On Sunday I was on a train, travelling back to Birmingham from The Centre for Alternative Technology where I had been attending The Emergence Summit 2012. I was talking to a fellow delegate, who’s name I wish I had asked, who told me that;
‘Ideas need to be cut down regularly, like weeds.’
This was a refreshing thought for someone, like me, who feels constantly surrounded by my own growing, flourishing bean stalks of inspiration, each one whispering in the wind, ‘Climb me! Climb me!’
Within the next 12 hours I arrived at New Street Station, I was met by my family who took me home, fed me, told me lots about what they had been doing and listened to some stories of mine. I was so glad to be home, flooded with happiness and optimism, and somewhere in the back of my mind I was swinging a Machete at some of those gnarled old ideas.
‘A family of five can’t live in a three bedroom house.’ Chop! and that idea was gone. ‘Maybe we could extend the house out, add an en-suite bedroom at the front.’ Chang! Gone. ‘I should market myself aggressively, up my income, bigger mortgage: bigger house: bigger garden: happy family.’ Chop! Chop! ‘This one’s tough!’ Chop! Chang! Creak! Crash! Gone.
I started to get a clearer view of my mental landscape. I started to see the importance of space and of using space well. I have limited space, but maybe I have enough. Maybe the sacrifices I need to make in order to ‘move up’ would outweigh the benefits. Maybe the answer is to rigorously study the relationship between space and happiness, in order to generate fulfilment and well being at home. And then to take that mission beyond the home, to pass what we have learned on to others, and to begin to look at our community space and our community happiness. As humans have finite space in which to live, there comes a point when we can no longer equate scale with success. Where we must consign to the past measures like Gross Domestic Product and embrace Gross Community Happiness. Where we must go through a painful and traumatic process of realising that much of what we consider to be a part of ‘progress’ must now be labelled ‘old fashioned.’ Because we were so proud of progress and our pride made us happy, we didn’t realise that progress was little by little moving away from happiness, and not towards it. To the point when to talk of the pursuit of happiness sounds like something we should make a little time for, rather than being in it’s proper place, at the very centre of of lives and our endeavours.
As I type, life goes on and the washing machine whirs complacently to itself, ‘I am washing with an eco egg and there’s a little extra space on the shelf where we used to keep washing powder!’ I turn round and address this handsome piece of German engineering, ‘Ah yes, but you’re still burning electricity, and look at that whacking great cube of space that you’re occupying!’ It comes back with a self-confident ‘How long have I been washing your clothes? Eight, Nine years? And I’ll be washing them for years to come! Have I ever failed? Needed repairing? I am built to last, I’m a great use of all the resources that went into my creation. If you want to pick a fight, go outside and talk to the car.’
And there the washing machine has me. It knows that without a car we could grow a small but beautiful, productive orchard on the driveway, but the car is a fiendish disputant and I’m not ready to face that argument yet.
So we must carry on, taking small steps back towards happiness and away from progress, never forgetting that there will be places where giant leaps will be required. Let’s hope that all those small steps build up the leg muscles!