Life at the edge of mortality
I have been using Dark Mode on my MacBook Pro and for apps like iA Writer that allow people to choose the colour of the app icon: Light or Dark.
I was listening to On The Media this morning, an episode called God Bless. These words were the most interesting to me and what is now drawing my attention.
“It is hard to go against what you have been conditioned to believe, especially as it relates to religion. It’s hard. It’s really hard. You can teach kids, but you can’t teach adults what they think they already know.“
“And look, if every picture of white Jesus disappeared overnight, white supremacy would remain. But we know from Dylann Roof, back through all America’s history and from a raft of psychological research, these pictures do matter. And if the first images that children see of Jesus is a white one, it might take them their whole lives to unlearn it, if they ever do.”
A tear rolls down my cheek as I think about yesterday’s interaction with a design student I mentor who works in higher education, and is working on a UX design case study for Google Classroom. In a moment of profound vulnerability, grabbing tissues to catch the tears, she spoke of her experience growing up in poverty, a daughter of a refugee family, and the work she needed to do, the resourcefulness she needed to learn to struggle for her position in an institution of higher education, which she recognizes as one of immense privilege. And I reflected her tears by recognizing how she is now working to use the design process as a way to answer the design challenge of her own experience in the American education system, to make small, incremental changes in a broken industrial model of education that requires systemic change.
I am humbled by her trust, that she lowered her guard and her armour in a moment of profound vulnerability about her struggle to survive in such a hostile environment.
I am wiping tears from my face, recalling the reaction of a man to a relationship of trust earned through a crazy idea to spend every day in the kelp forests of the ocean to observe the struggle for survival of an octopus. The experience was one of kinship with the Earth. We are not apart from this universe.
We are an integral part of the whole universe, every single form of life that has existed, now exists, and will exist is part of an eternal tapestry that is being woven in time, a bio-chemical physiology that contains a precious cryptographic DNA code, a chain of being. We carry the pearls of wisdom gained through billions of years of evolution, a double-helix pattern of molecules that is a living library of the trials and errors of the generations of life that have led to this moment of awakening, a universe gaining consciousness of how small and fragile we are in such a hostile environment, yet we are alive.
We can take joy in those moments when we can play with the fish. “This behavior doesn’t feel predatory.” She was playing with the fish!
I had been listening to On Being, an episode featuring Cloud Cult. There is something delicate, vulnerable, and human about the acoustic guitar and the breath moving past human vocal chords that creates a chorus of hope for a world so dangerous yet so beautiful.
It is in the midst of crisis that we discover our true nature as survivors who have been able to transcend our struggle for survival to reach for the stars and to revel in the dance of life between spirit and form.
I am reminded of Jenny Odell’s sentiment about designers as curators of attention in reference to her book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.
We are learning the art of observation. When we observe the other we discover ourselves as one with the other. The divisions between even the species breaks down when we earn trust through relationship.
Branding is a corporation’s way to manipulate human behaviour by becoming a capitalist’s way of manufacturing trust through the daily interactions and decades-long relationships they build with large numbers of employers and customers. But if we have the privilege of having the time to learn how the system works from the inside of the machine over 32 years of professional practice as a designer, we realize that we are merely a target market in a predatory game of economic survival. Winners Take All.
Humans are awakening to the reality that there is more to this life than the game of survival. If we can transcend fear, we have the incredible opportunity to realize love.
We “realize” as in a sudden revelation of a greater truth, but also as a process of design, through intention to bring imagination into reality.
Marty Neumeier’s Innovation Workshop describes design as the gap. There be dragons. It is a liminal space full of doubt, uncertainty, ambiguity, risk, and danger. It is in that place of curiosity and empathy and observation that we discover insights to the complex, nested, systemic problems in the way the world works and we tentatively reach for a greater vision of what the world could be by becoming stewards of the future, a new reality. Through design, we bridge the gap between vision and reality.
That is when we realize what we were made for. We are all designers, and we are making our visions reality when we use tools to build a different world than the one we were raised in.
We are world builders, a builders collective.
What kind of world do we want to build? What kind of world do we want to live in? What kind of world do we want to leave for our children and the generations to come?
This is what it means to be human.