“Some people who came in just for a moment were all there, completely in that moment.”*
What an incredible thing it would be if it were possible for people to fully turn up in their lives. There’s nothing in the world or universe that dictates otherwise, it’s only what we have created as orders and patterns and cultures and societies that prevent it.
And, if we want to, we can create better ones.
Waste is a part of our human stories. It’s something only humans have managed to create. It has a life all of its own:
‘Waste is the antiproperty that becomes the possession of losers. It is the emblem of the untitled.’**
Waste and leftovers. Who wants to be at the end of queue? Unfortunately, there isn’t too much of a jump in human thinking between waste as material and waste as people.
In his book Helping, Edgar Schein identies three forms of helping: informal – when we just get on and help each other, semi-formal – when we go to people with skills, and, formal – when help is professionally provided with “appropriate” contracts in place. It feels like we’ve been moving more towards the formal kind of helping, expecting government and organisations to take on the yoke, but this can feel more stifling than helping.
Maybe there’s a shift. Perhaps we’re becoming more imaginative with the semi-formal in social enterprises of one kind or another, and people simply forming themselves into cooperatives that provide more choice when it comes to helping, even moving more towards the mutuality of the informal.
When more people are included rather than excluded as losers, creativity goes up. Douglas McWilliams brings some fascinating insights from the resurgence of London’s economy. Writing before the frothy headlines of Brexit, McWilliams records:
‘When these skilled and energetic young people from all around the world started to work together, another virtue of the migrant economy became apparent. Not only did migrants provide skills but they also stimulated creativity. People with different backgrounds and ways of thinking spurred each other on to produce ideas.’^
Dubbed the Flat White Economy because of the favoured beverage in the particular area of London where they lived and worked, these people brought sheer hard graft and imagination together:
The people at the heart of the Flat White Economy are very different from those who worked in the burgeoning city of London a few years earlier. The Ferraris, champagne and mansions of Kensington and Notting Hill have been replaced by Oyster cards, bicycles and shared flats in Hackney.’^
Maybe they wouldn’t even be noticed by some who counted themselves as successful but they’re there for one another, helping in “informal” and “semi-formal” ways, and not asking each other to jump through bureaucratic hoops.
Erwin McManus tells the story of how his mum Alby, at the age of twenty with two small children, was helped to escape a dangerous marriage by a Swiss chef who worked in the kitchens of the hotel where she worked in El Salvador, to take up the offer to work as an air stewardess with Pan Am; Erwin reflects on what this man had made possible, which was more than simply the $250 he had given her:
‘This man became for her the voice that gave her permission to leave her past behind and go create a better future.’^^
Erwin continues to reflect:
‘I have learned from her that if you live in the past you die to your future.’^^
My wife Christine and I have had the privilege of meeting the remarkable person Alby is. We’ve very fond memories after sharing her home in Florida and learning something of the life she eventually found herself able to choose:
‘The important point not to miss here is that no one can tell you your future. You have to decide what future you want, what future you will pursue, what future you must create.’^^
Tom Gunning works on problems of film style and interpretation, and here helps us to anticipate the uncanny – uncanny being those things which take us out of our comfort zone and threaten to change us.:
“The uncanny is always crouching, ready to spring.”*^
This is the universe we live in, full of uncanny possibilities for everyone, not just for the privileged. We only need to begin noticing what is already in our lives and, often with the help of others, to do something different with what we find. We have choice … options.
Seth Godin writes about how more of what we do is being set up for machines to read, but we are capable of coining up with what is unreadable by machines:
‘What happens if your work becomes machine unreadable?
So new we don’t have a slot for it.
So unpredictable that we can’t ignore it.
So important that we have to stop feeding the database and start paying attention instead…’.^*
Notice yourself. Notice others. It could change the world.
(*Anne Morrow Lindbergh, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(^From Douglas McWilliams The Flat White Economy.)
(^^From Erwin McManus’ The Last Arrow.)
(*^From Charlotte Bosseaux’s Dubbing: Film and Performance.)
(^*From Seth Godin’s blog Machine unreadable.)