Sunday, December 25, 2011

On the possibilities of generating our realities

I've been reading some books lately about how managing people is mostly about designing processes. Design and processes. Edgar Schein, one of the organizational consultants I admire the most, speaks of this, and of how the structures we create have a profound impact on how we in turn behave.

Lately I've been wondering if in fact these structures don't inherently dictate the way we behave.

I have been feeling this acutely in regards to the frameworks I live in and their fusion with consumerism. I recently travelled to Europe and was struck by how airports are nothing more than large international shopping malls. And as someone who goes home for (and celebrates) Christmas, I have felt the intense crush of consumer madness all around me since stepping outside my door last week.

Travelling often accentuates, in stark tones and shades, what we struggle with during the rest of the year (see the post below on belonging for instance) - it is a steroid-esque picture of how our culture operates. It shows me what my culture values, what I hold dear, and how I express this to others (strangers and loved ones).

And this is where the structural elements come into play. How can I not be shaped by consumerism when I live in a small town built around strip malls and big box stores? When the entertainment offered comes from huge movie cinemas jam-packed with people watching the "pre-show" which consists of 30 minutes of commercials? When a holiday of togetherness is marked by that sense of panic trying to find the "perfect" gift that expresses the value I place on my relationships?

Every space seems to be turning into advertising for products - sites like the Fancy are virtual display cases for friends to share and exhibit the items that they want to buy, own, or just appreciate. It is overwhelming (to me, anyhow...) And I admit that I am a highly sensitive person with a difficulty ingesting so much....stuff. But I wonder how many other people feel similarly?

In saying this, I am not suggesting that championing well-made, interesting and local (or international) products is wrong. It is not a black and white issue - and I am not outside of the structures that reinforce how we think. But in this way of being, we miss out on much - how might we become generators as opposed to consumers of our realities, if we got into the habit?

There are some really great articles about teacher education and how teachers come to the class expecting to "get" taught, not create their own learnings together. Same with service-based populations - I come into situations thinking, "I am paying you x to offer me y" - We are accustomed to transactions as opposed to interactions. And not that every moment should be an interaction - at times, transactions make good sense, keep us from being overwhelmed and help us when we have little energy to give.

But what might it look like if we embraced structures that encouraged more interactions? An airport with a room where people from all over the world could go and exchange stories about what it's like to live where they do...and hear stories direct from someone with lived experience (think a mobile, living Wikipedia). Movie theatres that ran pre-shows of local videos and animations, governmental regulations on the % of space that can be commercial...

We have the capacity to create (and indeed constantly do create) these spaces in more ad-hoc, improvisational ways. I have had the blessing of experiencing shimmering moments full of connectivity and beauty without a designated anything or anyone. Yet without structural support, they take much more energy. These counter-cultural moments and spaces typically scrape by on little resources while facing the challenge of a system that attempts to co-opt or destroy their purposes and energy. This places a huge amount of stress on what I call interactional community experiences. I am grateful for, adore and profoundly admire each and every movement and person that risks being more-than, that risks being outside-of. Yet I want to live in a world where the structures that influence so much offer nourishment and become these very movements themselves.

I know, I know. I sound like an extremist (maybe) and definitely a ridiculous idealist - but it boggles my mind that dreaming up how we want to live together, being more mindful of the choices we make and the ways which we can create and play with one another - might be considered extremist. Well, if so, then I am an extremist, and happily so. The moments in my life that have felt the most precious have never come from the transactional side of things anyhow.

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