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Flexibility for Resilience?

I had a proud mother moment at the weekend. I went to Oslo to the launch of the Oslo Triennale Architecture Festival, which my oldest son is co-curating with three other young architects. This is the son of whom I nearly despaired when he was a teenager – he was not sure of what he wanted, and we often found it hard to communicate. So, if you are having a trying time with your teenager – take heart…It can get better!

Anyway…the theme of the Triennale is De-growth, a very interesting challenge for architects. How do you define yourself as an architect if your aim is the OPPOSITE of growth? It was fascinating, especially to someone interested in well-being. I am still processing it all. How can we ‘de-grow’ the complexity of our daily routines? Can we shape our plastic bottles better, so they be re-used rather than re-cycled? And so on….

For me, possibly the most interesting exhibit, was a game about co-living. It was designed to challenge our thinking about our priorities in our living space. Given a limited amount of ‘capital’, how would you ‘spend’ it, to create living arrangements that you could cope with? In the game, the two players are randomly assigned with a character. Players take it in turns to ‘build a flat-share’ but there is a cost – and the cost of sharing a facility is always less than the cost of individual use! Trying to provide my character with a flat where he could practise his music alone and indulge his love of long, hot baths, proved very costly. Would he have to share his bath or put up with practising his violin in front of his cohabitee, in order to sleep or bathe alone!

All very difficult and challenging - until we had a round where everything was suddenly easy. My co-player and I found ourselves happily sharing everything! We ended up with ‘capital’ enough and some to spare. We were installing games rooms and chilling spaces! What was going on?

It turned out that both our characters were ‘people of no qualities’. Having ‘no qualities’ meant we had no axes to grind, were completely flexible and accommodating and consequently, ended up with everything we wanted and more!

Of course, we questioned the idea that anyone could have ‘no qualities’ but it made us think. Could the key to resilience simply be to be very, very flexible? Not so much bounce back as just bounce?

I, personally, am not naturally flexible. I’m fascinated by the rules we impose upon ourselves and where we’ve got them from. In terms of my own well-being, it would serve me well to be have more flex. So much of what bothers me is because I was brought up to believe that to a very large extent, there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, from how I treat other people to how I sort the laundry for washing.

So…as we seek our own well-being, how flexible can we be? What are we winding ourselves up about unnecessarily? What really matters? I’m not suggesting we ditch our moral codes or our personal space requirements completely – but a review is always helpful. As Socrates famously said, ‘An unexamined life is not worth living’.

This week, then, I will be observing all my minor irritants and how they relate to all the qualities in myself that I think are a ‘good thing’ and tend to see as non-negotiable. I will consider how flexibility will add to my resilience. Just don’t let me catch anyone putting black socks in with the white wash, OK?

Meg Harper