One sunny afternoon a few years ago, my then 9-year-old son uttered those words every parent or carer will be familiar with: “Mum, I am bored.” I gave him my usual response: “Go outside and find someone to play with.” He went out and returned five minutes later: “There is nobody out there.” I looked out the window to check that it hadn’t suddenly started raining, but no, the sun was high in the sky and not a cloud in sight. And indeed—not a kid in sight either.
Between June and December of 2016 researcher and urban explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison walked “the length of Britain and a bit” wearing an EEG headset that monitored his brain’s responses to the different places he visited. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 earlier this year he was asked to share some of the things that had stood out during his journey. “There are no children playing in the street,” was his first remark, “except in Newcastle.”
According to research conducted by Play England, 71% of adults say they played out in the street every day when they were children. For today’s children that figure is only 21%.
“What I stand for is what I stand on.”
― Wendell Berry
Several years ago I was invited to work on a ‘Soil and Story’ project for the Soil Association. It was a wonderful opportunity to do some research into different cultural approaches to soil and earth. Now that I am in the process of co-organising A Land Conference in Devon I decided it might be worth looking up some of what I discovered working on that project. What follows is an extract from some of my research.
“The world’s indigenous peoples revered and still revere the soil as a power in itself, rather than as merely a provider of food, minerals or structural support. Native Americans say ‘the earth is our mother’ and refer to the soil as ‘our mother’s flesh’. The Maori of New Zealand call themselves ‘tangata whenua’, people of the land, and call her ‘the mother that never dies’. For the Australian Aborigines the land is the place of ‘dreaming’, and dreamtime stories explain how the land was created by the journeys of the spirit ancestors.
Towards a New Story of Economics
Humans are storytelling beings. In fact one could argue that it is impossible to make sense of the world without story. Storytelling is how we piece together facts, beliefs, feelings and history to form something of a coherent whole connecting us to our individual and collective past, present and future. The stories that help make meaning of our lives inform how we shape and re-shape our environment. This re-created world, through its felt presence in structures and systems as well as its cultural expressions, in turn tells us its story.
We live in a time of powerful globalised narratives. We no longer (or rarely) sit and listen to tales that were born of places we know intimately and told by people deeply connected to these places. Ours is a world saturated with information from every corner of the planet, voiced by ‘storytellers’ on television, radio, the internet, mobile phones, newspapers, billboards, books and magazines. It would appear that we now have access to a multitude of perspectives and, with that, more understanding of the different options open to human beings to live fulfilling lives. In reality however, the majority of us have to conform to a narrow set of rules not of our own making: the rules of economics.
“We can’t change anything until we get some fresh ideas, until we begin to see things differently. My goal is to create a therapy of ideas, to try to bring in new ideas so that we can see the same old problems differently.”
Sometimes it would seem that those of us working for change divide into two distinct categories: Be-ers and Do-ers.
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
There are things in this world I would like to draw a circle around. Things, or more accurately experiences, that I value so much that I want a special place for them, somewhere safe where they cannot be touched by what we so quaintly refer to as ‘the market’. Experiences such as beauty, love and freedom.