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Resiliency: Becoming an Adaptive Human


They say history is bound to repeat itself if we don’t take the time to learn from the past. Our decision-making skills are essential for survival but, for some, it’s difficult to connect the dots between the cause and effect of said decisions. However, in this day and age, it’s important to recognize our strengths, improve our weaknesses, and determine how resilient we actually are so we can react appropriately the next time we find ourselves in a tough situation. But first, we must understand how we got here to understand what we need to do to change.

The following is an excerpt from The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk. It has been adapted for the web.

The unsustainability of modern agriculture and society seems to stem from a poor understanding of cause and effect. Humanity’s various failings on both the individual and collective level can be traced back to this basic phenomenon: misunderstanding how one’s actions affect an outcome, or oftentimes, not recognizing that one’s actions have any effect on an outcome whatsoever. In evolutionary biology, this is called a maladaptive response. Acting in this way gets you booted out of the great wheel of life pretty quickly. The resilient homesteader is interested in the opposite: how do we fit in, respond to, adjust and adapt to constantly changing conditions? How do we do so with grace and joy? Indeed, should adaptation not be uniquely mastered by an animal as conscious as Homo sapiens?

What was once a steep slope has been transformed into terraced gardens of vegetables, perennial flowers, and fruit trees.

Understanding the mechanics of maladaptation is important to clearly navigate the terrain of adaptation. So what creates a disconnect between our understanding of cause and effect? This forms the basis of many lengthy philosophical discussions, but I will keep it very brief. How is one able to do x and ignore the fact that y results (e.g., defecate uphill of your water source, then get sick). Two reasons seem clear enough: The first is not recognizing that an action performed could actually have an effect on something seemingly unrelated (going to the bathroom and staying healthy). Notice the example here is to not touch a hot coal and get burned, because humans seem good enough at understanding very simple and immediate cause and effect, but we are particularly poor at grasping this process when there is a time delay or when the system contains complexity, such as when numerous agents are acting upon it. The second possibility is a lack of understanding of how the action in one sphere can affect a seemingly unrelated area—pooping on the ground and drinking water from a well.

How do we overcome these two tragic misunderstandings? The first seems easy enough: recognize that all actions incur a result, whether we understand the result or not. The world is connected—a web—and we cannot act in any way that does not affect this web. Basic stuff. The second is more challenging and involves a degree of observation, intuition, analysis, and critical thinking. It’s at the core of what it means to be a conscious being, to be human. It can be called critical thinking: reasoning a problem through in its entirety, design thinking, problem-solving, or systems thinking. Not that this is a simple undertaking, especially in today’s world of increasingly dulled, technofied minds. Cultivating systems-thinking humans, however, is not the focus of the book but I would encourage the reader to seek the many great resources existing on the subject including works by Fritjof Capra and Peter Senge among many others.

A self-reliant nation is built upon a citizenry living in resource-producing and relatively self-reliant communities. Self-reliant, tenable communities are composed of self-reliant households. And relatively self-reliant households are the basic building block of any culture that is viable over the long term without requiring war (stealing of resources) to sustain itself. No democratic civilization can last long if it is built upon a citizenry that consumes more than they produce; that’s debt and debt is inherently unsustainable and ultimately undemocratic. If our goal is a peaceful, just society, self-reliance at the home and community levels must be a central focus of our lives.

Are you resilient? How about we put your answer to the test, literally.

Now, we know that assessment is always an important, albeit imperfect, subjective, and incomplete tool.

In order to understand one’s skill in living a resilient lifestyle, Ben Falk developed the following assessment tool. This test is useful in identifying strong points—where one can help others most directly, and weak areas—where the lowest hanging fruit is. Developing skills as rapidly and thoroughly as possible requires that we focus on the weakest links in ourselves, which raises the function of the whole system most easily. Since we only have so much time and energy, being strategic with these precious resources is key.

The results of the test below should not be taken literally but as an indicator of patterns. As you go through the test, notice in what areas you are strongest and in what areas you are weakest. Think about how these strengths can help others around you. How can you share them? In what areas do you need someone else to learn from? Please note the value placed not on hard skills per se but on the aptitude to develop them when necessary. Also note that these skills, like Falk’s book itself, are specific to this lifestyle and setting—a rural cold-climate homestead in Vermont.

This test is useful in other contexts, but it must be modified accordingly. In that regard, think of the test as a template from which to make your own assessment tools.

Ranking (out of a possible 4,685 points)

4,000+: Likely adaptable to major change, likely an asset to any community, should likely be facilitating other      people’s learning and sharing skills and resources

3,000–3,999: Probably adaptable to changing conditions, a likely asset to most communities with much to share

2,000–2,999: Adaptive patterns to work from, positioned to become highly resilient

1,000–1,999: Some resilient tendencies to build on

0–999: Average American—a liability until major changes are undertaken

As with all tests, the breadth and depth of what can be measured by this evaluation is very limited. The point of this “test” is to help you identify areas in which you have sound skills and those areas that would be most strategic to work on.

Scoring your evaluation should be done in the following manner:

  1. Read the question, and think about how competent you are at the skill described.
  2. Mark a number corresponding with that competence. This gets subjective, but do your best. For instance, say the points available are 10 for the question of “Can you weld?” If you could probably cob together a poor weld because you’ve tried it once, mark 3 to 5. If you can do a satisfactory job with basic welding tools, mark a 10. If you can weld with an array of welding equipment very well, mark a 15.

The scoring should be done in a weighted manner, with a maximum of 50 percent more points possible than shown as a baseline for each skill area.

Recommended Reads

Lessons in Resilience: How to Plan a Successful Farm Business

What is a Community Food Forest?

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The Resilient Farm and Homestead

An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach


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