10 – Conclusions, reflections, thanks.
It was more than 3 months ago when we set foot to South Africa. When leaving there I had no idea what can I contribute down there, or what can I bring back. I hope through these blogs I written about the trip, I’ve been able to somewhat explain what happened and what was my contribution. I have no idea if any of the workshops we did, where I took part has been able to ripple out of it’s own small scale to have an actual impact on the things and plans there, but I tried. And I do feel that at least some of the talks we had, some of the ideas we generated will resonate in the minds of the people who participated and thus hopefully help them deal with the issues now in a different way. I can say this because at least to me – it worked like it. I know I learned a lot from the whole experience. I learned from the people there, but also much from analysing and understanding the context.
Ever since getting familiar with the theory of panarchy by C.S.Hollins I’ve been looking into different areas where the idea applies. In social change, economic development, project management – but also I now believe, that it applies to learning processes as well. And more specifically when the learning is transformational. One has an idea how “things” are, based on theory, heuristic knowledge and by their own innate sense-making mechanisms, but the thing is that probably bunch of this knowledge has been formed true by the existence they get to experience in their own surroundings. Making a trip – as just to expand your perspective, mind – is beneficial in the way, that if you make it a point to observe you surroundings you’ll get more direct feedback of the ideas you have in your knowledge core – the hard core. That hard core of knowledge one has, is basically the paradigm of information (in the philosophy of science) that one has and changing it – changing the paradigm can only come through peripheral information. The peripheral information feeds to ones knowledge core and by giving new reflection to it, it has the ability to change the core – if one is open to accept a new view of the reality that realigns itself by the core. In this case, the information that did change my knowledge paradigm came from literally peripheral source – to me – which was to observe and breath in the social context of South Africa. Like Helene Shulman writes in her book “Living at the Edge of Chaos” – that to become clinically insane is to observe something against ones own innate sense making mechanism. If this newly, almost forced, reality is in too much contradiction of the own hard-core knowledge, two things can happen; one is to accept and adapt so to learn in a transformative way, the other is with more severe consequences where the truth is in discord with ones self and the fact of the discord stresses too much the construction of ones mind, thus the mind lets go of that. So I didn’t (to my own recollection) become clinically insane during the trip but it did open up new thoughts by getting rid of some old constructions.
The more I think of the whole concept I got to experience, and the issue of social change, societal development – both up in South Africa and down here in Finland, the more of the few concepts I spent a lot of time thinking there rings true. First is about disappointment management. This was the base of our suggested actions in the Cape Flats case about health care, and it being insufficient to serve everybody. The case is of course more complex than it sound from just putting it like that but the thinking behind it and the group wide acceptance of the idea let me believe that it fitted the problem as a solution. In many cases the social group that is from the others perspective the problem – although in many cases really the problem lies at the other end – the group is somewhat disappointed, I mean disappointment and mistrust of the system is for sure found in any “social outcasts”. To process this though I will use few very different examples. When we visited the Sweet Home Farm in Philippi Cape Town, the disappointment that the area residents felt towards the system was apparent. But then again, their disappointment is more of the requesting kind – in that disappointment there is still hope and willing to fix the perspective. Of course this wont happen by it self but needs reconstructing of the system. But like Shannon said in her TEDx talk, the issue is as much in our end of the field, we tend to think of their way as the socially wrong way – just because it isn’t in-line with our own systems structure. And to some extent, I think the passive-aggressive way to abandon societal outcasts is systemically close to the way of a persons mind letting structures go and becoming insane – I mean, we have abandoned our own wish and hope to understand their way and yet think that what ever change need to happen, has to happen in the way that they change closer towards our way – if not, then the issue is theirs and we can let it go. So instead of us transformatively learning, willing to understand and teach our own system to adapt, we’d rather turn our backs and not take part in the learning, in the joint effort to manage the disappointment that is felt in both of us.
