Finding the Right Livelihood

Right Livelihood Circles:
Finding your Groove in an Age of Change
                                                                                                  -By Cabot Lyford

I’ve always wanted to do something intelligent. There are many examples of inspiring people who have started movements or found leverage points that make enormous impact. To paraphrase the old Chinese proverb, “with change comes opportunity”, and to find opportunities, to work intelligently, spend effort wisely, create synergies and learn to thrive in the midst of confusion – this is a lot to ask of one tired brain, so I turn to what may be the most powerful leverage point of all: friends working together. Circles are a time-tested format for friendly collaboration, and hence the idea of a Right Livelihood Circle.

As I see it, the mission of Right Livelihood Circles is to tap into an existing but under-utilized talent pool to form enterprises that support Transition and Regeneration.  There are many of us who feel the need to align our work with our values.  Also, the power of Business in our lives is undeniable.  Combine these factors, throw in a quantum leap of collaboration, and we may have a winner.  The plan is to start with one Circle, a sort of mutual-aid/study group/business incubation tank, learn how to succeed with that, then repeat and replicate the process, all the while building an action network that grows in numbers, competence and accomplishments.

A few weeks ago, at Richard Heinberg’s presentation on The End of Growth, he speculated that perhaps we might one day build iphones in church basements out of locally made parts.  My response, and that of many in the crowd, was to chuckle.  We have been embedded in the industrial matrix for so long that it is difficult to imagine taking such matters into our own hands.  If we do not see the choices we have, it is as if they do not exist for us.  While it is apparent that we do need to simplify and de-specialize to a degree, the notion of giving up all our modern comforts, spending all our energies in laborious subsistence, is too austere for many to contemplate.  Also, having time for intellectual and creative pursuits is essential for us to find our way through this pivotal period.  As luck would have it, there have been some modern innovations that are making it possible to have our cake and eat it too.  

Light manufacturing in a Fab Lab
One such area is that of high tech, small-scale fabrication, in which efficiencies of labour are approaching that of mass production, and resource use can be much more efficient, responsible and intelligent.  Another field with the potential to increase our “productivity” through intelligent design and interaction is Permaculture.  The mass production, industrial growth model requires compliant workers with narrow skill sets, whereas these new approaches celebrate our intelligence and creativity by asking us to connect to the big picture and learn numerous diverse, high-level skills.  We can get used to eating, growing and preparing locally suitable foods.  Products can be made so they are custom fitted to the end-users and suitable to the context in which they are produced and used.  In a neo-craftsmanship economy, our time can be spent engaging with the local, while connected to an open-source commons of design expertise and valuable, searchable ideas. Our connected world can enable us to live smarter, cleaner, healthier lives, but we must demand this of our technologies and build the skills, tools and networks to do the job.

A "homemade" tractor by Open Source Ecology
These rapidly developing approaches are full of promise for meaningful work where “our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need”.  I get very excited when I think about them because they help provide the means by which we can traverse the gap between where we are and where we need to be. Transition is looking more and more possible every day.

To quote Amory Lovins, ‘… a remark attributed to General Eisenhower: "If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it." That is, the reason you couldn't solve it wasn't that it wasn't small enough to be bite-sized, but rather the values were drawn so narrowly that it didn't encompass enough options, degrees of freedom and synergies to make it solvable.’  Here at Village Vancouver we have the opportunity to think in bigger terms, because we are working on transforming a large metropolitan area.  Finding the appropriate scale is important, because the fine, granular solutions are the material out of which the grand, integrative synergies can be made.

This Right Livelihood initiative is at the granular, bite-sized level, where our individual lives can move into transition, but to be intelligent and effective I believe we also need to be cognizant of the matrix that sustains us, with all its life, order, chaos, competition, flowing energies and interaction.  Thus, the individual challenge becomes a shared, connected response, and the job starts to look a lot more enjoyable.

The very first Right Livelihood Circle will be convened on April 11th from 7-9pm - please see the Event posting to RSVP and for more details.

Please also join the Right Livelihood Circle group page on the Village Vancouver website - part of the Economics and Livelihood network.