So, I fell into a trap of my own making. Last week I wrote that top-down prescriptive approaches to decolonisation are replicating the same kind of thinking that caused them – you know, the ones where they tell you what to do. And then I told you what to do instead. It’s so obvious, and yet somebody had to point this out to me. Reminds me that I constantly need to check the patterns I am perpetuating through my own behaviour. They are often hard to spot as they are so built-in. So normal. Just ‘the way we do things.’
If I want to see changes in the world, I look at how I myself am part of the patterns and relationships that shape the current situation and what I could do to shift my position (not ‘change the system’). By paying attention to my own patterns of acting, I shift my perception so I can pick up these traps earlier and possibly act in different ways. I shift my ‘normal’.
This is difficult. It can be supported by putting different people’s stories side-by-side so we can shift each other’s perception, as we do in Warm Data Labs and online People Need People sessions. These spaces bring people together to talk about questions like ‘What is home in a changing world?’ or ‘What are you tending?’ They also provide different contexts as possible lenses how the questions can be framed like family, ecology, economy, technology, etc. – yet there are always multiple contexts present that intersect, as our world is transcontextual. Different contexts, different questions, different people, all weaving together so patterns lie on patterns, creating new moirés patterns. Listening to other people’s stories allows your story to be shaped by other stories in a continuous stream of lives being woven together and shaping each other.
I think that’s where our agency lies. Firstly in being aware of my own patterns of perception and action, but then also in weaving my story with other people’s stories. By showing up, listening, and sharing, other people can see my story side by side with their story and yet other stories – and they see the gaps between the stories that can then be filled with new ideas.
The intention in Warm Data spaces is not to define what is being talked about, but to create a space which changes the possibility of what can be said, possibly enabling the people in the space to experience themselves and their connection to the world in new ways, shifting how it is possible for them to be in the world and eventually what it is possible for them to do. Hosting a Warm Data Lab is a communication that changes what can be communicated and with that shifts pattern in unforeseeable, often subtle and slowly unfolding ways.
Just bringing people together to talk may sound fluffy. And yet the ideas Warm Data builds on are quite rigorously thought through. There is a boatload of theory behind the seemingly simple practice. So much that I am myself still trying to better understand it. The theory behind Warm Data bridges domains, brings together the natural sciences with social sciences like anthropology or psychiatry. And, at the same time, Warm Data weaves into stories that are told by elders of indigenous peoples and stories of wisdom that is grounded in generations of lived experiences.
And yet, being aware of all of that, I will still be falling into traps, often. Some of them I make myself, others are made by society. Misguided by my own stories on how things are that I have grown up with, which I often don’t even really recognise. My journey continues to uncover how I can shift my own possibilities of what I can seen and what can be communicated. And it is not a journey with an end, it’s a journey called life.
This is an excerpt from a book chapter a friend recently sent me. The chapter is called Beyond the individual self: regenerating ourselves (Esteva and Prakash 1998)
Our journey into the dis-memberment of modern men, women and children begins with the least understood aspect of contemporary life: the dehumanization of the most basic human act – the communal breaking of bread. “Consumers” – educated by Ralph Nader, Frances Moore Lapp & or the other watch-dog groups proliferating today to raise public awareness about “health,” “physical fitness” and “good nutrition” have already been exposed to millions of pages of newsprint, revealing the social and environmental violence perpetrated not only by “fast food” but by the entire agri-business empire that lures and traps industrial caters with promises of ease, speed, convenience and slender “health.” Their struggles to have labels for calories, salt, fat and preservatives or other improvements in “consumer awareness” are moving ahead in conjunction with other environmentalisms (analyzing the comparative recyclability or decompositional quality of tetrapak vs styrafoam, or sixties-style campaigns for global justice that measure how many bowls of grain can be fed to the starving billions in exchange for one T-bone steak). Leaving to others to “manage” these campaigns for “health,” “environmental education,” “low-fat diets,” “recycling vs incineration” and other “public interest problems” created by industrial eating, we shift our attention towards concerns cultural and agri (soil) -cultural; to ethnos and identity.
Why have I added this to my Paper Museum? It is an eloquent example that shows that in many discussions we are not digging deep enough. We are trying to solve problems on a very superficial level, like making food more healthy (or even just raising consumer awareness) but keeping the system industrial and “convenient.” Or making packaging more environmentally friendly while insisting that everything needs to be packed separately and in a way so it does not go off. But aren’t the actual reasons that we are in the mess we are much deeper? Aren’t they located in our inability to connect with each other as human beings in ‘communion’ – and with the whole of nature as part of it?
Reference: Esteva, Gustavo, and Madhu Suri Prakash. 1998. Grassroots Post-Modernism: Remaking the Soil of Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan.
Old rabbit traps in the farm shed taken by Sue Robson. From Flickr. (Source)