The other thing I’ve been thinking about ever since the trip is the process of mutual resource management. This concept came up in both the workshop in RLabs and in Sweet Home Farm and also has been coming up in my own projects in Helsinki. To summarise how it came up at the RLabs workshop was sort of a continuum of the idea of disappointment management. If we consider that there are two separate, almost opposite parties to an action – in the case of health-care service, integration of an illegal settlement to outside society or sharing a public space in a neighbourhood and so on – it is a resource that the two (or more) separate parties are sharing, whether again they like it or not. I think by bringing awareness and understanding over the simple issue that the parties have to co-exist could bring in more willingness to manage the shared things together. This then again could be the beginning to a better communication and over all facilitation to the process of the whole co-existing. Even take the co-existing from it’s hibernation kind of state of “just getting by” to mutually co-evolve and nourish by the fact that the resource itself is then better managed and both parties get to share the benefits of it. This is an idea that I am more or less still just developing but I promise to blog about it, as soon as I get to test it in real context. There are for sure several ways to manifest this idea and implement it to the real context, but as it is just on idea hopefully forming to a proper theory at some point, I guess my first “prototype” of it is just going to be done in the way of facilitated discussions. Probably through and object – as f.ex. planning an public space together.
This is also an thought that has been running around in my head since the trip; that in co-creation, or other way said, facilitated discussion with different parties – or stakeholders – the easiest way to get the discussion or creation going is to be able to let the stakeholders be reactive. Reactive in the sense that the discussion has to happen through an object. The object somehow presents an area of interest to them and thus it is easier to have an opinion about it. This object is then the subject as the resource, of which different aspects they have together manage. And the level of openness of the object has to be delicately chosen before the discussion is started. It has to be presented in the way that the stakeholders at hand at the same time are allowed to have their opinion and manage the resource from their perspective, but also in the way that the systemic picture of the resource is clearly communicated. This has to happen so that the co-creation happens in more of an inclusive tense, so the stakeholders add to the resource management their responsibility and through it benefiting most from its gain. Just to clarify the other way would then be the exclusive way to manage the resource, and co-create it – which would be to maximise the tension to their own area, sort of putting most effort to one area which will then cannibalise the gain from other areas. No matter which resource the output of its system can always only be 100% – but this isn’t easily achieved unless the efforts of the inputs, from the stakeholders, is 100% too. Since in organic, living systems every part has to play their full part to make the system full. Even if five parties gave 20%, the output of the system would also equal 20% not 100%.
Sameness, togetherness and similarities are also things that are pinned to my mind when thinking about the trip. I’ll never forget the dryness of my mouth and the anxiety I felt when the words rolled off my tongue to the audience, people living in Sweet Home Farm, when I said that we’re in the end not that different. I was of course afraid that I’m saying something massively stupid and offensive, that I have the arrogance to even claim I know how they feel. And it’s not about me fully understanding it, to me it’s about having the right mindset to look at the situation. It’s about aligning your senses and sense making that one has learned to use and believe to the new context you’re in. This might sound weird but in the end we, people, are pretty universal as we are these days – global. On my short peak to the world of anthropology I came to think, that in the end I have on this day more in common with a fieldworker in Cape Flats than I have to my own ancestors living in Finland in 18th hundreds. The rest is about understanding the ways and means of the other society and it’s complex structure these stories alike exist. Community is a concept we all understand pretty innate and we all in away understand how we belong to our own. It might be that we’re together with it – going with it, or going against the grain, or that we’re in the middle or on the fringe. But we do understand the position. Seeing a person from another context is as much about understanding that context, or even more, than about understanding that individual. Context has to accept the change the individuals are trying to achieve, otherwise it’s not really a societal but individual change. I’m not sure how I would achieve a societal change in my own society, but knowing the context I can at least try the right channels. I’m sure there is no pattern to it, no one-size-fits-all solution nor a equation that works idiot proof in every context. But I want to believe there is a general guides to it, that can then be applied specific.
