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Ray Haddock, a co-ordinator of XRYork’s Regenerative Culture Working Group, explores the importance of regenerative culture at a time of medical emergency in response to COVID-19.

XR is best known for non-violent direct action (NVDA), and rightly so, as it brings attention to XR’s three demands in relation to the climate and environmental emergency. NVDA is aimed at stopping the destruction of the planet as we know it – its ecosystems and the life they support.  We can see there is now a great deal more awareness of this because of the actions of XR and many other groups around the world.

But XR has 10 principles and only one of these directly concerns non-violent action. The third is about regenerative culture: ‘Creating a culture which is healthy, resilient and adaptable’.

Regenerative action is less visible but plays an important role.  One aspect is to support those taking NVDA to the front line by blocking roads and disrupting everyday activities. Regen members play a vital role in providing food, drink and warmth as well as conversation, company and emotional support. In addition, along with others, Regen work to keep the environment calm, happy and non-toxic, through de-escalation of high emotion in protesters and members of the public. Regen members also provide arrestee support through all the stages of the process.  

The other aspect of regenerative action is to build a regenerative culture in all our contexts. At the moment, most people’s energy is taken up with the international need to tackle the threat and effects of the Coronavirus outbreak. Gatherings to protest about the climate are not possible, therefore it is a good time to focus on regenerative action.

So what do we mean by regenerative culture in this wider context? A useful book that summarises and covers many aspects of this is Designing Regenerative Cultures by Daniel Wahl.

In short, it aims to build and create the conditions for all life to have its place and to be able to continue evolving. It involves a deep respect and appreciation for the diversity of life and all its expressions, and a passionate protection of our environment and ecosystems. This differs markedly from much of our current culture of exploitation and human-centric behaviour.  Unfortunately what we do to the natural world we also do to our fellow humans, in what is euphemistically called “competition” but which in fact destroys diversity and creativity in its full sense.

Changing this means a fundamental shift from a perspective based on what I believe is good for me, regardless of others, to one based on what is good for us and our environment. This might sound simple but in fact it is very radical and difficult to fully achieve in a culture that supports economic growth and competitiveness as the main (or only!) drivers, which rely on exploitation of the natural world and other human beings.

As we start to look at this the damage we are doing and have already done that we cannot undo, i.e., extinctions, becomes more and more obvious. I would guess that most of you reading this will at times have found this news unbearable and withdrawn from watching, listening or reading about it – or at least had the impulse to do so.  This is what comes when we realise that what we love has been and is being hurt and destroyed, and it feels impossible to do anything. With this love comes the rage of the life force itself and the grief both for what is happening and the horrific realisation that we are part of it.

The challenge for regenerative culture is to channel this emotional energy into building healthy systems and finding ways to stop what is happening without bringing more of the same. When someone hurts something we love, we have an impulse to retaliate, which is a natural impulse related to survival.  The challenge facing us is to convert the energy in that impulse into something creative, into working to solve the problems rather than attacking those we see as causing them.  This is what we mean when we talk about detoxifying the toxic culture.  

COVID-19 is one of a number of similar diseases that have emerged in recent decades – it is just worse. Simply being angry at the virus helps no one. Fortunately common sense mostly prevails, however there is a strong impulse to blame someone or some entity: a government, a political party, an action, a lack of action – the list is endless.

The virus is a terrible message to us, unwanted and unbidden, with far reaching consequences for our daily lives. If we stand back we see that it is always people with less power and fewer resources who suffer most. So an important aspect of a regenerative culture is addressing in a real and deep way the inequalities and injustices that result from human behaviours and systems, some with a long history.

Our normal ways of life are disrupted in order to manage the impact of the virus on lives, health and society. One might think of it as a terrible and unwanted experiment: a chance to find out what people and societies are able to do when they see the need, and assess the possible impacts of the changes made. This is very different from any idea that anyone “ deserves” it.  However it is a consequence of how we live on the planet.

We push wildlife to the edge, we exploit it, we use the habitat of animals for our own gain, and see most animals as legitimate food for us. Then from time to time they pass organisms they carry on to us. This is predictable, as if we stress any living system it is more likely to carry more micro-organisms that could harm humans. Micro-organisms are constantly mutating in order to survive, and finding new hosts is a great adaptation if you’re a micro-organism. Human cultures and the way we live make it highly likely that there will be rapid spread. This is the nature of complex (living) systems.

Then, add to this the nature of our political and economic systems, which rely on constant growth, long and fragile supply chains and squeezing the last drop of profit from the system. This leaves us with little resilience and too little capacity to adapt without severe disruption to what we regard as “normal” life.

We can see this happening across many of our systems in terms of impact of droughts, floods, locusts, extreme fires, coral bleaching – the list goes on. This is the dark side; the result of neglecting the development of regenerative capacity in our systems.

Credit: Bloom Network

On the brighter side we can see the capacity of individuals, societies and cultures to change rapidly to protect fellow human beings. People get together in neighbourhoods and groups, they communicate more, they acknowledge each other more… I have had more contact with people, despite social distancing, than I ever have. We begin to see what we have lost at the same time as starting to rebuild it. Human creativity to connect is amazing and unstoppable. We do not need lots of “things” to do this, nor to fly round the world or indulge the next “experience”.

On a bigger scale still, CO2 emissions go down, the Venice canals become clear, and people notice blue skies, clean air, and more silence. At the moment we don’t know if these changes are temporary or will continue, and this is where XR’s commitment to a regenerative culture can contribute to sustaining change. As I see it, the best work XR can do at this time is support all these regenerative developments, watch out for and detoxify toxicity, and keep an eye on those looking to exploit the situation (airlines, for example). 

One phrase that thankfully is becoming more of a guide in addressing the climate, environmental and social justice and equality emergency is “think globally, act locally”. This is vital for regenerative activity in order to really consider how looking after ourselves, each other and our local environment and community contribute to building a regenerative system more widely.

So, what are we doing to encourage a regenerative culture at XRYork?

Firstly, carrying on with usual meetings is very stabilising in a time of crisis.  XRYork had already developed a robust meeting structure for local operation and planning. Migrating to online meetings was an easy step to take, providing members with stability and regular contact with familiar people at a time when so much is different. It also keeps us focused on the other big issues that need tackling (with or without COVID-19), giving us a solid platform to continue addressing wider environmental and social inequality issues in the future.

We pay attention to the energy in meetings, particularly when hosted by Zoom, encouraging people to move round and introducing games or other activities to bring in lightness and fun.

Regular Listening circles offer members the opportunity to come together and, with a safe structure, give voice to and share some of the wide range of feelings we are going through. In doing this, we recognise similarities with others, which is in itself regenerative. Our feelings are human, not crazy. If you have not experienced a listening circle yet, check them out via XRYork’s Facebook page.

Creative online workshops are a chance to get together and have fun creating (or not), building connections with others, and developing one’s own creativity, which is another great regenerative asset. Please offer your suggestions for any other ideas.

Building connections with wider action groups addresses many issues at local, regional (e.g. with XR North), national and even international levels.  Again, XRYork’s Facebook page and meetings are a good source of more information and to find the things that connect for you.

To find out more, connect with us on social or come along to one of our weekly meetings. All details can be found on our social media pages or website. Stay safe.


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