In a previous post I connected place-based working to the concept of an Islamic garden and also how the basic fundamental principles within Islamic geometric art can help illustrate how layering and collaboration can be thought of.
The Common Garden: An Architecture of Intersections
What is it that is in front of you? No, not the thing. The other thing.
Here I’m going to introduce some archetypes which you may find when working in the garden.
It is meant to be tongue in cheek but at the same time it is meant to act as a hold up a mirror to our own actions and behaviours that we may otherwise be unconscious of.
You should be familiar with the Sumo wrestler, the style of competition and the ring (dohyō) within which it all takes place.
This ring can be used to represent any entity; an organisation, a service, a role or ourselves. The sumo becomes the intent, action and behaviour. The ring and the sumo are inseparable (a system).
All of these entities can act or behave in such a way that their way of operating is to keep everything at bay.
It’s highly cultural (attitudinal, learnt and behavioural).
- Examples can be local authorities adopting policies that exclude previous recipients of services.
- Departments operating at the absolute minimum required by law.
- Charities not working with others.
- Organisations avoiding responsibility or passing the buck.
- Circular signposting.
It can be felt by people who are trying to find help.
They seek something to hold on to but a deft deferral from those who might be able to provide assistance keeps them out of the ring of support. Sometimes the effect can be to bat them to the side entirely.
The sumo’s mass and power plays to their advantage.
They can absorb the blows to leave their underpowered opposition breathless, tired and confused. It’s a game they can play all day.
In all of these things, the sumo thinks that he’s winning. But ultimately the unseen effect is to reduce the size and importance of the ring he so proudly defends with each and every move.
The defended space is losing something from within itself that once filled it and gave it purpose.
Duty? Responsibility? Decency? Respect? Appreciation?
What is actually left once these are gone?
It is only the sumo.
This archetype is the opposite of the sumo.
In the saint’s world the rules of the game are inversed.
Instead of keeping everything at bay and at arm’s length, the saint steps outside of the ring with just a toe touching the boundary.
He reaches out (I don’t know why he’s a man).
She calls out and smiles to everyone.
He offers genuine human contact.
They are light-footed, nimble and alert. They dance around the full circumference of the circle helping people into and out of the ring.
The difference is palpable to all those that receive help and to all those in the vicinity.
These things are highly cultural (attitudinal, learnt and behavioural).
They have the effect of changing the world around them.
The sumo’s world can only ever reduce.
The saint’s world grows larger and as it does it fills with everything that gives the ring purpose and meaning.
The I̶d̶i̶o̶t̶ Fool
Well, I was hoping to be clever here.
I had the mistaken understanding that ‘idiot’ in it’s original Greek sense meant a person who was self-interested and who took no interest in the affairs of their city or society.
It isn’t quite like that at all.
More fool me…
But not one to let being; wrong, incorrect or blatantly inaccurate get in the way of a good yarn. I shall stubbornly continue on.
- The fool represents people and organisations that are solely focussed on themselves.
- They are not interested in cooperating or collaborating unless the gains are evident on their parts.
- Their view of the world is singular and this makes it difficult to work intelligently with them.
For the purposes of illustration let me suggest a trade association and in order to avoid any later repercussions let’s call it the ‘Feather Sausage Association of Great Britain’.
FSAGB only exist to serve one important function in the world. This is more sales of Feather Sausage.
To create more profit for the proud Feather Sausage makers, the FSAGB lobbies for prioritisation by government and deregulation of the entire Feather Sausage sector. They also market and campaign extensively to raise the profile and shape public perceptions. For this they are rewarded handsomely by the Feather Sausage makers of Great Britain who need a strong voice and a safe pair of hands to represent them.
If you sit down with the FSAGB all you get is Feather Sausage.
You can ask questions but you won’t get responses or answers unless it benefits Feather Sausage.
You know the kind of thing.
The fool represents what we can become when we let things get in the way of being intelligent, cooperative or collaborative human beings.
I use a trade association as an example because it is deliberately (by actual conception, purpose and design) narrow.
But we can all be a fool from time to time.
- Maybe we let KPI’s get in the way of being people or helping people?
- Maybe we act unreasonably and without thinking?
- Maybe we forget to listen to what people are saying because we are too busy thinking about what to say?
In the Garden
As I said at the start this isn’t meant to be a serious post.
But when it comes to collaborating around place or around need then I think it’s useful to be reminded that we’re all human beings and that organisations, rules, roles and cultures can get in the way of that.
If we are more open and willing to work together then we can achieve far greater things than we can alone.
There is a certain art to these things and it must be learnt.
Working openly and equally with others wasn’t taught to us at school or in many of our careers.
There is work to be done in creating the right conditions, facilitating the right spaces and developing good relationships and trust.
If we are to work with others well.
Forgiveness may be the most important requirement of all.