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Walking On Two Legs: Co-Creating Sustainable Communities

Updated on October 24, 2012

Fighting FOR Sustainable Communities

“Those who do not create

the future they want must endure

the future they get.”

— Draper L. Kaufman, Jr.

A New Rebellion

I recently read The Ecology of A Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray. It's an engaging story by a woman who grew up in a rural junkyard in Georgia, USA. Janisse tells how she rose above stacks of old tires, rusting car hulks, and her "cracker" (poor, white, rural, uneducated) heritage.

In spite of that heritage, Janisse developed a life-long passion to save the Longleaf Pine ecosystem that once blanketed the US South. As well as the story of her life, her book is a call for a “new rebellion,” a plea to defend the remaining patches of old growth pine, what Ray calls the “real forest.”

“(T)he time has come,” she says, “to fight.”

But Janisse is a novelist, a poet—a creator. She sees not just what is, and despairs. She sees what could be, and asks, “Why not?” The most interesting aspect of the book, to me, is her he plea to Southerners to fight, not just against the forces of destruction, but for the natural heritage they all share.

“In the new rebellion,” she says, “we stand together, black and white, urbanite and farmer, workers all … willing to fight for the birthright of our children’s children and their children’s children, to be of a place in all ways, for all time. … The whippoorwill is calling from the edge.”

Walking on Two Legs

Ghandi promoted a 2-legged approach.
Ghandi promoted a 2-legged approach.

Walking On Two Legs

I like Janisse's two-pronged approach: fighting to resist what is harmful, and fighting to create what truly matters—a healthy forest ecosytem. It reminds me of the community change-making approach that Mahatma Ghandi called “walking on two legs.”

In the Ghandian tradition of nonviolent action,one leg involves noncooperation to resist obstructions to change. The other leg involves constructing an alternative society—creating a desired future. To create the community (or nation) you truly want, it is not enough to hop about on one leg. You need to walk on both legs.

Also, as Einstein pointed out, "The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them."

Fighting, and the thinking that underlies fighting, got us into the ecological mess that now threatens our land, air, water, and even our climate and economy. (Ecology and economy come from the same Greek stem, oikos, meaning "household.")

Since the first Europeans landed in the Americas (and elsewher) they/we have waged a war against wild, untamed nature. It was, and is a war of conquest. It’s also a fight between those with money and power and those who love the land and value the systems of life that sustain all health, wealth, and well being.

But, history shows that fighting solves little. What we merely resist, persists.

Fighting is a form of problem solving, an extreme form of reacting or responding to unwanted circumstances. Fighting is not sustainable, because it is driven primarily by fear, hate, and anger—emotions that ebb and flow. Fighting depletes energy, and depresses people. People despair, burn out, and give up. Even if you win, you usually merely get rid of a problem, and often only temporarily. You do not get what you truly do want. Worse you often end up with bigger problems.

Although sometimes necessary, fighting and other forms of problem solving, by themselves, are strategies in which everyone can lose. To create what we DO want in our communities, and world, we need to go beyond fighting against what we don't like and don't want. We need to adopt Ghandi's approach to walking on two legs.

A Paradise Worth Saving

Excessive Compassion Involving Tea?

89 Year Old Protestor Arrested!
89 Year Old Protestor Arrested!

From One Legged to Two Legged Walking: A Local Example

I used to live on Saltspring Island, a small island off Vancouver Island, BC. A few years before I moved away, the Texada Land Company purchased one-tenth of the island, mostly forested land. They planned to clear-cut it, develop it, and sell lots to the highest bidders. Such a plan, if completed, would radically alter the ecological and social integrity of the island. Activists immediately sprung into action, organizing protests, demonstrations, and fighting back against the development company.

One day, protesters stopped a logging truck in the center of town. A slight woman (a single mother of two) slid under the truck and locked herself to an axle. In response, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) directed an intimidating show of force against citizens supporting and witnessing the protest. It appeared as though the Mounties sided with money and power over concerned citizens.

When, for example, two loggers scooped handfuls of mud and stones off the truck chassis, and dropped them on to the woman under it, the police did nothing. On-lookers, incensed by this cowardly, criminal act, shouted at the loggers to stop. Instead, they made a game of dropping more mud and stones on the woman's face. As the crowd swelled, the shouts grew louder. Finally, an RCMP member asked the men to move away. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, though, the mud-droppers walked freely within the police tapes, laughing, chatting, drinking coffee with RCMP, and taunting the crowd of onlookers and protestors. When asked why they were allowed that freedom, a senior RCMP member replied, “Because it’s their truck.”

A couple of hours into standoff, two caring citizens tried to give the woman under the truck something to drink. One was arrested. The other was “detained,” and questioned. (Perhaps the charge was excessive compassion involving hot tea.)

