The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: refinement

A Noble Share

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“DO YOU FEEL OLD, POP POP?” my granddaughter asked, knowing that my 65th birthday was coming today, December 26th. Well, Annie, here’s my answer.

I sure look older. I can still run, jump, and play, but not like I used to. Every time I put on my glasses to read I’m reminded of how many years have passed. And yet I now have more friends in my library than back then, and I have relationships with each of them. Yes, I require glasses to read them, but with the wisdom that comes with years I now understand them better than I did when clear-eyed. They are my books, and should I go blind tomorrow I will be no poorer, for I can recite some of them by heart and love the principles hidden within them with more power and intensity than I could in youth. They now help me see with an understanding that only comes with the advancement of years.

I now see things I could never discern in my youth. I hear music in my heart that previously I could only get in some kind of speaker. No, it doesn’t boom and bounce the way the rock and roll of my teens did, but it now aligns the world for me, reminding me that the interior life is as equally to be treasured as an active outer one. Those things I wondered and fretted over in earlier times have found their proper alignment in my life and I can now travel my years guided by my ideals rather than fear or insecurity. As twilight has come to my years, the sky is now alight with stars that I never saw in the bright sunshine of my youth and I find I can be guided by them.

My years are many, but their fullness now transcends the many decades that preceded this moment. I see the wonders and tragedies of life through a kaleidoscope of experience and they are indeed remarkable. I don’t need to relive my life, but build upon all the lessons it has taught me, reaching ever higher in a universe of possibility. The lessons my parents taught me, I can now live and understand their necessity and beauty. I have truly become their child because I have lived their counsel and found it to be sound.

Strangely, I find myself as restless as when I was young, but it is an urge to heal my world, to enjoy its millennia of wisdom, to fulfill its promise of love. There is that fire to do away with hatred in the world, to honour the equality of the sexes, to defeat the forces of poverty, and to forge peace among the peoples of the world. It is not be confused with the blind passions of youth; it is instead the fire of a soul conquered by the abiding values of life.

I sometimes ponder the beauty of my family for hours, their memory and personalities more fulsome and exciting than any Hollywood movie for me. In my quietest moments I am the most entertained. And I pray, thanking God for the quietness and assurance that comes with age. Such is the richness of the accumulation of years.

So, yes, Annie, I feel older. I have wrinkles and I stoop a bit more than I used to. But all those signs of age I have happily traded for the insight of wisdom, a love for God, family, and humanity, and sense that the ethical contribution of every person adds to our collective healing and progress. I have had a noble share in that life that I can only enjoy in these later years. The poet Robert Frost once spoke about, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” Well, it’s now the evening for me, so just think of how much I have learned. Time physically erodes us all, but builds up character at the same time – nothing is wasted.

I am restless for the completeness of humanity at the same time that I am content with my own place within it – a miracle only possible through the all the years that I have passed through before now. Despite my frailties, I nevertheless feel at one with my ideals. It is enough.

I know you won’t understand these words until you’re older Annie, but you will learn that they come to pass in the life of anyone who wants to live for things greater than herself.  Your journey will be unique, but it will be along a path already travelled by the best of humanity.  I’ll be watching.

 

Growing Through Social Media

MY FRIEND JODI LAUNCHED HER NEW BUSINESS this week and used social media to get the word out (@CityMatchLdn on Twitter). It was exciting to see how quickly word spread and the support she gathered in just a few hours.

It caused me to think back to a time only a few years ago when a good number of us quickly coalesced around Facebook and Twitter as our main method of interacting with one another. So much has changed, mostly us. At times communicating through such venues was a rough ride. There were the usual suspects – the haters, the trolls, the overt attention seekers, the underminers, even the political hacks – but for the rest of us there were misunderstandings to be corrected, friendships restored or strengthened, and the overriding sense that we had a community to build. Jodi learned along with the rest of us that social media would be ineffective unless it helped connect us to one another and to a larger purpose.

We all came to realize that social media carried a certain burden with it. It makes sense, since CNN recently completed a series on how social media has direct implications on mental health. We can share our successes, gain affirmation, even supporters, but we can all be belittled by those who delight in the prospect of tearing down others while remaining anonymous. Those of us trying to anything productive within a community context know what this feels like.

And yet we stuck with it. We grew, learned how to block or unfriend, even take social media breaks, and how to fight for more constructive communication, and how to defend those under attack from individuals and groups. Over time, I’ve noted how this group of mostly Londoners have refined their communications, used words and phrases which led to a more enlightened sense of responsibility. In other words, we’ve grown. We hung in there with each other and eventually built a better public space on social media itself. We grew through the various venues, refining it and ourselves in the process.

Jodi’s announcement this week wasn’t just about something new; it was also about stickability, the willingness to tough it out and eventually glean the benefits of helping to build a community and keep it together. She used social media to do that and is now taking it to another level, launching her own startup and bringing her community along with her in the process.

