Weekend Edition: Containers, Conditions, and Content
I'm heading off the grid for the next month and will leave you with an open-ended set of thoughts about what I'm looking for and what we might need.
I feel responsible at times to hold to my “relentless optimism" even in dark moments. Last week, I was sad and frustrated and worried for the women of this country who will struggle more, suffer more, and die unnecessarily more often as a result of us allowing the country to go backwards. And I was sad and frustrated and worried for all Americans that America is less free this week than it was last week.
This week as I head off the grid for a month that initial pain is wearing off slightly, changing, and I am beginning to confront where we are, how we got here, and where go. Any time I am looking for answers to these kinds of questions, I start with how community works.
Community happens in spaces, both physical and virtual, governed by the conditions created by the cultures (norms, traditions, language) we embrace. The content we pour into those containers shapes and is shaped by those cultures into the experiences and outcomes our communities generate. As individuals, our bodies and souls are the containers we rely on to carry us through life, and the content we chose to let in — be that food or story or prayer — dictates much of our experience regardless of circumstances.
Are our containers well-defined? Strong? Principled? Are they meant for us? Or a previous generation? Or a different community all together? Or a different mind-set?
Are the conditions we are setting and the content we are consuming likely to produce the experience and outcomes we want or need? Are we setting them, choosing them, discovering them? Or are we trying to force outdated containers fit to new communities and support new experiences?
Our civic life is about civic containers and conditions. Parties, democracy, our public sphere, elections, governments. Are the containers and conditions we rely for the civic life that shapes the society in which we live healthy? Who is shaping them? Where are they leading us? What would they need to look like to lead us somewhere else? Is the content we fill ourselves with leading us somewhere we want to go? Is the content we share with the world good for us or it?
If the path we are on is not working for us — and I would argue that whatever you think of the outcomes of the past week the path we’re on as a society is not working for any of us — what does a new path look like? How would it be different? What would it demand of us? Of each other?
I often talk about where it might could go, about a more joyous future made possible by a more generative society. The central questions I wrestle with most often are:
What is required for that transformation we know is possible and so deeply crave?
Are we ready for an orthogonal path that might feel, at first, a little quixotic?
Are we willing to embark on path that demands of us new habits and which requires setting down the deeply familiar ones that aren’t serving us?
Are we at a point where the pain of our current path exceeds the discomfort of trying the new one?
I hope so.
That paralyzing uncertainty in the face of knowing something better lies ahead is fleeting. We can get beyond it — and we do everyday in little ways, little moments where we feel the possibility of something different.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ~Arundhati Roy
I have heard that voice — and, I believe, so have you. That is the content. What are the conditions that allow us to listen? And the containers that enable us to experience that joyous new world? Let's go find them.