Angry demands from the now-substantial crowd to release the men resulted in the deployment of a “quick response” squad. Flown in earlier from Vancouver Island, they were clad in black, military-like uniforms and jackboots. Carrying sidearms, tear-gas, and pepper spray, they jogged out in lockstep from behind a building, and quickly deployed around the truck. Men and women dressed more like Nazi storm troopers than red-coated Disney dolls glared angrily at citizens who lit candles, sang softly, and tried to explain this heavy-handed reaction to their children.

Beyond Problem Solving: "Creating" As A Second Leg

Yes, that afternoon and evening, it felt like a war—a fight between good and evil. But, in such problematic circumstances, if all we do is fight, we will surely lose. As Einstein cautioned, to get beyond such difficulites, we need a different kind thinking.

“There is,” says Robert Fritz, “a profound difference between problem solving and creating. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away—the problem. Creating is taking action to have something come into being—the creation.”

Creating is the second leg. It is sustainable. It is driven by passion, love—the desire to bring what we love into being. Creating deeply-desired results generates confidence. It builds momentum. And action increases energy for more action.

Creating includes, but goes beyond, problem solving. It provides a structure—an organizing framework for action—that can include yet transcend resistance. Creators learn. They invent, innovate, and develop new processes and strategies. Creating makes possible what, in a reactive, problem-focused stance, seems impossible.

In a two legged, creating approach, we would not only resist the money-grubbing Texadas of the world. We would also envision and take action to bring into being the kind and quality of community and environment we most want to live in.

We would give time, money, energy and other support to help acquire and conserve park and farmland. We would support sustainable forestry and agricultural cooperatives that ensure jobs, and food security. We would join Food Coops and Community Agricultural programs that link local food producers with local customers. We would support merchants and service providers who support a sustainable approach. We would share our enthusiasms with friends, associates, other churchgoers, and in kitchen-table discussions across our community. Together we would envision and co-create the community loved, and wanted to see exist.

That's what many of us islanders knew we had to do!

The Island: Walking On Two Legs

Like Janisse Ray and those who love the Longleaf forests of the South, those of us who loved the Douglas fir woodlands, Arbutus groves, and Garry Oak meadows of our endangered Saltspring knew we had to take create an approach to retain and preserve what we had.

As well as resist those who focused merely on “the money, the money!” we needed to take action for our natural heritage, for the integrity of the land we loved, and for the birthright of our children, and their children’s children.

Texada we knew was not just “an issue,” a problem that we "had to" solve. More “issues” would surely pop up as the island grew, and developed. Fighting issues one by one is a reactive, problem-solving approach. It would divide us, burn us out, and eventually defeat us. We also knew that the alternative, creating a livable community and a sustainable ecologic and economic base was not just a quick-fix reaction. It was, as David Suzuki recently remarked, the work of a lifetime.

The group we gathered together included much more than fighters and protestors. It included visionaries and creative minds, artists and professionals. In a two-legged approach, we not only opposed the logging and development plan, we created an alternative vision, and plan to implement it. In public meetings, slide shows, and full page newspaper ads, we showed how important the Texada lands were to the future of Saltspring. Then we mapped out a strategy to show how the land could be saved, and used in service of the community, and Life itself.

It worked. People "got" the vision, and signed on to support it. We raised millions of dollars from private and public sources to buy back the land for the parks, working forests, organic farms, and appropriate development that that we'd envisioned. We took action to create and sustain our children’s children’s birthright.

In the end, for the developers, it was all about the money. After clearcutting a few small areas, and seeing the opposition arrayed against them, they took the money we offered, and left. The logged land has since been reclaimed. Much of what was not logged has been turned into linked parks. A green and sustainable "mixed use" residential community is planned for a suitable spot near one of the bays. The integrity of the community was restored. A new future came into being.

The real success that came from walking on two legs was not saving the land, and creating thousands of acres of parkland, and sustainable living areas. We created a stronger community, a resilient community. We created a community that feels empowered to take care of itself, it's people, and it's precious natural resources.

In any community—rural or urban—the people: farmers and pharmacists, loggers and librarians, retailers, realtors, B&B operators, teachers, artists, musicians, retirees, boat builders, young people, … all of them, together, have power. Together, they can co-create the healthy neighborhoods, pristine lakes, healthy forests, fish-filled streams, healthy, toxic-free food, and the prosperous local economies we all so deeply long for—in harmony with the ecological systems that sustain us all.

Co-creating brings people together. It changes the way they and their community live, love, and lead their lives. It changes they way they grow. Unlike the polarizing response of the police or protestors, a two-legged, co-creating approach can build bridges between adversaries, and bring harmony to a divided community.

Saltspring did it. Curitiba, Brazil is doing it. Janisse Ray is making progress in Georgia. Walking on two legs, and co-creating together, a community can preserve and enhance the natural systems on which all its health, wealth, and well being depended—and create the community they'd most love to live in.

