2023 Mycelium #20 Small

Big and small are real. I often challenge myself with the idea of how little can I do to make a difference? A drop, the essence, just a taste, a well-timed glance, a hint, a whiff – how small can something be to shift the conditions? What is the lightest touch possible to be useful? This translated in my Playback Theatre practice when I was learning to conduct players, just how little direction was needed to frame up a story – could I invite the storyteller to give their story a title and that bring all the elements of what they had shared together? When twitter first came on the scene using 140 characters to communicate was a beautiful constraint. I would regularly ask my facilitation clients to explain to me their situation by giving it the name of a book or movie before they started briefing me with pages of words. 

As a young social work student in the early 80s it was a relief to learn about systems theory via the structural family therapy work of Salvador Minuchin.  If one part of the systems changed then all parts would need to change to adapt, and so working on one piece would be an intervention to the whole system. The work of E.F. Schumacher blew my mind when I first read it in 90s (first published in 1973) as part of my masters program in economics and ethics – it made so much sense. A book called Small is Beautiful was a wonderful invitation to explore to sustainability, village size community for village based economics and the value or really the power of education. I have always believed that one person can make a difference and whole communities can be mobilized for systems change.

I am constantly reflecting about doing small things in big systems as interventions, in my role as Mayor. It is a big job, in a big council, with multiple intersecting systems, in complexity and with huge challenges. My practices and disciplines are in conversation with my imperfect self on a regular basis. The frame and exercise of small is a useful common sense restraint to bring me back to process most days.

Just a drop of this and a trace of that, feels like a recipe for an alchemist. I am encouraged by advice from a nearly eight year old who tells me that a splash of the potion of healing is a lesson from Minecraft to deal with an Ender Dragon who is bent on destruction, however regeneration is the one proven method when under that kind of attack in the online world. To regenerate, is to renew, replace, restore damaged of missing cells, tissues, organs, maybe even whole body parts to bring back full functionality. I have a feeling in my world, that starts small, one little cell, one idea, one step at a time. The repair job feels big, but I do take encouragement from the Repair Café I was at yesterday that a stitch, some glue, a clamp, a new fuse, can bring new life. One of the conversations I had with a volunteer at the Cafe was all about the problems of closed systems, when you can’t even take the back off a machine to check what’s not working as it was designed for disposal. Such a travesty.

The right to repair feels very connected to this idea of small and its relationship to big. It is certainly a feature of mycelium, tiny threads attaching deeply, creating labyrinths of connectivity, inviting tiny acts of generosity and compassion as levers to apply in big systems.

Happy 1st Birthday to the Aberfoyle Park Repair Cafe. If you look closely you will see tiny sewing machine and hammer and needle chocolates.

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