The Symbiotic Town is a series all about relationships. I’m wanting to explore our towns as though they were ecosystems that we are all a part of.
The people and services that we connect with in day to day life have a huge influence on the lifestyles that we build for ourselves. And these lifestyles have an enormous impact on our health and happiness, along with how we affect other people and the environment.
It’s our daily routine that sets the colour for our life. Habits that either add to or take away from our joy. And since we’re impacted so greatly by the way that everything functions around us, one of the ambitions of this series is to identify how we can form lifestyles that are filled more with happiness than dislike.
To begin this I’m going to zoom out so we can discuss the picture of society as a whole. The aim of this introduction is to illustrate how our pattern of society creates a disconnect, that contributes towards the failing health of ourselves and of the environment.
I like to take the details out, over simplify and break things down to their core to help us see them with fresh eyes. If any of this comes across a bit blunt, then that’s the reason. I’m generalising to give clarity.
I would describe our existing pattern of society as linear.
Accomplishing our daily goals can often mean going from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ to ‘C’ and back to ‘A’ again. Which in itself doesn’t seem like a problem. But as society grows, the points within our day have a tendency to get further apart.
If point ‘A’ is home, then growth means a larger area of houses. If point ‘B’ is the office, then growth means a larger area for offices, and so on. So what we see here is a trend for increased distance between each of our needs.
Our lives are very much detached from the needs of the people around us, yet despite our differences we all go about things in remarkably similar ways. I think it’s these two factors that see society expanding outwards in this pattern. I call it ‘linear’ because if we draw it out on a map, the places we make use of can be connected with just a handful of lines. Despite the vast distance it might cover, it’s a chain made of very few direct links.
A Distant Society –
Physically, emotionally and in our sense of responsibility.
The more life has spread out, the more strain it puts on our time.
There’s a rigidness to this system that cements us to the clock.
Over there is my office, and I’ll arrive at 9am. But first I must get the baby into child care.
We dart about from one point, heading to the next whilst panicking about being late to something several points down the line. In other words we can spend our day with our head up our arse. So much so that we can often arrive at our destination puzzled as to how we even got there.
If we’re this detached from our own experience, then we certainly can’t hope to feel like we’re belonging as part of a community.
A Life Among Strangers.
It goes without saying that when life is spread out across such great distance, a majority of the people within our days will be strangers. Sat next to one another in traffic, queuing together at the shops. There’s little opportunity to really get to know any of these people, and that often places a limit on how much we’re going to care. Not caring has nothing to do with being cruel, it’s just that we’re so used to relying on ourselves that another person on the street, well… we just don’t expect anything from them. At the very best they might offer a smile, but they could also hold us up, push past us abruptly or maybe something worse. We’re busy, so the tendency is to just keep clear.
The physical distance within our lives has led to us becoming more emotionally detached from one another, and it also has a similar impact on our connection to the stuff we use.
Where Does Everything Come From?
Every lifestyle needs a level of convenience. Our linear system provides this by separating each point with its label. We have zones set up for living, zones for working and zones for where we go to buy things. And each of these areas is supplied with the stuff we need from zones that are generally very far away. For the most part locations where food is produced and processed, and where things are manufactured, are set up at great distance from our daily activities. This can be important because there might be harmful and unpleasant procedures that take place there.
It’s a pattern that leaves us unaware and disconnected from the stuff we use. We generally know very little about the origin of the materials or the impact on the people involved. And it’s certainly not our fault that we don’t know this story either. Can you imagine going through your day and trying to research and wrap your head around the entire journey of everything you make use of?
The further and further things push apart though, the more challenging it is for society as a whole to feel any sense of responsibility to the origin of the stuff we use. There’s a reliance upon manufacturers and sellers to inform us of what we might want to know. But these distant and busy lives give great opportunity for the bits we might not want to hear to get hidden.
It shouldn’t be us as consumers that are having to question if a purchase makes us feel guilty.
If terrible practises such as child labour or poisoning of the environment were happening to people and places that we care about, then those issues would be taking incredible priority within our days.
But the current situation leaves us in a bit of a sticky spot. There is an increasing awareness that things aren’t quite right, but because of the great distance between everything, that awareness can actually just turn to guilt.
