How free are we ever likely to be of our environment? In so many ways it must shape us – our identity, experiences, thoughts, relationships and expectations – as everything we’ve ever encountered leaves its mark and becomes some part of who we are. Almost as if this large part of “being human” is the imprint the world is making upon us.
It seems like an interesting relationship, the one between us and environment. This sense in which we’re almost breathing in all that’s around us, forming our own ideas about it and then taking up our place in the flow of events. All these ways we find meaning or seek our worth within whatever face the world turns toward us; somehow charting our path between all the praise, judgement or shame.
As if all the ideas around us, the explicit ones and all those embedded in the nature of society, seep into the mind to become our understanding of life, how to live it and what matters most. The “meaning” within our environment perhaps informing how we are in the world, towards others and within ourselves: the conversations we’ll have, assumptions we hold, judgements we’ll make and things we think we can get away with.
Where do any of those things come from if not from our environment? All the subtle cues as to what our community deems valuable, admirable or worthwhile. The warmth of recognition, acceptance and approval set against the fear of rejection, criticism and error. Our whole landscape letting us know what it thinks and how we should be if we want to thrive in this setting.
Almost as it “to be human” is to step into our world, come to an understanding of it, then decide what we’ll add: how we’ll respond to whatever we’ve found here. The contents of our environment becoming the contents of our mind; everything having found a home there somewhere on the bookshelves of our mental spaces. Each person picking up their threads and weaving something new into the mix through their choices.
What, then, are we to make of the modern world? All these ideas, artefacts, opinions and struggles blending together into one vast global landscape filled with differing perspectives, lifestyles and values. So few conventions or agreed-upon notions of how to think about life and take our place within all this. Very little by way of reliable guidance or oversight as we each decide for ourselves what we’ll make of it all.
Surrounded by so many attempts to influence, belittle or coerce us into various courses of action. All this effort to make people feel inadequate, afraid or uncertain, just so we’ll buy into whatever solution’s being offered. In many ways, an environment seemingly designed to undermine us and any sense of our own worth; a place full of threats, attacks, promises, lies and strangers.
If we can’t help but somehow absorb what’s going on around us, how are we to respond to this strange atmosphere we’re currently living in?
Notes and References:
World, heading for a breakdown?
Seeing where others are coming from
Why assume there’s only one set of values?
Lacking the human side of community?
Systems, their power, whose hands?
Shaping the buildings that shape us
Visual language and spaces