In my first post, I started unraveling my story of personal discovery, of something so simple as hearing a few eloquently strung words at precisely the right moment, of strange serendipity. I figured it was about time to finish that thought; here’s to the end of the beginning…
Speeding down the interstate somewhere in the hazy cloud of time between 9:00 and that glorious second cup of gas station coffee, the only sounds to be heard were the muffled din of talk-radio and the heavy breathing of a sound sleep. Shifting uncomfortably in my contorted position among suitcases and dreaming bodies, my toes sent a rush of flying daggers up my left side. Irritated, I turned my attention to the screen on my lap as Brad Pitt’s beautiful voice sauntered through my headphones. “Not a bad start,” I thought. The usual, shocking statistics on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions were paired hauntingly with images and clips of industrial cities and smokestacks…
Cue mental rant.
Yes, I know, we live in a ridiculous society driven by consumerist tendencies and selfish ways…but how long can we really continue scaring ourselves silly with extremist projections, blaming our governments, and, quite frankly, trying to incite a new movement towards “positive change” by blatantly arguing with each and every person who doesn’t see or acknowledge the environmentally-conscious paradigm?
In my undergraduate degree program [during the guinea pig years of a Bachelor of Science in "Sustainable Living"], a typical classroom was akin to a putrid melting-pot of dreadlocks, grammatical errors, and outspoken voices. I was consistently surrounded by people who projected the attitude that the best way to move in the direction of a sustainable future was to spend hours upon hours watching documentaries filled with facts and statistics revolving around the horrors in which we currently live and the burning, poison-filled trajectory we are speeding towards our certain death upon…and then proceeding to yell at one another about who was the most wrong in a situation, or how much we were in disagreement with a given point of view, fact, or policy. People felt the pressure to talk because they had to say something, and not because they had something to say. It felt just shy of terrible, and more than a little ineffective. I sat alone in silence, one class after another, getting more and more frustrated with the overwhelming degree of environmental angst in my field of study. On the worst days, I was living in a nightmarish cloud of machismo, conspiracy theories, and body odor.
Despite the melodic, mesmerizing nature of the narrator’s handsome voice, I was about to dismiss this documentary as another scare-tactic, another 20 minutes jam-packed with fear-based facts and haunting images of polar bears floating away on lonely chunks of ice…
Then, in the middle of my self-inflicted pity-party, something interesting happened. After stating the frightening realities of the role that the building industry plays in our global demise, the question was posed: “Should design, afterall, have a greater purpose?“
Something inside of me shifted; a chill trickled eerily down my spine as the wheels started turning. The word “purpose” hit me as if I hadn’t heard it before; it simply felt different…I guess it’s hard to explain. The simple answer to that question is a quote that will stay with me forever. The frame featured a man sitting casually by a window, wearing a grey turtleneck shirt. Almost nonchalantly, he said,
Right now, there’s a split in the design profession. It’s the idea that design is about aesthetics…..and the idea that design can be about ETHICS.
I frantically hit the space bar to burn this paradigm-shattering statement into my memory. Everything went silent. All the frustration built-up from months of arguing in the classroom melted away as a new optimism crashed over me. I pulled out a sharpie and scribbled on the back of my hand: “Cameron Sinclair, Architecture for Humanity”.
I snapped back to reality and resumed the film. He continued by saying,
If you think about [the fact that] one in seven people are currently living in what we call ‘inadequate housing’, in formal settlements: in slums, refugees, internally-placed camps; ONE IN SEVEN in the world. In 30 years, it’s going to be one in three. We have this new global baby boom happening that are the poorest of the poor, and THAT is going to effect the environment far more than driving a hummer around. And, I think, although it’s important that the United States and the West show an example of what a sustainable world can look like–we also need to be proactive for the rest of the world.
It is beyond imperative that we, the privileged individuals of the western world, become proactive. While we sit around trying to figure out which radio station to listen to in our new cars, if our earrings clash with our high heels, and, even (on the higher side of things) what our elected officials are saying about climate change, an exceedingly increasing group of people in our global family are starving for their next meal.
We have become self-conscious in every sense of the term; we are distracted by our fixation upon and identification with the thoughts we have, body we inhabit, and “roles” we play in society. But what if there was more? What if we were to view ourselves, even if for a mere second, as instruments, contributing towards the manifestation of a much greater entity…a harmonious “symphony” of sound, feeling, and experience? A shift towards global awareness paired with self-confidence and a deep sense of purpose could move mountains.
Afterall, the anger at the root of most of the environmental extremism has emerged from the intense desire to improve the human condition, restore ecological equilibrium, and foster a dynamic relationship between the two. We, as a species, are here within this ecosystem, on this earth, and during this time for a multitude of “things”…at its very essence, our time here is made special by our capacity to learn, love, and lead.
As we get distracted by the shiny bits and pieces just off the side of the path, we must remember the power that we hold not only within our minds but in our very hands as well.