To metamorphose is to transform. This site is an exploration of change (why we avoid it, how we can achieve it, who inspires us along the way) and the conditions required for transformation. Founded and curated by Simran Sethi.

"Being a good environmentalist is not about sacrifice. It’s about getting more of what you really want – good food, clean water, community."  Scotty Kellogg

Context is the key

Context is the key. From that, comes the understanding of everything."        Kenneth Noland

This image is one for which I have received a lot of praise. Bereft of context, it seems almost beautiful. But, to me, it is not.  

What’s missing is the dirty, broken shopping cart that I cropped out of the shot and the junkies that were smoking cigarettes in front of the bodega on the corner. When put in context, the lure of buying dreams feels almost desperate, as if the only thing that residents had left to sell was their dreams. They’d hawked the jewelry a long time ago.

Or maybe not. 

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In 1964, philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously proclaimed, “The medium is the message.” This now-ubiquitous statement, known as the McLuhan Equation, is regularly taken out of context. It is assumed that “the medium” is exclusively related to mass communications, and “the message” is information or content. 

Not so. 

There is no truer expression of the McLuhan Equation than the human microphone put into practice at Occupy Wall Street. The action is a simple call and response, an amplification of a a single voice through a crowd without the use of speakers or microphones (disallowed at Zuccotti Park and other public meeting spaces). The human mic transforms every listener into an active participant - an embodiment of the message. According to McLuhan, “the message” is the change that a new innovation brings to the public sphere, “the medium” is the extension of self, and the relationship between the two - the socio-cultural change the medium engenders - is the point of interest.  

I participated in the People’s Assembly organized by OccupyFood Justice in support of the seed organizations, farmers and food NGOs that filed suit against Monsanto for transgenic crop contamination. Before speaking, I was absolutely terrified of the people’s microphone. I was worried I would not be able to get my message across and that I would feel silly waiting for responses or hearing my words repeated back to me.

Not so. 

The space in between - where meaning was created - was palpable. The slow chorus transformed words into messages and listening into engagement. The words I spoke were no longer mine, because every person who spoke them did so in their own voice, with their own emphasis and intonation. Perhaps they struggled with some of the words as they said them (as I did with some of the other speakers) or maybe they felt their conviction grow stronger as they spoke truths that resonated (which I also experienced).  Regardless, speaking the words changed our relationship to them. We were, at once, responding to and embodying individual voices and something deeper and collective. In that moment, the words - and all that they held - belonged to all of us.  

Union Square subway station. This sound rose above the noise-chorus. Made me think about how tolerance seems to thrive in places where people are not alike. 

All of these definitions seem worthy of exploration:

Definition of TOLERANCE

: capacity to endure pain or hardship : endurancefortitude,stamina
a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s ownb : the act of allowing something : toleration
: the allowable deviation from a standard; especially : the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece
(1) : the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance (as a drug) or a physiological insult especially with repeated use or exposure <developed a tolerance to painkillers>also : the immunological state marked by unresponsiveness to a specific antigen (2) :relative capacity of an organism to grow or thrive when subjected to an unfavorable environmental factorb : the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that may lawfully remain on or in food

10 Plays

"Great minds don’t think alike, they think differently." - T-shirt wisdom from Brighton (via Julian Agyeman)

When you ride with petroleum, you ride with Hitler

(Image credit: Weimer Pursell, 1943.  Printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office for the Office of Price Administration)

I look forward to the day when internal combustion drivers face the same disdain solo drivers faced decades ago.

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Context Before Absolutely Everything (From The Manifesto Project)

Understanding that all design happens within a context is the first (and arguably the only) stop to make on your way to becoming a good designer.

 You can be a bad designer after that, of course, but you don’t stand a chance of being a good one if you don’t first consider context. It’s everything: in graphics, communication, interaction, architecture, product, service, you name it—if it doesn’t take context into account, it’s crap. And you already promised not to make any more of that.”

Allan Chocinov

Where Does Generosity Live?

According to a new UC Berkeley study, “People in the lower socio-economic classes are more physiologically attuned to suffering, and quicker to express compassion than their more affluent counterparts. ‘It’s not that the upper classes are coldhearted,’ said UC Berkeley social psychologist Jennifer Stellar, lead author…’They may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives.’”

"It has not escaped the researchers’ attention that the findings come at a time of rising class tension, expressed in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Rather than widen the class divide, Stellar said she would like to see the findings promote understanding of different class cultures. For example, the findings suggest that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds may thrive better in cooperative settings than their upper-class counterparts."

More on empathy here

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