"Maximum Contemplation, Minimum Action"September 17, 2009 6 Comments
I am always interested to see parallel worldviews evolving across different fields. Lately I’ve been thinking about the connections between the burgeoning enthusiasm about networks in social science and social change efforts and the growing interest I’ve been noticing in Permaculture, partly owing to the Transition Town movement and conversations about mitigating and adapting to impending climate change.
Permaculture was developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren during the 1970s as an answer to unsustainable industrial agricultural practices. It entails creating robust, flexible, living systems that integrate ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agroforestry. The focus of Permaculture is not on the individual elements in a garden, but rather on the relationships between them (just as networks are all about the links). For example, with the Permaculture lens, one is always thinking about how one plant relates to others (could it cast shade or serve as a natural pesticide for others) and how different “zones” might serve one another (a pond stocked with fish can cut down on mosquitoes, eaves on a house can catch rain water that is siphoned into a garden, etc.).
At its base, Permaculture is a system of very thoughtful design based on the adage – “Maximum contemplation; minimum action.” The key is looking at what occurs in ecosystems and setting up elements in a garden to allow them to do what they do naturally. I like this as a guide for working collaboratively with groups. Few people like to herd others (think cows or cats) and no one I know likes to be herded. What if we spent more time as leaders tending the soil for groups to take root and blossom on their own (i.e. self-organize)? This would require more observation of and thinking about how individuals interact with one another and what conditions lead to optimal performance. This does not mean there will never be a need to do some weeding or provide a little extra fertilizer (organic, of course). But I can imagine it would lead to much less angst on the part of leaders/facilitators, happier and more engaged people, and more vibrant ideas.
Check out David Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles. There appear to be some valuable guidelines here as we think about how to design sustainable communities, organizations, and initiatives (such as “Use edges and value the marginal”). What do you think?