During the past two years I’ve been privileged to facilitate a number of workshops and work individually with hundreds of people here in the U.S. and some from other places. As I hear their stories of awakening to the convergence of crises in which we live and will be living for many years, the most challenging and sometimes painful issue for people is not how to learn to grow gardens, store food, or re-skill for the future, but rather a very personal one regarding communicating with their loved ones about the future they envision.
I incessantly receive emails and requests for coaching in which individuals report painful conflicts with a partner, a child, or another loved one who is not open to talking or hearing about what James Howard Kunstler names “The Long Emergency.” These individuals are preparing for the collapse of industrial civilization, but their family member(s) refuses to discuss the issue, and as a result, tensions in these relationships become increasingly difficult to sustain or even tolerate.
As a result of the pervasiveness of this dilemma, I have decided to create a workshop specifically designed to help partners and family members address it with consciousness, clarity, and compassion. The intention is not to make anyone “right” or “wrong,” but rather, to enhance meaningful communication and intimacy. The late Irish poet, John O’Donohue said that, “Everything that happens to you has the potential to deepen you,” and I believe that everything that happens to partners or family members has the potential to deepen those relationships.
I happen to believe that conflict in all relationships is healthy, and I am wary of any which do not have some rough edges of disagreement or even worse, in which people boast that “we never fight.” It is through conflict that people find their own identity and autonomy in relationships, and without conflict, people may live out the charade of closeness, but intimacy profoundly eludes them.
A son or daughter may discover that his/her parents are preparing for the Long Emergency, but he/she is not in agreement. This predicament presents one set of challenges whereas another situation in which one spouse or partner is preparing, but the other is not, confronts the couple, and perhaps an entire family, with a very different kind of challenge. One is born into a family without choice, but one chooses a romantic partner consciously and intentionally. Generally when choosing a partner, one is drawn to a person whose future goals and life purpose resonate with one’s own. Two people often merge their lives because purpose and goals are compatible or complementary. But what happens when as a result of learning about the Long Emergency, one partner becomes focused on preparation while the other partner desires only to engage in meaningful work, maintain a nurturing and harmonious home, and peacefully grow old with their significant other?
My experience without exception is that when one partner is committed to preparation and the other is not, it is absolutely counter-productive for the committed partner to present ever more “rational”, “logical,” evidence for why his/her partner should listen up and get serious about the Long Emergency. Instead, it is crucial to address the emotional realities of the conflict. The legacy of the Enlightenment has inculcated in us the belief that if people just see the evidence, they will respond accordingly.
However, when we enter the domain of evidence for the collapse of industrial civilization, we are dealing with nothing less than emotional, social, and spiritual trauma.
If someone invites you to join them in visiting the severe combat injury unit of a veteran’s hospital or join them in serving hot meals to homeless people, but the trauma of engaging with the population you are likely to come in contact with feels overwhelming, no amount of books, articles, or documentaries will minimize the sense of feeling overwhelmed because engaging in these situations is not strictly, or perhaps even minimally, logical.
For countless reasons, some very intelligent and knowledgeable people cannot allow themselves to accept the reality of the Long Emergency. It feels too traumatic and therefore, overwhelming. This needs to be respected, not pathologized. Every human being has limitations about where she or he can go both internally and externally.
Not long ago, one woman who vigorously resisted my use of “the collapse of industrial civilization” told me the story of being in grade school in the 1950s and learning about nuclear war. Pamphlets were distributed to the class about nuclear radiation, and a movie depicting its horrors was shown. She was terrified by this and made a life-altering decision in the throes of the trauma in which she essentially told herself: I will never allow myself to become that scared again.
There is nothing “wrong” with this decision, but decisions made in childhood based on traumatic experiences need to be updated from time to time, otherwise, they do not serve us well and may impede our emotional development. Living out a decision made at 10 may not be appropriate at the age of 55.
So one of the starting points in a workshop addressing conflicts in a relationship is to explore the history of how the conflict arose in the relationship. Exploring this history isn’t about making anyone wrong or right, but getting clarity on how the people in conflict arrived where they are now.
It may also be useful to notice other issues in the relationship that play into this one. Does this issue in some way mirror another issue between the two of you? One partner or family member may have in the past felt that that the other is not emotionally available. Is the “new” Long Emergency issue somehow mirroring the older issue? One partner may feel intellectually inferior to the other, even if he/she is not, and suddenly hearing all the “facts” about a daunting future may open an old wound, even if the person presenting the facts has no intention of doing so. In any event, as a result of this conflict, both loved ones invariably feel alone with their emotions and possibly unseen and unheard.
What is more, a conflict in a relationship regarding the Long Emergency is not the same as a conflict over finances, infidelity, addictions, or a health crisis. It may be far more momentous than other conflicts. While other conflicts may be relevant, coming to a profound awareness of the Long Emergency is likely to be life-altering on a number of levels. Similar to, yet different from other issues, awareness and a commitment to preparation may impact where people decide to live, what kind of work they want or need to be doing, how they feel about their possessions, and how they perceive their life purpose going forward. A couple may have joined their lives because their life purposes were completely synchronous, but if one person is preparing for a dramatic upheaval in our world, and the other person is not, the life purposes of the two individuals may very quickly diverge.
Most importantly, a safe place for feeling, writing, and talking about the emotions involved in the conflict is absolutely necessary, and my intention is to provide this safe space in my workshops. I strongly encourage partners or family members experiencing conflicts around the Long Emergency to attend. Regardless of the choices family members may make in the future about their commitment to preparation, this workshop is an opportunity to be fully present with your loved one—to hear, feel, see, and respond to him or her from your heart, with honesty and compassion. It will also provide the opportunity to cognitively consider options for managing or even resolving the conflict.
For further information on “Relationships And The Long Emergency” workshops, [hkLink type=”slug” value=”contact-carolyn”]contact Carolyn[/hkLink]. Carolyn is also available for individual coaching on any issues related to the Long Emergency.