Thursday 31 December 2015

The spaces between us

One of the things I enjoy most about taking part in the Agents of Change project is the visual example that the spaces between us are those points or places where conversations can occur.

Agents of Change focuses on how imagination enables us to create the world around us.

In the words of Peter Gabriel:

Looking out on empty streets, all that she can see
Are the dreams all made solid, the dreams made real,
All of the buildings, all of the cars, were once just a dream
In somebody's head

(Lyrics from Mercy Street)

The world around us was imagined, shaped via thoughts which would later shape the realities we see around us.  These realities sometimes present as the only ways of being, but Agents of Change shows us how our own thoughts, words and conversations are able to evoke a connected and creative energy that helps us to re-view the world and ourselves, in order to shape new possibilities.

Our thoughts go from the inner world of thought, back out into the outer world of sharing, conversation with others and awareness of the environment, and back into the world of insight or reflection, forming a continuous and fluid process which brings new ideas to life.

But we stand on the beach, we become people in bright orange jackets.  The process creates a sense of equality, taking us out of our social and professional identities and often creating a sense of curiosity.  If members of the public approach us, we share our questions rather than try to provide any set answers.

This openness to sharing and equality has been a relief for me.  I've learned that by taking myself out of my professional identity, and the jargon or technical language which sometimes accompanied this, I've been able to form deeper and more open conversations with others.

I studied critical theory because I wanted to work towards a deeper sense of human rights.  This would eventually move into an awareness of the interconnected social and environmental ecology around us.  I was only able to do this, however, when I learned to listen, share and respond.  Before this, my professional language had often formed a barrier between what I wanted to say, and what was actually understood.  The problem with technical language is that in situations where people face difficulties and want them to be heard, expert language or technical knowledge often provides a painful barrier that blocks out those communities of people who most need to be heard.

I often used technical language when I felt most vulnerable, and wanted to be precise.  Through taking part in Agents of Change, I've learned that it is most helpful to listen, shaping new ways of seeing the world by participating in the conversations people share with me.  We have the language of poetry, an embodied language of thinking and feeling together, and the language of imagination, metaphor and possibility.  Our sense of togetherness, when sharing our questions or insights, means that we shape new ways of seeing the world, offering up different realities or possibilities, and exploring different ways of being.

By awakening a radical sense of imagination, I've learned that I no longer need to offer answers or re-frame the world in technical language.  Each person is able to speak and share what s/he believes in, and each person offers up new insight.  It's been helpful for me, because technical language, born out of an urge to be inclusive, often leaves others more excluded than before.

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Friday 25 December 2015

Radical Ecopsychology

Andy Fisher explores the need for a contextual Ecopsychology, focusing on the need to link self, society and environment, in the form of a triangle, with each aspect interconnecting with the other.

In his book, Radical Ecopsychology, Andy Fisher focuses on the pains of capitalism, which has left us disconnected from the natural environment, yet noticing that we are lacking the nourishment that deep connectedness to nature brings.  Capitalism leaves us hunting for what we lack in the form of products which will never satisfy us.  He asks that we return to the knowledge which shapes the nature cultures, searching for new ways of being with the world which go beyond western hierarchies, and the very individualist culture of western society.

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Agents of Change South Africa

Agents of Change is a social sculpture project created by James Reed in 2007 which explores how we might work towards a humane and environmentally sustainable future.  Thank you to Danny Attfield for making this lovely video.

Agents Of Change

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A Love Based Economy

Photo by James Reed, April 2010

I listened to Joseph Edozien speak of a love based economy at the Agents of Change Informal Symposium  at Stellenbosch University in 2010. His work is complex and multi-layered, like a work of art. It differs with each glance, with each new viewing.  Dr  Edozien asks that we stop for a moment and give some thought to the world around us. He asks us to reflect on what we see and to restore a human face to what has previously been perceived as a purely intellectual areana: that of the economy.

