Category Archives: desire

Slower futures — not faster? One dog’s approach to community futures

Today’s blog is dedicated to my dog, Isabella, who passed away last week. As a puppy Isabella made me crazy, but not in the usual frantic puppy kind of way. She did everything in slow motion. I should explain: Isabella was an Italian Spinone, the bird retrievers of Italy. Since the Middle Ages Spinones have been one of the dog breeds of the Italian rural gentry, so there are hundreds of generations of dogs who are accustomed to long walks, warm evenings by the fire, and to having their people bringing them delicious meals.  This was true of our modern Spinone, I was treated more like staff than ‘owner’ or companion, and she also she insisted on long slow walks. Slow walks. Slow. I learned to slow down to her pace, even though it did make me crazy sometimes.

Focusing so intently on Isabella in these past few weeks, and thinking about my own process of slowing down under her tutelage, I began to wonder if maybe the whole world needs some Isabella time.

Why is it that we accept so much busyness in our lives? And why is it that when we think about the future it is so often layered with speed? With the assumption that faster is better.  Faster computers, faster cars, faster travel, faster production, faster education, faster meals.  But perhaps as futures thinkers we need to face this assumption straight on.

What if… our futures could actually be slower – not faster?  Does anyone really like doing things fast all time?  I guess, maybe, there are some people who thrive on a fast, multi-tasking, doing everything in as short a time as possible approach to life. But is this good for us, for our work, for those around us?  Carl Honoré, in his book, In Praise of Slow, describes his process in moving from speed reading a bedtime story to his son to a more joyful, leisurely read.

Research is now demonstrating what we all know in our hearts, and have probably experienced in our own lives, that when we are really busy we don’t notice other people’s (or animal’s) pain or needs as well – our levels of care and empathy decrease simply by not noticing or because we don’t have time for another thing in the hour/day.  And yet what our world needs is more empathy not less.  We need more caring, not less.

So as we do our futures-based work or community/organisational processes let’s challenge the speed assumption.  When someone gets all jazzed up about Moore’s law being broken because of even faster change, or some new computer that does things even faster, try responding with: Is that a good thing?  or Why is faster better?  or, Do you know whose bodies and labour is enabling our computers to go faster and faster? or, Do you know how much of the Earth is being mined to enable increased speed?  Perhaps our empathy for the workers of the world, and the body of the world, will be what finally has us question ‘faster is better’.

With consideration for our own bodies, and all that we are learning about sitting disease, maybe slow technology would be better?  For example, what if an internet search, would take 2 minutes, not 1 second, so you have time to enter your search item then stand up and stretch or make a pot of tea or go outside on your balcony, or porch, and say hello to the wind or a neighbour? I know there wouldn’t be immediate uptake on this particular idea, if ever, but you get my drift.  Why does the dominant system demand that we rush though our days in the present? And why do we want/accept more rushing in the future?

Maybe we could begin by being more purposeful in our present time by creating short breaks in the day? The short “pause” as Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach (among others) teach, to bring us back to what is important – compassion, love, caring, kindness –  in the present, and as we create visions for our diverse futures.

One of Futures Studies’ founders, Dr. Eleonora Masini, argued that futures scholars and practitioners need to look past the usual participants and include women and children in their futures-based processes.  I think this is very true. And perhaps we also need to include dogs, and other animals, in our processes?  Certainly it would be easier to envision nature in our futures if there were deer or okapi in the room, or to include non-industrialised farming in our visions if there were chickens or cows in the room.  And dogs could be there to remind us to value companionship, walking outdoors, and a slower pace of life in our futures visioning and action planning.

Isabella showed us that life should be at a pace that allows for kindness and connection. That seems like a great place to start to our futures visioning.

Further reading:

Pema Chödrön.  When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Tara Brach.  Radical Acceptance

Carl Honoré.  In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed.


Being visionary even when success isn’t guaranteed

Donella Meadows taught us that visions of desired futures “come from commitment, responsibility, confidence, values, longing, love, treasured dreams, our innate sense of what is right and good”.

Creating new visions of sustainable and just futures will require us to move past all the negative predictions  and business-as-usual planning.  Not that we should disregard the warnings, but rather that we see the projections based in present-day activities as opportunities to make change.  Creating meaningful  change requires us to be bold –  to create visions with passion, emotion, and conviction.  We also need to be risk takers – acknowledging that we won’t necessarily have the answers or processes in place to begin implementation nor guaranteed success.  This lack of guaranteed success can make the effort of creating a positive/desired vision hard to do, especially as there is so much to be concerned about in our world.  But in creating environmentally healthy and socially just communities we need to bravely, and collaboratively, face our despair for what is wrong and state clearly what we desire for our futures.  We may not get the actions right the first time, but the positive vision will guide us towards new paths.

Joanna Macy and Chris Johnston in their new book Active Hope remind us that we don’t have to be optimistic or be assured of a particular outcome to take actions for change. “Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for” even when facing the reality that we may not be totally successful.  We need to fly in the face of ‘being realistic’ and be boldly visionary.

The world and all beings need us each to be visionary leaders, in our ways, even small ways.  And when you align with other visionaries it gets joyful.

Look for ways to create fun and playfulness in the actions.  My friend, and community artist, Paula Jardine amazes me with her ability to create parades and beautiful events for our community, on hard issues like a death in the family or salmon habitat loss, that bring people together in loving, joyful ways with live musicians, storytellers, lanterns, and tea in real teacups.  And the DePave Portland folks work hard, but seem to be having lots of fun.  

Sustainability can be fun!



It’s not ‘unrealistic’ — it’s visionary

Recently I was in my home town visiting family, and after responding to a question about my work including community-based conversations about envisioning a world without weapons (Elise Boulding) or a world without hunger (Donella Meadows), a friend of the family said “that seems unrealistic and idealistic”.  The word ‘unrealistic’ is often attached to ‘idealist’ or ‘idealistic’, in my experience, as a way of dismissing visionary ideas or actions. But has anything really spectacular or meaningful ever been done without envisioning it first? (Well, okay… babies).

And yet, discussions about sustainability rarely include visions of what communities or individuals want their ecological futures to be.  The majority of discussions of ecological or community futures are based on an extrapolation of present trends, they are predictions of the future, usually of situations of loss (species, community, jobs) or hardship (food or water shortages) — not preferred futures or visions that we could work towards that would allow us to avoid projecting harmful present-day trends into the future.

Perhaps we do not see many examples of preferred ecological futures because creating a positive vision of the future might be considered foolhardy when the chance of success is not guaranteed.  Or it may seem too risky for us to create our own vision of a sustainable and just world because others might label it as idealistic or unrealistic.  But Donella Meadows urges us to “occasionally take the social risk of displaying not our skepticism but our deepest desire. We could declare ourselves in favor of a sustainable, just, secure, efficient, sufficient world… even at the expense of being called idealistic”.

We could create ecological visions that will inspire and motivate action.

Once we identify a detailed image of what a sustainable and just community would look like, we can more actively begin to address the hard reality, through critical analysis, of exploring what is not working or the barriers to reaching our vision, identify what is working, and then create strategies and plans for action, including where each individual can contribute their talents and experience.