Reading notes (2021, week 12) — On self-actualization, saving the climate in a triple crisis, and Lacaton & Vassal’s “never demolish” principle
Reading notes is a weekly curation of my tweets. It is, as Michel de Montaigne so beautifully wrote, “a posy of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.”
In this week’s edition: Wherever you are in life, whatever your character, you are always going to be a work in progress; a moon shot model for the transformation of capitalism; according to Pritzker 2021-winners Lacaton & Vassal, “transformation is the opportunity of doing more and better with what is already existing”; the disquieting rise of the tiny home; the lost art of listening; Ovid’s ‘carmen et error’; and, finally, a former Dutch diplomat and ‘seeing’ Tintoretto’s Last Supper.
The self-actualizing equation
“Self-actualizing people are, without one single exception, involved in a cause outside their own skin, in something outside of themselves. They are devoted, working at something, something which is very precious to them — some calling or vocation in the old sense. They are working at something which fate has called them to somehow and which they work at and which they love, so that the work-joy dichotomy in them disappears.” — Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, 1971
In his most recent book, The CEO Whisperer: Meditations on Leadership, Life, and Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), Manfred Kets de Vries examines the pitfalls of leadership and the challenges for the professionals who work with senior executives in today’s AI-focused world. He points out why leaders can derail, and what steps they can take to prevent this from happening. Ultimately, this book encourages you to ‘Know yourself,’ but makes no bones about the challenge it represents.
In one of the book’s chapters, The Self-Actualizing Equation, Kets de Vries says that the term ‘self-actualization’ has always sounded rather whimsical to him. It’s nevertheless a concept we shouldn’t brush aside. On page 30–33, he writes (unabridged):
“To the best of my understanding, self-actualization has to do with the full realization of our creative, intellectual, or social potential. Most of us try to be the best that we can be. Trying to self-actualize can help us to create good memories for ourselves and others. I also believe that the ability to self-actualize can be an effective antidote to existential anxiety, including the fear of death.
According to Abraham Maslow (who popularized the concept), ‘What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization.’ [Abraham H. Maslow (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, vol. 50, no. 4, 370–396]. I would add other important ingredients, including self-discovery, self-reflection, self- realization, self-exploration, meaning, belonging, control, and competence. I have noticed that self-actualized people are less dependent on the opinion of others. They are more secure about themselves. From what I have observed, if you have these self-actualizing qualities, you are more likely to feel better in your skin.”
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“As a way of dealing with our inevitable demise, we like to work toward something larger and more important than ourselves. Most of us, unless we invest in something larger than ourselves, will be more susceptible to depressive thoughts. But it is our fear of death that incentivizes us to leave some kind of legacy, however small. A major way of doing this and creating meaning is not necessarily to build a grandiose monument but to make a difference in the life of others. There are many ways of transcending the self.
This proposition seems to be valid in all dimensions of our lives, including the world of work. For example, in an organizational setting, if you can connect your personal goals with the goals of the organization, you will be much more committed and feel more authentic. And if you have others buy into your vision — if you are able to build these kinds of connections — you will feel even better. People work for money but die for a cause. Conversely, if you don’t understand, or are unable to sign up for, the ‘bigger picture’ you’re likely to become disengaged and demotivated at work.
This touches on the sense of belonging, which is a basic existential need, just like our need for food and shelter. Our evolutionary heritage means that all of us have an inherent desire to belong, to be part of something. We are a social species. We like to belong to a group — whether that’s our family, friends, co-workers, religion, or something else again. From an evolutionary psychological perspective, our need to belong has helped us to protect and define ourselves. For palaeolithic humans, being part of a community was protection against ever-present dangers. When we experience a sense of connection — when we feel valued, needed, and accepted by others — this feeling of being part of a greater community will improve our motivation, health, and happiness.
This fact is very well illustrated in the famous Harvard longitudinal study of adult development (the longest study of this kind ever done). The researchers found a strong correlation between people’s flourishing lives and their relationships with family, friends, and community. How happy we are in our relationships has an extremely powerful influence on our health. Tending to our relationships becomes a critical form of self-care. In other words, there are going many occasions when we need ‘the other’ simply to feel good in our skin. We don’t want ‘the other’ to fix anything or do anything in particular, just to let us feel that we are cared for and supported.
Control is about the need to direct our own life and work. To be fully motivated, we must be able to be in charge of what we do, when we do it, and whom we do it with. Self-efficacy means our ability to succeed in different situations, [Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71–81). New York: Academic Press] that is, the extent to which we believe we have control over the forces that govern our lives, how much trust we have that our actions will influence the outcomes of various situations, and how far we believe that we have choices. However, the quest for control over our life — the confidence that we can handle any difficulties that come our way — is a never-ending challenge. But if we manage it, not only will we feel safe, we will also feel that we have options. Unfortunately, my own observations indicate that many people live with the lingering fear of not having enough control. In particular, they wonder whether they have made the right choices, most significantly the choice of life partner and the choice of work.
Competence is the ability to do things successfully and efficiently, feeling and knowing that ‘I can do it!’ When we feel competent, we have a sense of ourselves as capable of tackling any task and challenge that comes our way.
