Change

(I wrote this a few months ago, and am finally posting it. It still seems relevant today).

Change is scary. No doubt.

The world is headed towards major change, or so many people think. I regularly read several websites that talk about these changes, such as The Oil Drum, and iTulip. The mood on those sites has grown dark. The sites come from very different perspectives – iTulip from the macro-economic-political view, and The Oil Drum from a resource (mainly oil) point of view. Yet they seem to converge on the same conclusion: we are now past the peak of our wealth/opulence/lifestyles, for some time to come (or, according to the pessimists, forever). The recent major failures in monetary systems are taken as signs of systemic problems that indicate we as a society and species have been living beyond our means, both financially and resource-wise.

It gets worse. Visions of chaos, riots, political upheaval, and war are often brought out. At minimum, the specter of drastically declining lifestyles is brought up, or worse, of wealth destroyed.

It’s easy to get lost in depressive visions of possible outcomes and futures.

But, for those of us doing that, it is important to step back and have some perspective.

What else is new? That cliché applies to all of the change we seeing around us. Our period in history was nearly unprecedented in its lack of major war, high degree of globalism, and so much wealth distributed so widely*. There is no time in history that 30 years of adult work would generate enough wealth to support someone through a work-free retirement, except recent history.

So if the pessimists are right, wealth-wise we are simply returning to “normal”. I’m no happier than anyone else about loosing the ability to access the wealth for a nice retirement – but the skeptic in me long ago said that day would never come anyway.

Loss of wealth is scary. Just as is loss of health, loss of a loved one, or any major change. War and political upheaval are scary too.

But I do not have much control over those things. I do have some control over my own life, and how I interact with the changes.

For years, I’ve felt change was coming, in my gut. At times it was sickening. So I’ve done things to prepare, like learning to live with less. One view is: hey, if we’re going to loose our wealth tomorrow, why not enjoy it to the maximum today, and party it up?

My own view is rather than partying until the end and then crashing suddenly into unplanned misfortune, I’d prefer to gently ease myself into the change. My purchase of an Xtracycle was one of the many steps taken in that direction. I am learning to live without using a car very often, even though I still own one. I keep extending the range of use of my bike, helped by newer battery technologies and electric assist. And also helped by my enjoyment of riding the bike.

That’s the thing of it. I am enjoying not using the car, except for an occasional longer trip. The bike is really fun. But wait, wasn’t I saying above that change is scary? Now I am saying that I’m having fun with it. How can this contradiction be explained?

As I’ve mentioned before, biking is more connected with my environment, it is slower, more relaxing, more enjoyable. This is a clear case where, for me, the wealth represented by an automobile does not bring happiness, but quite the opposite.

Today in USA Today (10/20/08), there was an article, “Lower Gas Prices come as a relief“. With the lower gas prices recently, it states: “… motorists are no longer facing the kind of gas prices that had forced them to eat out less, avoid travel, and bike to work.” As if biking to work was a real hardship! Ouch.

This goes to point out that the pain of change all depends on how one responds to that change. If, say, gas prices go to $10 in the future, that change will have only a moderate effect on me (mostly in food prices), because I don’t depend on gas for my day-to-day activities any longer. I enjoy biking, and I have at least some insulation from future drastic change. My remaining car trips are mostly discretionary, and can be cut if necessary.

The same is true of things like eating locally produced food. If one develops relationships with local farms, e.g. through a CSA membership, then if gas prices go through the roof, or if other upheavals occur, one will be more insulated to change than those dependent on groceries shipped cross country. In my own experience, doing this has many other rewards, such as getting to know the people that produce my food, visiting the farmer’s market regularly, and knowing that my food is grown without supporting a big agribusiness. If, in the future, I have to ride my electric-Xtracycle 30 miles to the farm to pick up my food, I can see it as a pleasant outing rather than ordeal (especially if less fast moving SUV’s are on the road).

Change does not have to be painful. There may be regions of the globe where change results in very negative occurrences, such as dictatorship, war, famine, etc. Other places change could simply result in downshifting of standards of living**. Regardless, one can either choose to be happy and enjoy what they have, or to be sad and glum about what was lost and how things used to be. I think that the first step in being happy with change is being prepared for it, mentally if not physically. And then focusing on what one has, rather than what one doesn’t have.

I am very happy to have my health (helped by regular bicycling), have food (transported by bicycle to my home), have shelter, have transportation (by bicycle), and have the opportunity to work on things that are interesting to me.

This results in a mostly positive outlook for whatever may come. That is not a positive outlook about the external circumstances, but about my own ability to deal with whatever those circumstances are.

Biking is a change that doesn’t have to be a hardship, despite what the mainstream media may say about it. We have a lot of customers who write to us, telling us what great enjoyment they get out of riding their bikes. We have people who couldn’t ride a regular bike due to a disability, but now can with an electric assist, and really enjoy it. One such customer recently had a little glitch with her bike, and while we had it in our shop, she called every day to find out how the repair was going — she missed her bike!

It is my hope that as the change becomes more apparent, more people will discover ways to cope with the change that don’t involve desperate lashing out into war or riots or whatever, in hopes of maintaining what used to be. I hope more people will find biking as a way to lessen environmental impacts, oil dependency, and health problems that are associated with automobile use.

This is the core mission of Cycle 9 – these are our values.

* Not widely enough, but moreso than any period in history.

**Scientific studies have confirmed the following relationship between wealth and happiness:
1. Being very poor, such that one can’t afford food and clothing, makes people unhappy

2. Being very rich, such that one can afford any material luxury, also makes people somewhat unhappy (not as unhappy as #1, though)

3. Being of moderate means – enough to afford food, shelter, and clothing, but not a lot of extra – makes people the happiest.

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