If not us, who? If not now, when?


Bruce Elkin wrote Simplicity and Success: Creating the Life You Long For and the free ebook THRIVE! Creating What Matters In Challenging Times—And Beyond. It's free. Get yours at:

Enjoyed this Hub? Please give me "Thumbs Up!" below. And "Share It!" with others on Facebook, Digg, StumbleOn, etc… Thank you!

Walking On Two Legs: Still Trying to Save the Land!

Reading About Walking On Two Legs


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    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Great point, William. The best process, IMO, for anticipating needs is the creating process. Thinking about what we truly want, and taking action to bring it into being. It works much better than trying to solve problems, for numerous reasons. Thanks for dropping by!

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Wonderful hub, Bruce, and thanks for the link to Mahatma Gandhi, whom I've always greatly admired. You are exactly right about the two-step; it's important to fight against what is wrong, but it is equally important to move toward a solution to the problem. I would only hope that, more often, we would anticipate needs instead of reacting to problems -- sometimes when it may be too late.

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Hey, thanks, Tom. I appreciate the support. I liked this one, too. Cheers!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 9 years ago from United States

      I meant to comment on this before. Great article. I have referred back to it again and again.

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Glad to hear it!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      I did, nothing ever offends me (-:

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Oops! I mis-spelled. I meant "cute" kid. I hope you read it that way. Me, bad! He is very cute!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      He's OK, but I couldn't eat a whole one.

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks for the feedback and support LondonGirl. Cut kid! Cheers!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      fantastic hub - I really enjoyed it, thank you!

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      You're welcome tony. And thanks for your comment. You hit it right on that head that we're all connected. Us, all other people, and all the systems of life on which we depend for our health, wealth, and well being. We forget that we are part of the environment, and whatever we do to it, we do to ourselves. Peace!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 9 years ago from South Africa

      What a great Hub! Thanks so much Bruce! The concept of walking on two legs is so important and I am a great fan of the Mahatma. We really need to have a holistic view and vision of how to interact with each other and this beautiful world we live in so that we do no harm to either.

      We are all connected and without each other we die. And without respect and love we die also.

      So thanks again for the timeloy reminder!

      Love and peace,


    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Well that's a deal...but it has been growing way too been here lately?

      ssshhhh is right...smiles G-Ma

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Yeah, When I'm walking along the cliffs by the Strait, I can see the spit, almost see Sequim itself. I'll wave back. Lovely country over there, and here too. Let's not tell anybody. Shssh!

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Woweee we are practically neighbors...Live in Sequim...loving it...G-ma :o) Hugs (I will wave at you next time)... & Peace

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      The Olympic Penninsula? In the WA, USA? I know it well. Spent a lot of time in Pt Townsend and on Marrowstone Island. I live in Victoria, BC, across the Strait.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Believe me I do and most of our restaurants do too...It is so nice to have locally owned family places that serve mostly all organic foods...I live on a penisula in the far NW...we have the open aire markets and Live breads made locally...even an organic farmer that will deliver to a price..but many elderly living here so is very needed...:o) Hugs G-Ma

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks, G-Ma. I appreciate your support. And it's good to know that you're on a better track, with organic farmers and recycling. I hope y'all support them. It's so important now to buy locally. Where I live, for example, local farmers used to provide 70% of our food. Now they only supply about 15%. And our supermarkets only have about 3 days worth of food on hand. If our ferry's stopped running for a week, we'd be might hungry. So support local farms and farmers. ;-)

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Very well done and here where I live we have gone through much the same sort of thing...Maybe we got the ideas from you...I don't know but we are on a better track right now...though we have the money mongers still buying lands from farmers.(and they don't even live here) so they destroy our views our waters our fishing...well there are many things that apply to that though...

      We have now 5-6 local organic farmers...have saved many,many trees and have a replenshing plantings..for every tree cut they must plant 2...recycling is top priority now... where we used to be burning whatever we wanted...we have a strong team from our capital in the state working very hard to protect our waters and grounds and there are a lot of people that do care and try very hard...

      Thank you for your hub and hope many read it...G-Ma :o) Hugs & Peace

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Just got the email notice about your comment. Again, thanks. And you're dead right about what people can do with a clearly defined mission or vision. I work with folks every day who can't figure out why their actions don't work. But when they clarify their vision, their goals, the results they want to create -- and then do the same actions -- they work! Amazing! Thanks for your support, Joe. I appreciate it.

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Jeez, Joe, thanks! I hadn't even finished putting that one up - and here's your comment. Much appreciated!

    • rockinjoe profile image

      Joseph Addams 9 years ago from Standing right behind you!

      Isn't it amazing what people can do with a clearly defined misson? Your hubs go much deeper than reciting an interesting tale. There's always a lesson involved and I always try to take something from your writings.

      Bravo on another hub well done, Bruce!


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