The modern age has been characterized by a Promethean spirit, a restless energy that preys on speed records and shortcuts, unmindful of the past, uncaring of the future, existing only for the moment and the quick fix. The earthly rhythms that characterize a more pastoral way of life have been shunted aside to make room for the fast track of an urbanized existence. Lost in a sea of perpetual technological transition, modern man and woman find themselves increasingly alienated from the ecological choreography of the planet.
We are on the brink of a new year—a time when many look back on what has been and forward to what might be. It tends to be a time which can seem both festive and suspended—that space between the exhale and the next inhale amidst the celebrations. The transition upon us also holds a certain sense of possibility and hopefulness, when we consider what might be different in our lives and in our world in the year to come.
While moving into the new year can allow us a feeling of starting over, there are a host of transitions that we are always navigating regardless of the time of year. Each season brings some change in our lives, each day brings new perspectives and opportunities. And transitions don’t merely happen on the individual level, but we are faced with shifting circumstances in our workplaces, our communities, our world.
There is a tremendous opportunity as we move forward in a world more conscious of the issues of interconnectedness, and increasingly committed to finding the solutions to some of our most pressing problems. Indeed, we still live in a world where the gap between what we imagine and current reality is significant. And there is the very real risk that we can be carried in the wrong direction by transition, as Rifkin laments in the quote above.
But if there is anything that we can resolve to do in the year ahead, it is about continuing to seek for solutions, to reconnect with “the ecological choreography of the planet” in whatever small way, so that we may inch closer to a more sustainable and more just world. One of my own resolutions—at this time of transition, and in the transition of each day—is to ask where I might be of service and then act upon that.
It is clear that the world is beginning to embrace the concept of sustainability—that we are beginning to build a bridge to more socially just, economically vibrant and environmentally sound communities. And there is still much work to do. This is the spirit of transition, of moving from one state to the next without quite knowing how we might get there, or when we might arrive. Yet faith and hard work are not the only engines that carry us forward as we seek to make changes in our own lives or a larger scale. The support of community is essential, and I hope to make this more of a hallmark of my work in the year to come—to not simply work in building community, but doing that by working in community and more collaboratively with other individuals and organizations.
William Bridges is a well-known management consultant for his work with individuals and organizations around transition and his work has now been adopted for work in social change (see more in the Resources section below). Bridges defines different stages of transition—from realization and readiness for change, through the confusion of the transition itself, to arriving at the new beginning at the other side of the process. In looking at sustainability and social change transitions, we are late in the first stage or early in the second, still in the initial reckoning with the changes needed and directions to take.
Transition can often be overwhelming and confusing, particularly because we might not land where we expect, even with a clear picture or intention of where that might be. Dogen, a 13th century Buddhist teacher and philosopher, observed: “Meeting one thing is mastering it. Doing one thing is practicing completely.” In times of transition, this focus can be helpful—not in shutting everything else out, but in seeing that the work we are doing to affect a transition in our own work or in the world holds some connection to efforts elsewhere and supporting the broader transition we are beginning.