The sense of competence also implies fostering ongoing personal growth and development, the ability to explore, and the capacity to handle critical feedback. The feeling of personal competence helps us persevere when faced with challenges, which makes it an important ingredient for a positive sense of self-esteem
In my efforts to develop leaders, the challenge has always been to nurture these important themes. In Chap. 2, I referred to the 7Cs [see note at the end] — characterological patterns that are important in making us the way we are — and to that equation I would add searching for meaning, obtaining a sense of belonging, having control, and competence. I tell my clients that the difference between dreams and reality is action. Sitting on their hands and waiting for something to turn up will get them nowhere. It is important to believe (illusory though it sometimes seems) that it is up to them to own their own lives.
In your journey through life, you will have moments when you feel beaten up, and broken. At these moments you should tell yourself that often the places that have been broken, become much stronger once they heal. Sometimes, the bad things that happen to you turn out for the better. You could call these moments of truth, moments when you really learn. Your challenge is to see these moments as learning opportunities and take advantage of them. In fact, it’s your responsibility to do so.
Let me give you a personal example from the beginning of my academic career. When I was a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School, my dream was to be offered a permanent position at the school and I duly applied for one when it became available. At the time, I was giving the highest rated course at the Harvard Business School (an institution where teaching is very important), something I was proud of, and which gave me added confidence in my application. My sponsor, Abraham Zaleznik, was a senior member of the HBS faculty (and a psychoanalyst) who had ‘split’ from the Organizational Behavior (OB) department because he thought the departmental approach to human behaviour left a lot to be desired. Looking back, I realize that I was very naïve when it came to academic politics. The OB faculty was unlikely to welcome a disciple of Zaleznik. Basically, I had backed the wrong horse. They turned me down and one of their main reasons was that a senior ‘visionary’ member of the department reckoned that I was ‘never going to write any- thing’ — words that have stayed with me ever since. At the time, I experienced this setback as a serious narcissistic injury. I felt the decision was deeply unfair — as it probably was. But now, so many years later, I wonder what my life would have been like if I had got the job? Would I have had the same opportunity to be so independent in my work? Would I have been able to self-actualize? Challenged as I was by the criticism of that particular faculty member, would I have written so many books and articles? And would I really have enjoyed living in the United States, given my attachment to Europe and its great cultural diversity? I can’t really answer these questions. But what I do know is that this setback motivated me to do many things. It made me decide to become a psychoanalyst, a decision that I think has made me more effective in my work, and it encouraged me to spend much of my time writing. It also made me realize that it is easy to deal with success but how you deal with failure is what shows true character. This dramatic setback (as I experienced it at that time) made me more philosophical when dealing with the vicissitudes of life. It probably also made me a better psychotherapist and coach. And it taught me to be more realistic about human nature.
As a psychotherapist and coach, I have learned how I can help people to find answers to their quests. But I also have become aware of my many limitations. I can only do so much. Metaphorically, I can open doors for my clients, but they have to choose to walk through those doors themselves. In the words of the Buddha: ‘No one saves us but ourselves. No one can, and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.’ A self-actualized person may not be perfect, but he or she is always perfectible. Wherever you are in life — whatever your character — you are always going to be a work in progress.”
7Cs — “I suggest that these leaders should subscribe to what may be called a seven C leadership model. Or to be more specific, I am referring to leaders who possess the qualities of Complexity, Confidence, Compassion, Care, Courage, Critical thinking, and Communication.” (Chapter 2, A Leadership Laboratory, p. 7)
Abraham Maslow — Although Maslow gave us the hierarchy of needs theory, he did not envision his framework in pyramid form at all, according to a new study, in which Todd Bridgman and Stephen Cummings, both of the Victoria University of Wellington, and John Ballard of Mount St. Joseph University in Ohio, trace the origins of what may be the world’s most famous infographic. They propose that it was actually created by a management consultant who had been inspired by a management theorist’s misinterpretation of Maslow’s earliest ideas. Source: “Maslow’s pyramid” is based on an elitist misreading of the psychologist’s work, by Lila MacLellan (Quartz at Work, April 19, 2019)
Saving the climate in a triple crisis
“Capitalism is facing three major crises. A pandemic-induced health crisis has rapidly ignited an economic crisis with yet unknown consequences for financial stability, and all of this is playing out against the backdrop of a climate crisis that cannot be addressed under the rubric of business as usual,” Mariana Mazzucato writes in Saving the Climate in a Triple Crisis.
“Critically, [these crises] must be viewed together. Otherwise, we will simply be solving problems in one place while creating others elsewhere. That is what happened with the 2008 financial crisis. Policymakers flooded the world with liquidity without directing it toward good investment opportunities. As a result, the money ended up back in a financial sector that was (and remains) unfit for the purpose of directing truly productive investment. […]
It’s only by understanding the structures that have allowed us to think so mistakenly about our relation to the planet that we can fully face up to the mandates of green innovation and restorative stewardship that we must urgently adopt today. While there is no silver bullet, it is crucial to resist the false trade-off: Either we face the immediate emergency, or we address climate change. By focusing on the structural characteristics behind the triple crisis, we can tackle them together. […]
To make sure we are not merely going from one crisis to another, we must repair the deep-seated flaws in our economic structures, and understand the interrelationships that they bolster. These include the way finance is organized, the short-term time horizon of many businesses driven by quarterly returns, and the increasing precarity of work, owing to the rise of the gig economy and a decades-long deterioration of workers’ bargaining power.”
