I’ve not been keeping up with my intention to write about a different permaculture principle each month. In fact, it seems I last wrote about this in June. Which is quite a while ago.
I confess I’ve been putting this one off because I wasn’t entirely sure what to say. I’m still not, but I’m going to dive in anyway.
Here’s what I wrote about the first principle (observe and interact), the second (catch and store energy) and the third (obtain a yield).
Today I want to talk about the fourth principle, which is apply self-regulation and accept feedback.
The Permaculture Association says
‘this principle deals with the self-regulatory aspects of permaculture that limit or discourage inappropriate actions and behaviours‘
And the Permaculture Principles website says
‘we need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well’
Well, all this talk of ‘inappropriate activity’ makes me think of misbehaving in Sunday school (not that I ever did, of course – in fact I think I only ever went to Sunday school once). I think it’s partly this use of language that’s made me put off writing this post for so long, but the principle itself is helpful, so I’ll see how else I can put it.
The idea of self-regulation makes me think about the limits I put on my own behaviour, and where those limits have come from. I was taught as a child to be kind, not to take things that weren’t mine, and not to hit people. I carried these things through to adulthood, and they still regulate my behaviour now.
As I grew older, I added my own rules. For example, I don’t eat meat. I stopped at age 16 after reading horrible accounts of factory farming, and a year later I went vegan. I didn’t eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs for seven years, and then my perspective shifted slightly, and I found myself more comfortable with the idea of eating locally produced dairy than I was with flying soya beans half way round the world (not that you have to eat soya as a vegan, but still). Several years later, I’m reconsidering again. Do I have a problem with the very idea of eating animals, or is my issue with welfare standards? We have a local community farm which raises its own animals – could I get involved and eat chickens I’d helped to raise (and possibly even helped to slaughter)? These are big questions for me, and I’ll take a long time to think them through.
I have other rules that I mostly don’t talk or even think about, they’re just things I do. I avoid fast food chains, give to charity when I can, and buy most of my clothes in second hand shops. I’d rather use the library than buy a new book. I never work at weekends or in the evening. I’ll never buy a brand new car.
Some of these rules are underpinned by a deeper set of ethics, and this is what I tried to uncover last year when I wrote about my conscious living quest. Sometimes it’s about sustainability, and sometimes it’s more practical. Often it’s both – I don’t like to work full time, and that means limiting what I spend, but buying second hand things also fits with using fewer resources.
So I do regulate my own behaviour, and I think it’s important every now and again to sit down and think about why I do or don’t do certain things. For example I (mostly) don’t buy Nestle products because of the ancient boycott – until I searched just now I had no idea whether that boycott was still in force (it is).
This principle relies on your having some overall aims. But I’m not comfortable with the use of the word ‘inappropriate’, and I think ‘unhelpful’ is better in a personal context at least. So, for example, I want to work part time, so it’s unhelpful for me to develop a taste for expensive holidays and flashy cars – instead I make things myself and buy second hand. I want to be part of good things in my community, so it’s unhelpful for me to sit alone in front of the tv, complaining that nothing ever gets done round here – instead I do voluntary work and help to make things happen. I love my job and value the non-competitive environment I work in, so it’s unhelpful for me to be rude to my boss, or criticise my colleagues.
Other people might want the same things as me, but depending on their personal situation, the limits they put around their own behaviour might be different.
The other part of this principle is about accepting feedback – we reap what we sow. Or, to put it another way, you learn from your mistakes (or your triumphs, I suppose). We, for example, have put off painting our outside windows for so long that they were going rotten and the job is now taking forever. There’s a lesson in there, if we choose to learn it.
Feedback can be on a global scale. Jen at My Make Do and Mend Year has been talking about plastic waste. The ‘feedback’, in global terms, of our plastic consumption is rubbish-strewn oceans and dead sea birds. That’s not good – a sure sign that something is going wrong in the system.
Feedback can also be personal – paying attention to what you give out and what you get back. Are you being the sort of person you want to be? Is what you eat making you feel good (both right now and long term)? Are you comfortable with the way you spend your time? If you’re feeling tired, overworked, bloated, stressed, that’s feedback – a sign that something isn’t right. Accept it, and make some changes.
Of course feedback can be good too, and a sign that you’re doing things right. Today I’ve spent the afternoon at the community garden, sitting in the sunshine, eating raspberries and cake, and meeting some lovely new people, and it felt good. I’ll do more of that soon.
I started this post back in July, and struggled to finish it. Words like ‘self-regulation’ and ‘inappropriate activity’ leave me cold. But the idea of thinking about whether what I do is helpful to where I want to be – that I can understand and work with.
What about you? What limits do you put around your own behaviour? What things do you ‘just not do’, maybe without even remembering why? Do you stop and think sometimes about what’s working and what isn’t? I’d love to hear what you think.
I shall adopt your substitution of ‘unhelpful’ for inappropriate. I’ve always though inappropriate sounds imperious ~ the sort of thing someone would say looking over half glasses and pursing their lips.
I quite agree Pat!
You reminded me there of something – the “avoiding fast Food chains” – I’ve boycotted that place with the “golden arches” for years – a lot of Londoners vowed not to go there again after their involvement in the IRA bombings in the 1980’s was revealed. i wonder how many others who started out on the boycott have caved in since though? I never even think of it now – if I’m with friends who want to go there I simply go without, or find somewhere else to eat – I declined to buy coffee there for someone else recently – I think they were a bit flummoxed to be honest…!
Great post. I love how you have reflected on self regulation and considred the limits you have put on yourself. This is something I must try.
I am very comfortable with eating animals that have had a good life and believe eating wild animals is good as they have had a fair and natural life. I ferret for rabbits, shoot pigeons/pheasants and am known to not drive by fresh road kill; a hare, a deer and so on. Ideally I would love to stop eating supermarket meat altogether and rely on the meat I can kill myself or source from a farm where I know the animal has lived in a healthy, happy environment. I hope to make this change when we move to our new place in the country- it’s a fresh start and an opportunity to draw the line in the sand between us and the supermarket. If our new landlord lets us we hope to raise chickens too.
I really recommend just trying to raise chickens and aid the slaughter then eat, as you suggest, just to see how you feel about it before making firm decisions. For me, it feels natural and almost spiritual. Jenni x
Thanks for this, really interesting. I’ve struggled with this one as well – as you say, the language is a bit preachy. I have less trouble with the term ‘inappropriate behaviour’ on a large scale (eg countries generating too much CO2), but don’t like the sound of it applied to myself!! I’ve tried substituting the term ‘unsustainable’ – which I think works for the personal level as well.