The answer should be simple, right? I’ve been going to Transition meetings for two years. I’ve read the handbook. I’ve browsed some of the new ‘ingredients’. I even went so far as to write 15000 words on the topic. So why is it still so damn hard to explain?
I’m frequently flumoxed when friends ask why, for example, I’m busy singing carols on a winter’s evening. ‘Oh, it’s this, er, sort of local environmental thing I’m part of…’ just doesn’t seem to cut it. And neither, it seems, was it cutting it for one lady who came to our Transition diversity training at the back end of last year. She’d been to the socials, she’d talked to people but still whenever she asked what Transition actually was, she failed to get a straight answer. Eventually she didn’t bother to come back.
Embarrassed and slightly ashamed of this abject failure to communicate what we are about (yes, I was one of those people who she’d spoken to at the socials. I could remember, but I’m not sure our conversation had made such an impression on her!), I was relieved when Raymond suggested we should put something together that explains what TTSN is. In his words: TTSN made simple.
Hoorah! My chance to find the words to actually tell people why I’m hanging out of trees reaching for crabapples one weekend, and making kites in the park the next. Brilliant. A couple of hours discussion in the cafe down the road and we should have it sorted, right?
Well our couple of hours on Monday night did get us started. But as we realised just how many facets there are to Transition, we also realised it wasn’t going to be so simple. Like a lens to view the world through rather than a thing itself, it can mean different things to people based on their different points of view, interests and contexts. Sometimes Transition is practical projects that reduce energy consumption. Sometimes it’s facilitating a change in consciousness. Sometimes it’s joyful, sometimes sombre, exciting, fun or maddening. But the one thing that it is, is flexible, and I wonder whether this flexibility can also make it hard for people to understand what it’s about.
I think if I’d walked into my first Transition meeting without a good grounding in the Transition concept, I might’ve found this ambiguity frustrating. The emphasis that we put on doing projects that there is energy and inspiration to do (rather than working to a set plan across the movement), on organising in a flat way (so there’s no source of authority to ask why we do or don’t do x, y or z) and on individuals being involved as much or as little as they want, in only the activities they want to do (rather than slotting into predefined roles) are features of TTSN that I would argue are strengths and make it so unique. But they might also make it quite hard for people who are new to the idea to get it. Might some people be more at home in a movement that rests more explicitly on shared beliefs, values and ideology, rather than on empowering individuals to take action? I think it could be hard for some people to understand ‘joining’ a movement which isn’t asking anything of you except that you do what you want to.
So for now it’s back to the cafe. We don’t just need to communicate the many facets of TTSN, but actually address how and why it can be so many things to so many people. Hopefully we can come up with a response that that explains TTSN in terms of both individual action and a communitarian movement. And then maybe we really will have TTSN made simple.