One thing that comes to mind, on this moment, is the fact that maybe that’s why we are in the global pickle we at the moment find ourselves, that we’ve tried to change the world from an personal perspective and thus in an exclusive manner. One against all – not one for all. More to me is better than some to everyone. We’re managing resources by dividing the output, not the input. I probably expected nothing less, but was still surprised by the reception my offer to see that we all belong to a community and a society received from the Capetownians. That we all belong to a community and a society and all are in different locations in the structure of it. I am a student, part time worker and if we talk about socioeconomic structure I’m basically sharing the position of a fruit stand owner from the Philippi in my own community – middle class worker. But why would I define anyone’s potential in that context anymore I’m willing to be characterised by my own position in my community. When we talk about our lives, past, present and future tense we can see the similarities of our stories and plans for the future alike if we can adjust and accept how big of a part the context plays. We as individuals have too, share the resources we are able to manage with the existing society, we can’t have more of them for our pure benefit, nor we should release some of them from our hands to relieve our burden. There is a role in our lives to all of us, with both gains and takes and together with everyone. There seems to be almost universal stories, only so few ways that things might generally go – but what changes is the context. Context defined by the time and space it takes part. And from the day we spent with the Sweet Home Farm residents, I feel like we put up a harder crust than them in our belief how things might be. If a am surprised by the fact that a part time handyman from Philippi tells me that I and him both have educated our selves to survive in our respective societies – and in it we are the same, I need to learn more. I need to learn to let more thing in. Things to affect me.
I have had to redefine a bunch of common concepts to my self after this whole experience. Of course it’s hard to say when did it happen, when did I learn since learning is, like design – a process not the end result. What started before and was a though, and opening in ones hard-core knowledge to let in something new from the periphery, that then later becomes something learned when it fits both in your sense and the experienced reality. Community is not unique or context specific, I mean it is in the sense that not one is like the other but internally experienced if one can see pass the noise its true structure it becomes more universal. Oneness has nothing to do with time nor is momentary or circumstantial, it is an universal too. Resources, inputs and tensions are the building blocks of our societies, no matter if they are tangible or intangible – they are the basic element we share in good and bad and need to manage to nourish together, not to just benefit from and keep in state of hibernation even if we feel so. Disappointment is misunderstanding the premises of what is to become. this misunderstanding is sometimes unavoidable and that’s why its management is often more important than the prevention – since in most of the cases nothing could have prevented it. They are often based on honest mistakes, honest lies even from both parties where in neither knew before taking the steps of trust to see what is beyond the point of guessing and in the core of reality. Experience is nothing if not shared with other people and reflected with different perspectives of it. If the experience is left to be as its own element in the vast matrix of all things existing it’ll drift far from the context it appeared and in drifting, might get lost. When an issue appears in the mass of everything, it appears there because of its connections – no matter how distant, and from acknowledging its existence on the spot it could become meaningful and teach and reveal us something new. But to pinpoint it in there, extracting its appearance from the noise, we need to verify it and this is best done in reflection to others’ realities and other knowledge. Honesty is innate, lying is artificial, learned and forced upon each mouth to let it out. If you have nothing to lose, you will be honest – but instead of letting things go to that point, one should think of what is there to really lose. What part of the resource you’re trying to untruthfully manage and what is the exclusion that follows its ill treatment. That societal change cannot be scaled up, and has to be replicated to have a broader effect – not linearly and in linear logic but stochastically. I realise that this might start to be the summary of my odd education; official and unofficial and that’s why I might stop to digress. And say something about South Africa itself, and please remember this is how I see it. And if it is a lie, believe me it is the honest kind.
South Africa as beautiful as it is, is to me about those people inhabiting this south tip of our mother continent. I have traveled quite a bit in my life, on and off the beaten path. I’m not the nature loving kind – although I will be one of the first ones to bow in awe before its presence; here by the grace of it go we and we should never forget it. And of course I do stop and think when an breath taking scenery opens up before me. In those moments I too feel the connection, the connection of me not being that different of a creation of sums to luckily come together in the same equation, as are the trees and water of this still blue and green globe. But these aren’t the reasons I travel, I travel to be the Lilliput in other countries full of Gullivers. I observe as I’m lost and learn as I accept. Those moments of realisation in a new context is not just a thrill to experience but like said, it brings me closer to humanity and by it myself as well. I believe that the need to travel, see, experience and learn is empowered by the same internal burn as is to keep wondering about the world and its people. As is the need to help and for sure somewhat distorted idea that I can matter in this world and make it better. At the same time as I keep scavenging new parts of the reality I get to explain and understand bits and pieces of me and my existence. My mom used to teach me that the reason to exist is to help others to exist, and I do believe it is so – also because it leads to our own existence to be somewhat more harmonic, in its chaos. There’s nothing wrong with chaos, like said, but if the chaos appears too erratic, it leaves no room for one to grow to understand it. It’s like you’re buried alive and you need to rise, but if there’s no space for you to wiggle, for you to loose the tight bound the reality has from you, you’ll stay there deep and will never see the surface. Existence is true both on and under the surface, they’re just two different positions to take and stay in.
