Last summer, a friend of mine was walking down a trail to the beach. The trail was the organic consequence of years of evolution. That is: people choosing that path, then this path, then that path, until over time, the best trail survived the experiment and this trail became the clear winner and received the coveted job of getting humans to this particular beach from that particular car park. (If you haven't read On Trails by Robert Moor, I highly recommend it. My friend Mike suggested it and it's wonderful!)
However, one day, my friend was walking down this same trail, as he had all week, when he came across a man with a power tool, cutting what appeared to be a staircase into the cliff side. He asked the man what he was doing and the man said something along the lines of 'This trail is used a lot, but the entrance to the beach is a bit steep and dangerous.’
My friend asked him: ‘Do you work for the council?’.
To which the man responded: 'No. I just thought it would be better with a staircase, so I got my tools and power generator and created one.’
I walked past the staircase the other day. A year later, the staircase has clearly been maintained and looks even better.
In 2019 most of us go to the supermarket rather than grow our own veg, we can use the ‘1-Click’ feature on Amazon to have anything sent to us, our coffee is ready ground for us, our offices have seemingly invisible people who water our plants, and the council cleans our streets. And for all the convenience that this brings us, I sometimes wonder whether small slip by small slip, we might be slipping from being citizens and community members, to spectators and passive subjects.
At the worse we can slip from being creators, to being victims. So inspired by our power tool wielding citizen superhero, the question I’m asking myself is, ‘What stair cases could I build?’. What are the subtle moments in my life where I’m passively waiting for somebody else to do something when I could? Or expecting others to fix something, where there is a clear opportunity for me to make my own luck, or to contribute to my neighbourhood, my street, my community (including online).
Rather than be a passive consumer, I could be an active citizen and this goes for many areas of our lives at work, in our streets, with our families. I'm not saying this only because it benefits society, but because it benefits me. It contributes to the psychology of somebody who creates rather than waits. So I'm wondering, where are the opportunities for us to spot a tiny problem, and fix it, rather than wait for the council to sort it?
Perhaps I’ll do a beach clean soon or something.
What stairs can you carve?