Love has sometimes been sentimentalised and very often commercialised in our modern society, often associated with red hearts or terrified movie characters. Love, too, has been associated with the hippie movement, with passivity. These associations do not gel well with a need to explore new economics. Dr Edozien ,uses 'love' in a manner which may be refered to as 'agape' or people love. He requests a return to the true valuing of humanity, and this is perhaps the message which I find most significant within his work. Very gently he calls upon 'us' to rethink where we have come from economically, and to carefully consider where we are headed. His call for 'us' to reflect is an open one, without accusation, identity politics or divides between 'us' and 'them', whoever 'they' may appear to be. 

Although he is open and gentle, his message is an urgent one. We cannot carry on blindly as part of a system which neglects or devalues a large percentage of the human population. We cannot carry on as a part of a system that teaches us that we are only as valuable as our next contribution, our next purchase or our next quest for credit, a system which leaves those who are employed stretched beyond their means, and those who are unemployed battling for healthcare, food or sanitation. A system which values oppulence, achievement and wealth over and above humanity brings grief, mental health difficulties and isolation of people from one another, from cultural and family support, and very often from a sense of dignity or respect.

Why do we carry on blindly? I would argue that western society has taught us that we are isolated beings, individuals who are capable of controlling our own lives, that being 'out of control' is seen to be a sign of inadequacy or failure. As a result, we learn to be competitive with friends, neighbours or co-workers. Dominance over our environment is seen to be an achievement. Movies teach us that one individual can save the day and we rely on proving ourselves in a world which we believe rewards hard work and effort. People who struggle are seen to be defficient, lazy or untalented. So we hide our struggles and are unaware that they are shared by many around us. Very often, individuals carry a burden of shame for systemic injustices or inadequacies. Depression rates are high in developed countries, and yet mental dis-ease carries a stigma. If only we could fit in, pull ourselves together, think positively, put in that little bit more effort, work harder, re-programme our thinking like a wonky computer, it would all be okay.

This focus on the individual allows systemic injustice to remain hidden. In a world which values rationality, mind has been given great value. Descartes argued “I think therefore I am.” and body became seen as a separate entity to mind. The physical realities of the world we live in have been cast aside and we are taught that we can reach our dreams through immagination, that we should not let other people stop us, that we should reach for goals which very often don't include other people. Yet despite all of this, humanity cannot be killed off. Beggars at traffic lights tug on our conscience. Poor people in the park begging for change make us feel helpless. What real difference can we make anyway? Intellectually we may argue that poor people should work harder, that beggars may be richer than us, that 'they' probably drink too much anyway, but the our 
feelings of dis-ease tell a different story.

When we feel dis-ease we can do many things. We can argue with ferocity that we are not to blame for the difficulties 'other' people face. If we do that, if 'other' people are not our problem, then perhaps we can feel better. Or we can question, which is what Dr Edozienurges us to do. We can use the feelings of anxiety or the struggles we have with day to day living to ask ourselves whether we really believe that we are comfortable with the way we live our lives? We can question whether we want to take responsibility for the anxiety we face on a day to day basis, or whether there could be another way. We can ask ourselves whether individuality really exists in isolation or whether we are also embodied, social and cultural beings who are more than just workers, professionals, men, women or people belonging to any one group. 

What does it mean to share, to talk and to ask questions? Very often, as groups of women once realised, we find that our fears and doubts are the same, that we are human, curious, angry or guilty together, that questions sometimes alternate answers to the ones we have always been taught, and that our neighbour can look after our children sometimes when we are exhausted, that we have different resources that we can share, and that we can support one another when we no longer need to feel superior or in control. 

Questioning, conversation and allowing doubts and insecurities to guide us towards new insights or answers is what Dr Edozien argues for. He does not argue for one ultimate solution but instead he argues for co-creation of new options, for the realisation that we are all in this together. Ultimately, Dr Edozien asks us to embrace the concept of 'ubuntu', the re-valuing of all humanity including our own. He asks that struggle be given a human face, and that we embrace our complete humanity instead of regarding ourselves to be logical and mechanical beings. He asks that we pause for a moment and give ourselves time to think about the world we see around us, not through somebody else's definition of who we are, not through our acquisitions or our achievements, but through our questions, or emotions and our connections to other people. He asks that we re-view the world around us and that we allow our own experiences to change the way we connect to 'other' people.

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