[Think about it.]
Can you name that one book that you read in high school that changed the way you thought about the world? You probably read a lot of books in high school but for some reason this was the book that really stuck. Can you name it?
For me it was The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It was the book that helped me to appreciate the world as it came to me, both the yin and the yang, as enriching, equally important complements. It was the book that made me understand how sentimental I am for words and what great power they have over me. It’s one of the few books that I re-read time and again.
Can you name the one album or song that changed your perspective when you were young? Beyond everything you heard on the radio, for some reason this was the album that was pivotal for you.
For me it was Kid A by Radiohead. My brother gave it to me as a birthday present, and although I really wanted to like it and think it was cool, it was mostly just weird at first. (Treefingers, anyone?) So I listened to it over and over, and as I started to appreciate new things about it, something dramatic happened: I discovered album liner notes. And record labels. And then opening acts and side projects. Kid A led me to OK Computer, the 1997 album by Radiohead that was regarded in some circles as the best album of the 1990s, and to Sigur Rós, the Icelandic band making atmospheric, beautiful music who toured with Radiohead in support of Kid A. Sigur Rós led me to Björk, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and múm (all Icelandic artists) and Constellation Records (a Canadian record label that shared a kindred spirit) and each of these bands led to half a dozen others. And of course each of those bands had their own opening acts, side projects, and liner notes too. I went from listening to music to being a fan of music. Seeing these connections was an ah-ha! moment that reshaped my relationship with music, and it continues to be a guiding metaphor in how I try to navigate a sea of new, yet somehow connected, ideas.
[Talk about it.]
What other experiences have changed your perspective: a moment of earthly humility while gazing through a telescope? A childhood insult whose sting took years to wear off? That conversation that allowed you to realize that your parents were actually people too?
I’m curious about the ways that our perspectives are shaped and how so many of these formative experiences exist only as personal, silent memories. How many people have touched me in lasting ways they don’t know? How many things have I said and forgotten, which are now quietly carried on by other people?
As I prepare for the school year ahead, I am increasingly mindful of the impact I may have as a teacher — and yet never know about. In a larger sense I am mindful of the incredible challenge and responsibility each of us has to respect other people for all 360 degrees of their humanity, regardless of situation or circumstance, despite the fact that we can only ever have one narrow view of them at any given time.
[Act on it.]
All of this leads me to wonder: what would happen if we gave voice to these personal, silent memories? What would happen when we discover the lasting impact of the little things we do? My hope is that we might see familiar themes in the people around us and that in the end this commonality might help us treat each other a bit more humanely.
I’ve been trying to explore these ideas in a few ways recently. Last month I led an 8 person mini-workshop via Google Hangout. I planned an activity to trigger a conversation on these themes, but it didn’t work out the way I had hoped. I’d like now to try something new, and this time I’m asking you, dear reader, for your help. My next attempt will be a platform for the same ideas but in a new setting and for a new audience.
Now help me complete this thought:
Context: My school gathers once a week for Meeting for Worship. Students and faculty alike sit in silence for 40 minutes; if anyone is moved to speak, he or she stands and shares a message.
Opportunity: Meeting for Worship is frequently a place where these quiet formative moments are given voice in public. But what nags me are all of the messages that go unsaid. I’d like to create an alternative avenue for these messages to be expressed and received.
Concept: I’ve got a half-baked idea for a suggestion box of sorts. People would be invited to share their messages, anonymously or not, either by pen and paper or electronically. The responses gathered would have a chance to be shared publicly (most likely after being screened by an adult. It is still a high school after all). The logistics and the presentation of sharing these messages are entirely up for grabs in my head.
So here’s the design prompt: how might we… create a visible, communal (and optionally anonymous) platform for people to share these moments, to receive them, and to feel more connected to each other through them?
So far my solution has a lot to do with thoughtfully chosen typography, but I’m afraid that’s about all I’ve got. Can you help me take the next step?
Whether or not this design prompt goes anywhere, it is the listening that matters — and on the first day of school already I’m sure that it is what will guide my year ahead.