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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 29 May 2015

Humonion: Mapping the Layers of the Individual

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You might be familiar with the layered anatomy map - it's been around for ages in school text books, in posters, in science models.

The human body consists of a skeleton, muscles, a nervous system, organs, skin, etc.  Layers that can be isolated and defined, but that kinda work together, like a system.  Bones protect organs, but can't move without muscles, but the muscles need a nervous system to stimulate and coordinate movement.  Each layer matters - each layer is dependent on the other.

Like a system.

Increasingly people are starting to look at cities like systems, too - not just urban planners, but community groups, developers, you name it.  Transit systems, sewage systems, zones and service centres - all these are part of a complex, interactive system that relies on all parts to be functioning for the whole to be functioning.

Between the anatomy of people and the anatomy of a city, of course, there are other layers - the anatomy of the community and before that, the anatomy of a person.

A person can be many things all at once, though we tend to view them as one thing at a time.  We talk about keeping home and work separate, about compartmentalizing, about not "carrying over" what happens in one aspect of our lives to another.

It's accepted wisdom that this is the way the world needs to work - compartmentalization between our different lives, as though there are switches we can flick or outfits we can step into and out of at will, if we teach ourselves to do so.

Geocentrism used to be accepted wisdom, too, as was the notion that the earth was flat.  Just because it's convenient for us to believe, it doesn't make it so.

People are systems with layers that interact, just like any system does.  Just as weakened lungs or damaged lungs impact the entire organism, challenges to one layer of a person - parent, employee, resident, ethnicity, etc - inevitably impact the others.

A mother burned out at work might have less energy to be a mom with when she gets home, impacting the child.  A driver with relationship trouble has less focus to put on traffic-navigation than than one who's personal life is trucking along just fine.

As people don't think systems very easily, we have a habit of generalizing, minimizing, compartmentalizing.  We don't want complexity, we want simplicity.  Terrorists are evil, period - that's all that matters.  Homeless people are homeless, period - what else is relevant?  When you're at work, you shouldn't be a dad and when you're a parent, you should be solely focused on your kids.

That's how our system is set up, it's what we're comfortable with, but it's not working.  If anything, there's broad recognition that silo-based thinking is making a mess of out society from the top layer down to the very bottom.

Visual thinkers as we tend to be, we respond well to images.  It's easier to navigate with a map than with directions, whether you're travelling from point A to point B or making an IKEA table or a Lego set.

With that in mind - why not visualize our social system in a way that shows the layers and how they interact?  Why not do that with people, too?

Imagine an art project that breaks down people from different walks of life and social classes in all their complexity.  A Mayor might be a father, a board member, a diabetic; a criminal might be a father, a person with ADHD and a supportive community member.

People are systems, with our different facets all impacting each other - we all know it, to some degree, but often have trouble accepting or looking for this when we interact with other people.

We just need to see it.