How does the exclamation, “It’s urgent!” land in your body? Does it bring up a panic response? Does it make you think you need to drop everything and attend to something? Is there time to think about alternatives, time to think things through?
What if, a very long time ago, many generations before you were born, something quite bad happened to your people and a trauma response was passed down through genes and wombs? A trauma response so strong that you, like your ancestors, have trouble distinguishing between matters that need attending to immediately, in this moment (because something really bad is going to happen within minutes if you don’t), and matters that require deep consideration and thoughtfulness because otherwise there will be bad consequences for a long time to come.
Spend a few moments on the differences:
- Something that needs attending to immediately or else something bad is going to happen within minutes
- Something that requires deep consideration and thoughtfulness or else bad consequences will unfold over a long period of time
A cultural pattern
Within the past year or so, Tema Okun’s White Supremacy Culture Patterns paper was brought to my attention. One of the 15 patterns (now 18!) listed is a “sense of urgency”. She cites failing to be democratic and inclusive, failing to consider long-term consequences as part of the characteristics of this pattern. Maybe you recognise this pattern in yourself, in colleagues, in family, in friends, in politicians, in organisations, in movements, in solutions being offered. An example: “Climate change is an emergency. We don’t have time to think about justice and racism. That will have to wait until we solve the climate crisis.”
Maybe you feel it in your body when you see the words “climate emergency” — a rush of energy, an increased heart rate. A desperate wish that something big, anything, will be done to solve our planet’s fever.
Something big. Anything.
This kind of narrative, these words, are frightening to many of us around the world. Anything? At whose sacrifice? These are topics we explore in my workshops on ecofascism. But what I wish to focus on in this essay is what makes us vulnerable to such narratives. This sense of urgency is one key.
Between January and July 2019, I was a trainer with Extinction Rebellion (XR) International (as it was called back then) and Extinction Rebellion UK. My job was to share with activists (called “rebels”) XR’s Principles and Values. One of them is “Reflect and Learn”.
Tema Okun gives a list of antidotes to each of the white supremacy culture patterns and reflecting and learning is a great counter to a sense of urgency. However, a tension arises between XR’s own Principle and Value and the first of its three demands, “Tell the Truth”:
Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
Using the words “emergency” and “urgency” make us vulnerable to not taking the time to check whether proposed actions/solutions are being framed within the same mindset that got us to these crises. They make us vulnerable to thinking inclusivity is about having a diverse group of people following our way of thinking. They make us vulnerable to following the thinking of another person/another group, without contributing our own critical thinking. (Note: I also run workshops on the cult dynamics in environmental movements… and everywhere.)
In fact, even in this essay, I am not offering you another way to talk about what is happening to the climate or to our ecosystems. I am not suggesting which words to use or not use.
My goal is for more reflection, more questioning. And the more we are aware of the white supremacy culture patterns through which we live and breathe, particularly in the West, the more we can start implementing the antidotes.