Designing the world, or not

10 August 2010 by Jennifer

Thought some of you would appreciate this quote from Now is the time to open your heart, by Alice Walker from 2004, which I re-read recently.

When you are caught up in the world that you did not design as support for your life and the life of earth and people, it is like being caught in someone else’s dream or nightmare. Many people exist in their lives in this way. I say exist because it is not really living. It is akin to being suspended in a dream one is having at night, a dream over which one has no control. You are going here and there, seeing this and that person; you do not know or care about them usually, they are just there, on your interior screen. Humankind will not survive if we continue in this way, most of us living lives in which our own life is not the center. You would not drive a car looking out the side window, would you? Yet that is what it has come to for many human beings; they are driving their lives forward while watching what is happening along the road or even in the rearview mirror.

Some thoughts

For me it ties up with some things I was thinking about a while back about how modern life isn’t designed for people to be happy and well supported.

Well, in many ways it’s not designed at all, not as a whole – it just got this way by a constellation of pushes and pulls and past decisions and ideas, landing us where we are.

But I mean if you were trying to design the world for optimum peace & happiness for people, you wouldn’t design it to look like it does.

And governments and businesses mostly aren’t measuring joy and fulfilment, or managing with the intention of optimising those qualities. People working in those environments are mostly measuring other stuff – like money for instance.

Sometimes they aren’t even hoping to increase joy & fulfilment. But other times they seem to have a sort of vague hope or assumption that managing these other things will indirectly mean more joy & fulfilment or less suffering. And often it doesn’t actually work that way.

What ifs

Now I’m thinking, what would it be like if the primary measure of a Government’s success was the Joy & Fulfilment Index, based on a census of where everyone’s at? What if companies were legally obliged to act to increase the joy & fulfilment of their shareholders, their customers and the community around them? I think a lot of decisions would be made differently in the light of those aims.

Not saying I’m the first person to have ideas like that. I just think it’s a thought-provoking and exhilarating genre of question. We’re starting from such a very different world, I think it’s hard to even imagine the full expression of the answers. What on earth would a world be like which was consciously designed towards those kinds of aims?

3 thoughts on “Designing the world, or not”

  1. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote an important book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. It should be easy to find an overview of the book on various websites, including Wikipedia. Alternatively, you can find an overview in the “Flow” chapter of the “slides book” of my Skills You Need to Change the World training course.

    Anyway, in one of the chapters of the “Flow” book (sorry,I don’t recall which chapter), the author touches upon the theme of your blog article. He rates several current and historical civilisations based on how well they are/were able to provide its citizens with opportunities for flow. His logic was simple: being able to get into a state of flow regularly dramatically improves one’s quality of life; therefore, a society that enables its citizens (either individually or in groups) to get into a state of flow regularly would score highly on what you call the “Joy and Fulfilment Index”, and would be be superior to a society in which opportunities for flow are rare.

    By the way, it would be useful to have a “preview” button on your blog’s form for submitting comments, so that people would check they are using the right syntax when providing, say, hyperlinks in a comment.


  2. Thanks Ciaran. I think I’ve read that book, though not for a long time.

    I agree with you about the preview button. I like those too when I’m commenting. I’ll look into it. (This blog runs on WordPress, so it’s probably just gonna be down to what plugins WP has.)

  3. You write:

    “What if companies were legally obliged to act to increase the joy & fulfilment of their shareholders, their customers and the community around them?”

    Many companies would immediately make plans to move to where the legislation did not apply. If you managed to make it global, they would seek out the least conscientious administrations in applying it.

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