Not so long ago our people knew how to weave cloth, bake bread, build shelter, forge tools, and grow food. Goods were crafted with care and skill, treasured and re-used. Services were honored and respected. People took pride in their abilities. Practical skills were prized and passed on. Self-reliance was commonplace, and our communities were robust and resilient, thanks to the artisans that lived and worked there.
With the advent of consumer culture, simple skills that were once taken for granted have all but disappeared. In the words of social psychologist Eric Fromm: “Today, consumption is emphasized, not preservation, and buying has become ‘throw-away’ buying. Whether the object one buys is a car, a dress, a gadget, after using it for some time one gets tired of it and is eager to dispose of the ‘old’ and buy the latest model.” The consequence of this, aside from the waste, is a tremendous loss of skills.
This much we know: we live in turbulent times. The future is uncertain and our communities are vulnerable. Runaway climate change. The 6th Great Extinction. Peak Oil. Economic instability. Pollution. Poverty. Political unrest. Given this dire situation, what can we do to prepare?
One positive action we can take together, is to relearn the skills of our ancestors. In the Transition Movement, we call this “the Great Reskilling”. Essentially this is a reversal of the great deskilling that has taken place over the last two hundred years.
Transition Communities across the world have started to organize reskilling events, as part of their core activities. Some of these are stand-alone workshops, others have launched festivals and folk schools.
The topics covered at reskilling events are diverse. They include: energy conservation, consensus decision making, backyard chickens, bicycle maintenance, carpentry, composting, fiber arts, food growing and preservation, seed saving, grey water and rain catchment, natural building, local economics, tool repair, herbal medicine, water heating, solar cooking, fishing, and more. The list is endless.
When organizing a reskilling event, a good place to start is to make an assessment of what skills are absent in your community. You can then look to see who in the community has one or more skills they would be willing to share, or what you might be willing to offer yourself. The truth is, we all have something to offer, a skill or service that others can benefit from. And we can all benefit from learning something new.
Reskilling is a powerful process on many levels. It’s so much more than individuals learning new “old” skills. It’s about people reclaiming their personal power to solve their own problems. People who have a wide range of everyday skills, are competent and confident. They know they are capable of turning their hand to any number of tasks. They have the personal resilience required to deal effectively with uncertainty and change.
Reskilling is also about people learning to co-operate and collaborate with other people. It brings people together, and builds relationships of trust and solidarity that can last through times of adversity.
Finally, reskilling strengthens the local economy. A community that is able to provide for its basic goods and services locally, is more able to weather economic shocks from the outside, and is therefore more resilient to change. Relocalization of our community core needs, is the bedrock of long-term sustainability.
In my community in West Marin we’re fortunate to have many resident artisans who know how to live simply and sustainably, in balance with the land. Our local food shed is strong, and we also have a local fiber shed movement. We have the Regenerative Design Institute offering Reskilling Classes in fiber arts, herbs and healing, cooking and growing food.
Our community is strong. But we need more. We need to find ways to bring our elders together with the youth, to share skills and learning across the generations, before they are lost. We need to bridge the gap between the privileged and the wealthy (who are used to buying things in) and the disadvantaged and those with low income (who are used to being resourceful and living with less). We urgently need our education systems to teach practical skills of self-reliance in their core curriculum, so that our youth are empowered with a positive “can do” attitude that the coming years will demand.
It is imperative that we increase and diversify our skill set to prepare for the future. Reskilling needs to be the number one priority in our lives. It also needs to be fun, affordable and accessible. We have all the skills and ingenuity we need right here in our communities, but we need to take this effort to a whole new level.
There are big challenges ahead. Yet there is still time to turn things around. Let’s take action together. Share your skills. Learn something new. Organize a reskilling event in your community. Be part of the Great Transition.