Creating Your Own Personal Renaissance

During the last piece I posted, “Empathy and “Shared Experiences”, I attempted to make a case for going beyond the normal “having empathy for someone” to embracing the power of actually sharing their life situation. This skill will be needed if we stand to have any chance of reclaiming our communities and the civic power of decentralized solution-making that comes with it.

2021 and the tenacious staying power of COVID-19 has brought us a totally unique set of societal circumstances and redefined what it means to be part of society. Whatever was considered “normal” before, probably no longer exists. How we co-exist with our families, friends, neighbors and business collaborators will be up to our own creating – not dependent on the norms of the past. While many view these times of uncertainty as scary – I look at them as exciting. Whether we like it or not, change has been thrust upon us. We’ve received a free pass to reinvent. We have to own it. Since we have no choice, why not use this opportunity be broaden our perspectives; and who knows make things better than they were before the pandemic.

“Creating Your Own Personal Renaissance” is essentially a follow-up to the last piece, Originally written in 2015, update and even more relevant today; I recount my experience with a very astute homeless gentleman in attempts to persuade us all to broaden our sociological reach (a.k.a. Medici fashion) – and start interacting with others different than us. This “renaissance” of sorts will be imperative if we hope to build our self-efficacy and personal agency. We’re going to need everything we can get to make it through the trials and tribulations that are staring us down at present; COVID, political polarization and a physical world that is waging war on us for all abuse we’ve given it. What our futures look like lie with us, those we know around us and those we may serendipitously happen to encounter. It does not lie with some illusion of government or institution created for the benefit of generations long gone. Now the question is; what lies down the road … for all of us?

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About ten years ago (circa 2010), 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 in the gulf 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. Supposedly we were recovering from the Great Recession of 2008-2009

“How did you come up with that?” I asked him.

He responded: “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.

Dumpster cartoon

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Sociology Of The American Neighborhoods

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”

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The Medici Effect … Circa 2021

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 using different 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.

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 extend 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.”

To self-cross-pollinate we must 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; more specifically the synthesis of this diversity. Conversely, if we limit our exposure; social, professional and politically to only those like us … we only further entrench our beliefs and ideologies; starving our cerebral immunity.

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. That said, the ability to not only accept change, but embrace it, is a mandatory life skill – at least if you plan contributing positively to society.

Resistance to change comes from many root causes. It’s difficult to try to break this resistance, which can be debilitating. It’s often 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.

Two minds cartoon

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Now Is The Time To Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

A community is the product of its people. Diversity is not only an advantage; it’s a necessity. A community is a living thing, a dynamic microcosm. A lack of diversity makes itself open to disease (metaphorically and literally 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. Being able to understand and integrate with those around us is even more important with our current political polarization fueling the divide in COVID response. Burrowing down only with those who think like us, dismissing “the other side, is a prescription for disaster – guaranteeing COVID will be with us far beyond what any of us are willing tolerate.

If you are a doctor, hang with a plumber. If you’re white, talk to a black person. Take the bus sometimes (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 – and someone that’s not your own kid or grandkid.

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.

Now is the time to focus on inclusion, not retreat into “personal protectionism”. Resist the temptation of “sameness. Step outside your comfort zone. You never know what lies on beyond those walls you’ve created.

And who knows … maybe your next source of inspiration may come next to a dumpster.

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