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What does it mean to regenerate?
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I'm reading
What does it mean to regenerate?
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What does it mean to regenerate?
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Articles
22 March 2022

What does it mean to regenerate?

Damon Gameau shares some of what it means to be part of a regenerative movement at this crucial point in history.

This story originally ran in issue #69 of Dumbo Feather

Discussed in this Story

James Stockdale was a United States vice admiral who was held captive for seven years through the Vietnam War. During this period, Stockdale was repeatedly tortured and given no reason to believe he would make it out alive. Yet, despite the grim reality of his circumstance, Stockdale found a way to survive by embracing the harshness of his situation with a balance of healthy and muscular optimism. His approach has come to be known as the Stockdale Paradox.

Our civilisation is increasingly becoming aware of its own grim reality. And yet, Since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, more than 3.3 trillion American dollars has been spent by the world’s wealthiest nations to expand fossil fuel extraction. Scientists have recently told us that we have breached our fifth out of nine planetary boundaries by adding 350,000 synthetic chemicals into the Earth’s delicate life-support systems. And the COVID-19 pandemic has not only highlighted the fragility of our global supply chains, it has also shown us how woefully inadequate our social media platforms are to facilitate collective sensemaking.

Yet, despite our troubling circumstances, the healthy and muscular optimism that keeps me going is a regeneration movement that is gaining traction around the world.

Regeneration is about bringing vitality and renewed growth to our communities and our ecosystems. It means putting life and connection at the centre of every decision we make.

Regeneration is the default mode of life: from the cells in our bodies to a forest after fire. “I am life that wills to live, amidst life that wills to live,” said philosopher and physician Albert Schweitzer. If our intention for this planet is sustainability, then regeneration is the active and inclusive process that can get us there.

Regeneration means connecting with your unique place by naming its trees and its birds, or understanding its Indigenous history. Regeneration means growing your own food in any soil you can find. Regeneration means less screen time and longer walks in nature.

It means regularly choosing public transport or not eating factory-farmed or forest-destroying meats.

It means choosing kindness in your treatment of others – seeing beyond the aggression of the words and, instead, seeing the desperate human need behind them.

Regeneration also means joining others in the repair or restoration of ecosystems.

It means finding courage to speak out on what matters to you and, crucially, it means interacting with people in your community to connect, share ideas and offer support. In a time of extraction, domination and division, a regenerative deed is a revolutionary act.

Our greatest strength in this moment, although harder to witness through our current social lens, is our humanity. While we search for silver-bullet technologies to many of our civilisational threats, we ignore the most potent technology we have: our hearts, our minds and our spirits. Despite our selfish traits, humans are predominantly co-operative. We are intensely social animals. We can change our society by establishing new norms and behaviours through the social cues we signal to each other, or the actions we take.

Those actions, coupled with the conversations we hold, the songs we write, the films we make or the stories we share online, all shape and create culture, and that culture then determines what thrives or dies. If humanity is a forest, then people are the seeds, and the culture is the soil: its health determines how we grow.

Since May 2020, I have been working on a film and impact campaign called Regenerating Australia. It is a vision of what can be achieved in this country by 2030 if we simply listened to the needs of our people. The process involved a four-month listening campaign with a diverse range of people who shared their hopes and dreams for the future.

The Australians I listened to want to feel safe, they want to feel good about themselves, they want authenticity, freedom and fairness. They also want green hills again, healthy habitats for wildlife, clean flowing rivers, action on climate change, amplified First Nations voices and more localised food, energy, income and democracy. They want regeneration.

Regeneration is deeply collaborative. It is a collaboration between a diversity of people and a diversity of plants, fungi, animals and bacteria. Regenerative design and development places humans within ecosystems, not above or separate from them. This is an understanding held by many long surviving Indigenous cultures. The author and theologian, Michael Dowd, looked at the common traits of sustainable Indigenous societies. He found that they all measured their wellbeing by the health of the living world around them; they all considered their actions with future generations in mind, and they cultivated sacred relationships with the natural world. “These are our relatives, not resources,” says Daniel R Wildcat, a Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma.

At a time when people are searching for meaning, when religion and materialism no longer satisfy in the ways they may have done previously, regeneration offers a way forward. What could be more meaningful than taking part in the regeneration of our planetary home?

Regeneration is a legacy action. When future societies look back on today, they will see that amidst the chaos, the extractive behaviours, the rapid extinction of species and the emerging nihilism, there were groups of people who unshackled themselves and, instead, chose to be regenerators – regenerative designers who planted the seeds for a thriving future society.

In the past six years, my family and I have “joined the regeneration” in a variety of ways, and it has brought more meaning and joy to our lives than we could have imagined. I now understand that whether we pull off the enormous task ahead of us or endure a more cataclysmic fate, either way humans will need to regenerate. The regeneration of our social systems and ecosystems is the only meaningful pathway we have left. It is the flicker of radical hope in Stockdale’s grim reality.

This story originally ran in issue #69 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #69 of Dumbo Feather

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