All and all this whole chain of events did evoke a heap of new ideas and cleared new paths to patterns in my own sense making mechanisms. From each and every encounter from the trip I took away something and I can only hope I “left” something there too, that I could have played somewhat a meaningful partner to those encounters. I do believe South Africa is on a verge of something absolutely amazing. They have everything there. The diversity of the population, nature, socioeconomic classes, cultures – the surplus of educated people and people willing to work – the proudness they seem to feel about their own things and the openness to listen and honesty in telling. All the elements of a beautiful heterogeneous society are there for sure. I’m not saying everything is yet fine, but as to a good food – if you get best ingredients it’s hard to mess up the dish, one just has to know how to make it. And South Africa is in the process of cooking, with few bold moves to be willing to expose the elements to be a part of something new and then having the patience to keep stirring and letting the opposites and complimentary elements to blend and support each other. I’m happy and most grateful that I had the chance to see it as is. I’ll be even happier to see what it becomes.
From all this I could say that I think I finally got a part of it. The realisation that these are things that I have now learned not for the learning sake, not for the brag rights to get to be a besserwisser, not even to bleed it to a blog but to feel more comfortable in my own existence. This feeling of oneness and understanding that maybe in the end we’re actually not alone at all. Few months ago I wrote an essay about using emotions in design. In it there was a quote from a social scientist Brian Fay: “Give the self fluidity, internal tension, and sensitivity to outside stimuli – it should not be surprising that self is essentially permeable. Indeed so permeable is it that not only are you not separate from others but rather others are part of you.” (Fay. B., Contemporary Philosophy of Social Science, p.39). This sort of rings true to me now on a very personal sense and in a really big scale. We’re all parts of this mess that can appear as harmony if you can place yourself in it. The complexity is overwhelming but denying it would not really make any difference other than leaving one feel alone or render them clinically insane – accepting it is the way to learn it. Accepting it is to step into the real world, I’d think. Like they say reality is the thing that you know to exist even though you close your eyes from it.
At the very last and not at all least I want to say thank you to the people of Cape Town and Johannesburg. Thank you for sharing this reality with me. Without you, there would have been nothing to experience, nothing to learn from nor no one to tell this to.
And of course thank you people from Aalto Global Impact, mainly Anne Badan for getting me on this mind blowing trip. Thanks to CPUT’s Bruce, Mugendi, Ashraf and Rael, Francois and all the other super nice students I met. Thanks to Creative Cape Town’s Farzanah and Yehuda. Thanks to the whole RLabs staff in CPT, especially Craig for being the catalyst in our group. Thank you Shannon and Marc, I really hope we keep in touch and see how we could work together. Thank you Essi Aittamaa and ACSI board members, Hank, Frank and Ehsan and my group for the super intensive and eye opening three days in Johannesburg. Thanks to my travel mates from Aalto, WDC Helsinki and many other delegates. Thanks to my friend Harry for taking me to see the real Joburg. And most of all, thank you Aalto Creative Sustainability program for knocking my wondering mind to the right direction of using this hat rack for something good. What began from my BA thesis three years ago is still bearing fruit in my personal battle to better my self to be able to better the world – as a tiny part of it, I’ll try my best to carry my own weight.
For now I’ll cap the trip blogging and continue with new things. I can see South Africa to be a part of me in the future too. So see you all – soon!