Tag Archives: community

Year of activism #27

Spent some time wandering around my local regional shopping centre yesterday. I haven’t visited more than a couple of times this year, which is not particularly COVID19 induced, it is more that I have not had a need to shop there or meet anyone there. Everytime I go I am struck by the energy of the place, lonely people wandering around to be in a place where they feel connected, families of Dads with their weekend access to their children stocking up on fast food credits to build favour with their kids; elderly people hooning around on their gophers; shop assistants doing all they can to smile and get a sale from customers who are really there to window shop. There is emptiness and fragility clinging in the air. I remember the main reason I don’t come often and that is it is not the kind of market place that draws me into the kind of community that will sustain me. Now I can see it is sustaining some of the people around me, but it is not for me. I notice all the plastics, the labels of Made in China, the disconnect of food from place, the eyes of children who seem to long for sunshine and impromptu surprises of adults who can co-create fun unenhanced by salt, sugar or technology.

It might sound like I am being judgemental and I am, I am judging the planners who thought enclosed malls were a good idea and the investors and shareholders who saw cash cows in retail laneways under one roof. I know that there are mini-communities hidden in these places – I have seen them too over the years. The group of walkers who meet and wander around to get their steps in together and then have a coffee at one of the chain coffee shops; the young shop assistants who befriend one another and have each others back when they take their first adventures into leaving home; the women in the clothing chain who have found a way to get the support they need for their fellow worker so she can leave her violent partner; the cleaners who get to laugh and talk in their first language and tell stories of their homeland. Yet, for me, these places are dying, they are signs of a used future, despite tiny attempts to bring a preferred future to birth with the red, yellow and green recycling receptacle choices in the food hall.

I love the market places that can be found outdoors or under tin roofs, and the shops that not subject to high rents and surrounded by acres of car parks. I love the places where the people where the people who work behind the counter live locally and can tell you the name of the place around the corner that sells what you are looking for. In this globally connected market, where online and fintech creates web-based shopping and community experiences, getting community to show up in the online economy and I noting down the cost of living in these spaces. Those words cost of living have been hanging in the air for me this week.

How about if we thought about the benefit of living? What if, we brought the benefits of living in a hyper local, hyper connected way to the fore and costed those into the experience of building community through our spend and economy? The cost of getting some products to market, literally can cost lives (think of the 1,134 Bangledeshi clothing workers killed in Dhaka in 2013), and the lives of other species (see the land clearing due to our chemical recipes for products as diverse as baby formula and toothpaste and impact on 10% of the planets reptiles, birds, mammals, insects). I am not sure where I am going with my thoughts on all this today, but I don’t think the meaning of life and I do think the cost of living is entombed in those western civilisation shopping malls. Finding measures for the benefits of living in ways that support and strengthen what it means to be alive, connected and knowingly held by our common efforts, however imperfect they might be will drive a new narrative. It might be recovering an old one too is going to be the best guide. Where community, economy and place were one, none of the dualism of retail and wholesale, home and away, us and them.

I have a sneaky suspicion that cost of (benefit) living market places might unite a number of activist threads – everything from banning single use plastic, to baby formulas made by local Mums, up-cycled and handmade garments circulating through and community co-op, online stores where the person you are buying from is someone you know or have met in your online community. I am wondering if the Sustainable Development Goals became as second nature to the planners, investors and marketeers we might all take a step closer to being in each others company and on this planet a little longer. Activating for impact one consumption at a time I guess is something the vegans and vegetarians have been doing for a while, I still have a long way to go, and think I will visit the mall once a month as a reminder for me to make better choices for the legacy I want to leave behind.

Year of Activism #10

This quote from Theodore Roosevelt rings very true for me this past week (forgive the lack of gender pronoun inclusivity as a sign of the times it was spoken):

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I went back to this quote after listening to the researcher Dr Brene Brown talks about shame and vulnerability and her own experience of stepping into the arena and coping with the consequences. I have been accused of a lot of things this week, being nice, not meeting expectations, failing to demonstrate rage, playing favourites. Keyboard warriors one and all as far as I can tell. In the mean time I have showed up and met with elected officials, debated long and hard with facts and evidence on how some changes can be made with high impact and low action, what levers can be used that will unify and get a result, held myself to account by using non-violent communication techniques, practicing adaptive leadership and trying to have some fidelity to Kahane‘s approach to collaborating with the enemy. I have had mixed results from my practice. It is very hard with the enemy is within, and speaks their own truth from their own arena. One of the reminders for the week is the need for times to withdraw, retreat and indeed cut off supply so that you can recover and stay in the arena you are being called to be in. Daring greatly is the quest to keep showing up in the arena, because as Roosevelt says its not the critic who counts.

While we need the critics to sharpen our senses, help steer a course even sometimes, they aren’t the ones who show up in the doing. The role of the critic maybe akin to the modern day medieval jester, substituting the rattle for a keyboard, ringing to draw attention to arrival and departure. How effective their power is deployed is determined by the amount of attention we pay to their bells and buzzing. Unlike the role of the fool in Shakespeare however not all modern day jesters speak the truth, they often amplify fake news and use their voices not as speaking truth to power or offering up a riddle to decode, they make noise to draw attention to themselves at the expense of the issue. Some of our most famous ones are in the media – think radio shock jocks and columnists, social media junkies.

As we are on the verge the largest shared responsibility action in human history, people choosing to stay home to help ‘flatten the curve’ of the COVID-19 are helping their neighbours, showing care and support acting to support one another and may lead to more community, more safety for all and have the surprising side effect of supporting the aged, infirmed and vulnerable. It maybe a time too for those jesters with microphones and keyboards to have deeper impact, so beware that in times of fear seeds of anxiety can rapidly be watered and grow into out of control weeds. Stay in the arena by connecting and having conversations, give yourself a break if you need to have one, cut of supply if it becomes toxic for you and use that time to regroup before you go back. I have been thinking about what I can do to support connectivity at this time for myself and others. I have decided to do three things: not going to the shops without asking at least one person if they need me to bring something to them, offering up a nightly zoom to anyone who might want to jump on and say hello to others and working from home. I also got a call about a project this morning that I think could be a game changer so stay tuned for that in a future post. This is a time for community strengthening because of social distancing, not in spite of it. The virus might spread community spirit and community responsibility and that may well be its gift to our times – it is bound to be helping out Gaia to take a breath! Such a paradox with so much potential.

The dynamics of a virtual arena are going to take us to new edges and unleash innovation, lets not count the critics contributions, instead notice and celebrate our leadership marred by dust and sweat and blood, and meet the cold and timid souls with warmth and courage. That seems to be the quest: to hold these tensions together without quite falling apart yourself.

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