She has used social media effectively, learned how to be positive and express gratitude when required, and apply a firm hand when needed. But above all she build her communication with an emphasis on “social,” and not just “media.” Jodi expanded contacts and kept In touch, using social media to grow community, just as she now hopes to transform some of that community into a steady base of customers, all the while creating her own story. In other words, it’s being social that matters. Without that, all that other communications mechanisms lead to little.

We’ve all had to learn that when social media was just about giving our opinions, criticizing others, or disrupting an emerging consensus, it leads us to more anger and confusion. But when used to bring together, to seek common ground, air differences respectfully, and uncover common solutions, community is bettered and we are empowered as citizens in the process.

Writer Sydney Harris put it clearly: “information or opinions are just about giving out; effective communication is about getting through.” It’s a lesson we are learning, and Jodi has stuck with it long enough that she will refine her network to build a business. The time has come for all community builders and businesses with a social conscience to utilize the digital tools at our disposal to create the kind of world and prosperity we want. Jodi is a reminder of what’s possible for all of us if we build our relationships, support one another, and learn to build together. And she’s about to have her faith affirmed that these very values are the foundations of a successful business.

A City of Soul

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THE CITY OF SURREY, BRITISH COLUMBIA, decided it was time to get more serious about the arts. Only they didn’t undertake the task in the fashion other municipalities had tried. Believing that every aspect of the arts was vital to any future life the city had, they laid out some clear markers:

  • they would develop 6 community public art plans, identifying sites and themes for the public arts around the city
  • Surrey would compile an inventory of public and private sector cultural assets, services and facilities n the city – identifying gaps and needs
  • seek to identify needs, opportunities, space and operational requirements for a decentralized model of arts and heritage
  • identify space and resource requirements for the growth and preservation of cultural and art collections
  • assess needs and roles for effective communication of cultural values and benefits by public and community stakeholders
  • identify cultural spaces and amenities in city centre development plans

What’s important here is the sheer comprehensive nature of their undertaking. This wasn’t about merely supporting one group or another, but was instead an inspiring attempt at getting every sector of the community to buy in. Just like other communities, Surrey had been through its own economic difficulties and it would have been easy to place what many regarded as the “soft stuff” on the back burners in favour of the harder financial realities. City leaders quickly discerned the fallacy in such an approach, reasoning that if citizens lost the ability to express their emotions and celebrate, then economics alone would lead to a diminished municipality.  Numerous cities have cultural prosperity plans, but Surrey actually implemented theirs.  Great cities find a way to get it done.

What’s the point of living on the same streets if we merely become an audience. Visionary community planners understand that citizens must become players in their own performances and the best way to achieve that is to inspire them – not just with amazing arts but in giving a city some soul. As David Binder puts it:

“Twenty-first-century arts festivals] ask the audience to be a player, a protagonist, a partner, rather than a passive spectator.”

Those communities that make art to be solely about money have forgotten how they initially came together through community singing, acting out life in real-time, and painting the essence of a streetscape. Only as communities grew could they eventually sustain concert halls and art galleries – a great step in their respective evolutions as communities.  Any aspiring city should seek out the arts and support them at their very best.  And when they are performed at their very best, the arts help a city to become a showcase to the world.

A city that no longer has something to sing, act, or draw about inevitably loses those higher levels of the arts that can inspire entire communities through talented performances. It is through the arts that we learn to dream together, to feel the same collective emotional tug to weep or laugh, to mourn, or to live with purpose. Participatory democracy is better flamed through the passion of the human spirit than through any other source and it is often through the culture of a city that this passion is resourced.

There are those who occasionally imply that cities and their huddled masses will destroy themselves. We have yet to see it. Just two words remind us of just how resilient cities are: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their future seemed obliterated in a millisecond, yet today they thrive, having overcome some of the worst humanity could throw at them and prevail as robust communities.

In reality, cities can survive against the most amazing odds. They come back from floods, famine, conflict, poverty, and political catastrophe because in the end their citizens still dream and find way of using their emotions, intellect, and willpower to forge their own future.

If communities die, it will be mostly because individual lights went out over the process of time. People lose hope. They feel the odds against them are too great. They grow isolated, losing the humanity in one another. The bulbs burn out and the light is gone. It is for the very purpose of restoring the human soul and spirit that the arts were born.

Why a community flourishes is every bit as important as how it does so, and it is often through the presence of artistic communities in our midst – amateur and professional – that the will to actually be a great city is generated. The day a city can no longer find its purpose will also be the day that culture must rescue it. “To be or not to be” never came from a corporate or political leader, but from a writer. The ability to find ourselves and lose ourselves in the same moment is the gift of art. And no city can ever dance when its leaders can no longer hear the music. The question should never be whether we can afford culture; it should be how can we possibly survive without it.

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