on the process. What key success requirements am I settling on? What models make the most sense? Beyond the physical factors of the land and housing, what community and cultural factors need to be adopted?
To fail to plan is to plan to fail. To successfully transition to a sustainable, happy and prosperous future, we need good plans (the more the better!) and I am making the development of this one a top priority. Both for myself as well as society — as anyone who wants to borrow (and improve upon!) it will be more than welcome to.
Are you willing to join us in developing the answer to: What’s possible?