If you’ve ever felt like a resource or asset, then this weeks post is for you. It’s one of my last reading response blog posts for my economy, society, governance and business class this semester. This weeks readings, alongside life experience, inspired me to reflect on why I chose to return to school in the first place. Why I ended up at Naropa University studying contemplative psychology and then Presidio for sustainable solutions. The desire might seem intuitive, but in all honesty, I just wanted to get a degree that would elevate my professional career. Yet, on a deeper level, I realize that I also wanted to be seen and recognized as more than just a resource. I’ve spent many years leaving businesses better than I found them and, unfortunately, at the end of my experience I have mostly felt like an asset never seen or recognized, and certainly never accurately valued for my contribution. Additionally, I have seen many of my colleagues treated like disposable assets. You could consider this an open letter to HR professionals but I could never place the blame of our increasingly consumption based society on any single industry. I won’t go into detail or try to convince you of my experiences other than to share this feeling with you of feeling disposable because I believe we all desire to be recognized accurately and equitably.
This weeks readings take that desire to the collective, focusing on participatory models that seek to leverage the power of local knowledge. They point out the inherent biases and conflicting desires of those analyzing and ultimately deciding the policies and fate of the lives of its participants and subjects of analysis. One of the readings on participatory approaches warns of the different levels of participation from the manipulative extraction of local knowledge to push forward political agendas to the the empowering community led participatory models that elevate local stakeholders to spaces where they have decision making power (Duraiappah, Roddy, & Parry, 2005). Local participation and partnership with government is of course important, and even necessary, in matters of policy and planning research, but it’s also important to not leave local participants feeling the way I’ve felt many times before, like just a resource.
Local knowledge is powerful and important. It’s been described in Street Science by Jason Corburn as being practical, collective and rooted in place as well as being based on real world experience (Corburn, 2005, p. 48). And, as I have mentioned, it can be extracted as a resource and manipulated to support the goals of another. As an employee, I understand this, as a black queer man, I understand this, and I wonder how each of you reading this might understand this as well. In fact, I think it’s vital today to develop an awareness of how we consume the knowledge of others for our own interests since it is rather reflective of today’s increasingly consumption based culture and the sustainability issues we currently face.
As we begin to value the unique contribution of our local communities and members we must also value the diversity of cultures present in each community and the systems we use to collaborate with them so as to not further enact further harm from the white supremacist systems we have become so familiar with. As Karen Umemoto states in her journal article Walking in another’s shoes: Epistemological challenges in participatory planning, “It would be naive to think that one could know the world from someone else’s shoes” (Umemoto, 2001, p. 20). However, the author also share that we can create the foundation to understand another by having culturally diverse systems and methodologies. By doing so, we can begin to design a world capable of achieving the diverse desires of our communities. Creating a world like this might also begin to value qualities like code switching, a skill commonly found among children of immigrants. This ability of shifting between various culture paradigms can assist in the implementation of relevant policies and community based solutions.
As I end this post, I’d like to end with the symbolism found in Dalí’s Tarot deck for The Tower. This card reveals two archetypes, one being the Tower of Babel, a tower destroyed through the confusion of tongues and an overall symbol for the height of human megalomania. And the other archetype being Pentecost, a miraculous event described as the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles and followers of Jesus Christ and the emergence of the gift of hearing others speaking in their own language (Fiebig, 2003, p. 56). This powerful symbol of tearing down language barriers is a great reminder of the simple, yet profound, ability we each have to try and meet others in a place of mutual understanding, respect and value. I can’t help but think that treating each other this way is intimately tied to treating the earth the same.
Fiebig, J. (2003). Tarot Dalí. Taschen.
Corburn, J. (2005). Street science: Community knowledge and environmental health justice. MIT Press.
Duraiappah, A. K., Roddy, P., & Parry, J. E. (2005). Have participatory approaches increased capabilities?. Winnipeg: International institute for sustainable development.
Umemoto, K. (2001). Walking in another’s shoes: Epistemological challenges in participatory planning. Journal of planning education and research, 21(1), 17-31. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0739456X0102100102