The Unsinkable Lifeboat We Need Now

Micène Fontaine, March 24, 2021

Shortly after I wrote about abandoning cynicism for stubborn optimism, I landed on a book titled Humankind: A Hopeful History." I clicked, grasping for hope. One of the blurbs printed on the cover, read “In a sea of cynicism, this book is the sturdy, unsinkable lifeboat the world needs.” Another read, “Humankind changes the conversation and lights the path to a brighter future.” Yet, the cynic in me (I know...) quipped, “Good luck with that!”. For one thing, as the author himself points out, “Cynicism is a theory of everything. The cynic is always right.” Try to beat that with stubborn optimism... Let alone try changing the conversation as the second blurb suggests. I could not resist the appeal of an “unsinkable lifeboat” and of “the path to a brighter future.” I bought the book. Now what?

I reluctantly put my stubborn optimism hat on (the cynic one fits much better) and wondered what if we could change the conversation? What if we could make stubborn optimism sexy? After all, that is the basic premise behind our Change by Design series in which we ask: What if we could solve today’s most challenging societal issues by leveraging the power of design and architecture?

So, what if we could? What would it look like? Two images came to mind. The first one is the 1968 photograph Earthrise showing our glowing blue mothership floating in the infinity of space beyond the moon's horizon. The second one is the 2021 picture of a theater performance by the coincidentally named Moonlight Mobile Theater company who (to maintain physical distancing as a COVID19 mitigation practice) asked their audience to sit in cubicles around the stage and watch the performance through maildrop slots.

Moonlight Mobile Theater Performance
Credits: Moonlight Mobile Theater/Ryosuke Sato/ Reuters, Feb. 19, 2021.

The second image is a blunt reminder that the lens (or maildrop as it were) through which we see the world inevitably creates blind spots. Left unchallenged, these blind spots can lead to the impossibility of changing the conversation or even having one. If brought to light, these blind spots open up the door to unabated curiosity about what others see from their vantage point.

EarthriseCredits: Earthrise, NASA, Dec. 24, 1968.

The first image has led many to experience the "Overview Effect." A cognitive shift in awareness that happens when viewing the Earth from space. In fact, seeing our blue dot as one system - life-sustaining and conscious - has single-handedly compelled many to do their best to help safeguard our future on Earth. One conversation at a time. Please don't take my words for it. Hear what the astronauts have to say.

I believe thoughtful conversations accompanied by deliberate actions - big and small - are the unsinkable lifeboat we need now, and I hope you’ll join me in imagining the built environment’s version of stubborn optimism. What’s your vision? Let’s talk about it: Join our Change by Design series, post your thoughts below or have a conversation with your team.

Think about it 🌏

:Food for Thought and Action

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