This is the true challenge of working towards change. Once we can see the problem, we take it on as our own stress. If nothing else alters around us then there’s quite a burden that comes with seeking to improve things.
There are many wonderful ways that are being explored for helping us to take better responsibility for the things we use, and a great many people who take enthusiasm to learning more about where it all comes from. Those are some of the details that we’ll be looking into later, both through this series and ‘Made With Passion’.
But for now I want to further explore how these issues are connected to that linear pattern of society, and how a greater interest in community could be a route to huge improvements. So let’s stay zoomed out in the bigger picture.
Independance – Time For A Re-think?
To be independent. It sounds like the optimum place to aspire to. Not burdening anyone with your needs and capable of looking after yourself. But if we give it some thought it may be this desire to function independently that gives us our linear pattern.
On the whole, we don’t grow our own food, and make our own clothes and single handedly build our houses. Even those at the extreme side of self sufficiency require others for companionship, for assistance and to learn from. We’re not designed to go at life alone.
It’s unlikely then that we could ever meet each one of our needs by ourselves. So our aspiration for independence is more of a desire to fulfil these hectic lifestyles in the most convenient manner. We’re not independent so much as detached from the people who we depend upon. People who make or deliver or serve certain functions that we always expect to be in place.
We could consider that communities have fallen apart because people have become too self-serving. But I think it’s more a case that we’re so tied up in these rat race routines, that we’re busy serving the ‘money machine’, more than ourselves.
One step towards detachment will always lead to another. The less we know one another, the less we value one another. And the less we value one another the less we trust one another.
There are times where that might even be considered a benefit. We’re just wanting so much to get on with our day that we’re pleased that everyone leaves us to it. But things can change for us. Say we get ill and need support, or our child is struggling within the school system, or maybe we retire. Such changes might make us realise that we’d like to be valued by the system we depend on, or get to know some of those around us.
“Symbiotic: living in symbiosis, or having an interdependent relationship.”
“Interdependent: mutually dependent; depending on each other.”
We’re Already Interdependent. So Why Not Make It A Choice?
It’s difficult on an individual level to find time to make change. The problems seem somewhat beyond what we could alter, and there’s a comfort in knowing that if we do as we’re doing things should just keep plodding on as we’re used to.
But that means staying interdependent on (i.e mutually depending upon) people that we don’t know, barely respect, and rarely care about. And those feelings go both ways.
I’m not going to detail any methods right now for how we might go about change, those are something we’ll discover together. But I would like to express just how much I feel that community can play a role.
Transforming The Pattern To A Web.
If we consider transforming our linear system into more of a web, we reverse the trend of spreading each of our needs over a greater distance.
A web introduces many more connections. It ensures there are multiple options for each need and that needs can be met closer to home.
A web is resilient. Break one link and it can still hold together strong.
It is the pattern of a localised community.
It gives opportunity for us to become familiar with the people we depend upon. It’s built with relationships that can lead to value and trust. And it can enable us to see how we each belong within the system that we’re living in.
If we consider that millions of people die every year from starvation, and at the same time over a billion tonnes of food is wasted, we can easily recognise that that problem is centered on distribution of food and wealth. In other words there is too great a distance, and too few links within the chain that might otherwise see items moved from an area of excess to areas of need.
That same problem of distribution surrounds us everyday on smaller scales. The resource may be food or goods, but it could just as importantly be time, knowledge or care.
We’re incredibly adaptable creatures, and that may well be one of our greatest strengths. But this ability to adapt allows us to get used to going about things in ways that don’t really work, or even make sense, and we just accept them as being normal.
Perhaps when things are seen with fresh eyes. When we can drop judgement on what we consider to be important. Then maybe the beneficial links can show themselves effortlessly.
A web finds value in everybody, and strength through our uniqueness. It appreciates you for who you are and unlike the ‘rat race’ it will encourage you to create the life that you really want to live. Perhaps a community can grow organically if many more of us are able to recognise that it’s what we want.
The Symbiotic Town. It’s a series for exploring the challenges and benefits of regenerating our community spirit. And delving into all relationships in our interdependent urban ecosystems. This will include the buildings, the services and Nature.
I’d love for you to join me.
Click here to get a better understanding of the Winglewood Series structure.
For another read, learn our ambitions to improve the health of our food supply in The Fantasy Fast Foods intro.