A few years ago, when I still lived down in Los Angeles, I was on my morning walk through West L.A. when I ran across a homeless man collecting cans and bottles from a dumpster. I stopped and we talked for about for fifteen minutes.
We talked about a lot things; the weather, the BP oil spill and eventually the economy. His take on the economy was that he thought things were getting worse, rather than better – as what we’d been hearing from the news media. “How did you come up with that?” I asked him.
“Well I see more cheap brand cans in the garbage than I used to. Even last year when things were supposedly worse, people still drank Coke and Budweiser. But now it’s changed.” It’s Shasta and Natural Light.
His astute observation was definitely not a perspective I wouldn’t have gotten through my normal channels. But it made sense – and for this locale it was probably more accurate than any economics professor would have come up with a few blocks down the street at UCLA.
The Medici Effect … circa 2015
At the end of the Dark Ages, during the 13th century, poets, artists, painters, sculptors and the like came to Florence, Italy to study and collaborate thanks to patronization of the wealthy Medici family. Those sponsored by the Medicis included Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Galileo, Boticelli and Michelangelo. Many scholars believe this melding of different backgrounds and disciplines ushered in a significant portion of the Renaissance.
Imagine if we used this same cross-pollination strategy of backgrounds and experiences to create environments like this today. Maybe we won’t see Renaissance figures on the scale Galileo and Michelangelo, but for our communities it could significantly change the welfare and wellbeing of us and our fellow inhabitants.
“We need a marriage ceremony between the humanities and social and behavioral studies. Only then will we be able to start solving real-life problems in these disciplines.” ~ Thomas Scheff (UC Santa Barbara)
Every fall Mayo Clinic, one of the most acclaimed medical facilities in the world, conducts an innovation conference to explore how ‘people power health’ can redefine the dynamics of health and health care. This conference isn’t just for medical professionals, rather it’s cross-discipline. Not only are people from other industries and interests allowed to attend … they are encouraged. Mayo routinely collaborates on processes and strategies with other Minnesota corporate giants such as Target, Medtronic and Best Buy to achieve higher levels of customer service and hopefully satisfaction. Mayo Clinic treasures the value of cross-pollination.
“People bring different cultures, backgrounds, and personalities to the table — and those differences shape how they think. Some people are analytical thinkers, while others thrive in creative zones. Some are meticulous planners, and others love spontaneity. By mixing up the types of thinkers in the workplace, companies can stimulate creativity, spur insight, and increase efficiency.” ~ Deloitte (Business Insider)
The benefits of cross-pollination extends past the corporate world also. In the excellent Vanity Fair piece, “An Oral History of the Laurel Canyon,” Linda Ronstadt articulated the societal benefits, “The good thing about musicians in terms of making advances in racial discrimination or sexual-gender identification is that musicians don’t give a shit as long as you can play. If you could play, hallelujah.”
But to cross-pollinate ourselves we have to expose ourselves and create relationships with people we wouldn’t otherwise. Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to do the same things, associate with same type of people and be influenced by the same sources as we always have. Strength comes in diversity and the synthesis of this diversity. On the contrary, if we limit our exposure; social, professional and politically to only those like us … we only further entrench our beliefs and ideologies.
Adherence to the status quo is a habit. Some aspects of the status quo are fine, and change for the sake of change can often be problematic. But even more than ever, the ability to not only accept change, but embrace it is a mandatory life skill.
Resistance to change is a very broad ‘habit’ to try to break. It’s composed of a multitude of components. And that’s how it needs to be addressed, one component at a time. You can’t change everything at the same time.
Gradually, block by block, this ‘doing the same thing, the same way, at the same time’ can be chipped away at. Even changing the time you get up in the morning or go to bed at night is a step. Change what you eat for breakfast, the route you take to work and even the method you get to work. Just taking public transportation when you normally drive can be a huge change. Eventually, this phobia of ‘the different’ will become less debilitating. And maybe even change will become exciting, something to look forward to … not fear.
Now is the time to get out of your comfort zone
If you are a doctor, hang with a plumber. If you’re white, talk to a black person. Take the bus sometimes (no – people on buses don’t bite). If you live on the west side, have dinner on the east side. And most of all if you’re old (yes Boomers you are old) … get some insight from someone young – someone that’s not your own kid.
Our brains are nothing more than synaptic connections which are built and strengthened through habitual activity and thought. Build some new ones. God only knows we could use more.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.” ~ Steve Jobs
Sociology of the American neighborhoods and ‘Extreme Empathy’
The French political philosopher Alex de Tocqueville theorized that the concept of American township and its extension, the neighborhood, was the reason for the envied American exceptionalism of the 1800 and 1900s. In Europe people resided around common characteristics such as language or ethnicity.
“But beneath it all, our history of broad inclusion is not rooted in some blithe paean to the American generosity of the American spirit. Rather, like the foundation for America’s economic ingenuity and political accommodation, our commitment to melding new and different people together was forged in the rhythms of everyday life.
Townshipped community was unparalleled in assimilation because neighbors weren’t able to avoid one another; quite the opposite, they were frequently compelled to become codependent. The very essence of American exceptionalism was born from the architecture of American community.
It’s impossible to overstate how important our unique sociology has been to the nation’s dynamism. In the United States, our “little platoons,’ Edmund Burke’s term for the contacts who comprised the core of any individual’s social universe (that is middle rings) – were organized around the diversity of people who lived nearby – the people who comprised the local townships.
In Europe, by contrast, the network of people who shared the same class or language or profession were more likely to define any individual’s contacts. And so America’s exceptional capacity to metabolize the infusion of new ideas, new cultures, and new populations wasn’t derived by some commitment to inclusion. America has been unique in its social fluidity. Even with all the blatant counter examples, through most of the 20th Century, American were relatively unencumbered by division. Life in the United States provided citizens with an unusual degree of access and exposure.” ~ Marc Dunkleman, “The Vanishing Neighbor”
To forget this phenomenon and not take advantage of it is a great disservice. Of course we look at this as an advantage for the community. But first we open our mind individually and let these different views and experiences in.
A community is the product of its people. Diversity is an advantage if not a necessity. A community is a living thing, a microcosm, and a lack of diversity makes itself open to disease (metaphorically speaking). Social inbreeding creates a weak species, vulnerable to adversaries, internally and externally. And a community that only relies on past thinking will not be able to combat the problems of the future.
Every member of your community is unique and adds to its fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. It’s up to us to find it and help them see it. To view our neighbors and fellow community dwellers like this I call, “Extreme Empathy.” “Extreme Empathy” is the basis of my vision for the new evolution of the physical living space, Community 3.0.
Now is time focus on inclusion, not retreat into ‘personal protectionism.’ Resist the temptation of “sameness.” Step outside your comfort zone. You’ll never know what lies on the other side.
And who knows … maybe your next source of inspiration may come next to a dumpster.