“The problem is clear enough,” according to Mazzucato. “The financial sector has to a large extent been financing itself rather than the real economy. Most finance money goes back into finance, insurance, and real estate rather than into productive uses. […] Ways to counter the financialization of the financial sector include new institutions, such as public banks, or other public funds, that provide patient long-term finance to the real economy. Indeed, without the patient sources of finance like the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) plan in the United States, the venture capital industry would have had little to fund. Real economic reform also requires tax policy that favors long-term finance over short-term finance. Instead, today we have a tax system that continues to favor quick trades.
The second, deeper problem here is that the real economy has itself become financialized. In recent decades, finance has generally grown faster than the real economy — and within nonfinancial sectors, financial activities and their accompanying attitudes have come to dominate business. An ever-greater share of corporate profits has been used to boost short-term gains in stock prices rather than provide long-term investment in areas such as new capital equipment, research and development, and worker training. This means, in turn, that the skills of many workers are insufficiently developed, too many jobs are insecure gig-economy positions, and wages stay low. […]
This sketch is but an overview of the key reasons that rethinking corporate governance must be high on the agenda for the interlocking climate and Covid transitions. We have to shift business from its obsessive focus on maximizing shareholder value, and toward a fuller sense of the range of stakeholders who need to take part in the creation of a greener, safer model of social enterprise. Traditional corporate social responsibility is too limited to bring about this transformation. What’s needed is clarity about what value is created in the first place — and a new way of working along the entire value chain to produce it. A revitalized sense of purpose is required across both government and business — together with a more integral and unified sense of how they work together. For example, it is possible for government activity to be structured so as to reward types of corporate behavior that move us toward achieving sustainability targets. Tax policies could be designed to incentivize investments in areas related to Sustainable Development Goals. These could be designed to reward companies that lower their material content, that increase gender parity, and that pay workers a living wage. Such goals cannot be tackled simply by changes to corporate governance — through fine-print investment metrics like environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG). They require a fundamentally different way for business and the state to interact. In this sense, ‘purpose’ and the notion of ‘stakeholder value’ must go to the center of relationships between government and business.
Third, public institutions have bought into the idea that at best they need to fix market failures when they arise — and then get out of the way for private-sector capitalism to do the real work of economic rebuilding. This idea is in many ways precisely backward, and comes down to us from outmoded brands of neoclassical economic theory, which hold that the state is not central to the production function — only labor and capital are. In this blinkered view, public policy is there to redistribute, level the playing field, and fix problems when they arise — for example, via the provision of public goods or the remedy for negative ‘externalities,’ such as pollution or climate disruption, in traditional models of free-market exchange. These ‘market failures’ of course exist, but the problems in our system cannot be bandaged up; they require a more creative and aggressive approach to shaping markets, in which the state itself is seen as a co-creator of value, not just a fixer. It’s far more difficult to pick up the mess than to shape the economy to be right in the first place.”
“Tackling the triple crisis requires rethinking the role of all value creators in the economy, and their interrelationships. As I argue in my recently published book, Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism [see also Mazzucato’s From Moonshots to Earthshots; Project Syndicate, Feb 3, 2021], we need new frameworks of economic collaboration that can tackle the triple crisis before us in a holistic way that brings public purpose to the center of how we co-create value.
A mission-oriented approach begins by understanding the market as an outcome of how public, private, and other actors come together to solve problems. In this context, the role of policy is not to fix but to set an ambitious goal that mobilizes various actors for bottom-up experimentation across different sectors. Government can direct this process without being technocratic or too top-down. It can design the tools at its disposal,” like the Apollo moon program has clearly demonstrated. “NASA’s public-private partnership was clear on the goal, clear on the expense required, clear on the risk and uncertainty — and clear on why it was all worth it.
Working in cross-sector collaboration to solve these problems not only led to a successful mission outcome; it also created hundreds of other innovations, and directions for innovation, along the way. These dynamic spillovers and cross-party projects galvanized ensuing growth beyond the mission itself. In the same way that going to the moon required multisector investments, green missions will require investments in energy, transportation, nutrition, health, and areas that will allow manufacturing to reduce its material content. […]
Critically, a mission-oriented approach requires the mobilization of all the foregoing public-sector capabilities. This means (but is not limited to) the ability to set a direction, the capacity to procure innovative solutions, and the vision to negotiate a good deal and partnership aimed at a common goal.
With this model of mission-driven capitalism fixed in mind, we can circle back to the mission of remediating climate change. Greening the economy demands and deserves nothing less than a moon shot worthy of the mission. It is not a question of ‘picking winners’ — i.e., a series of outcomes that are only worthwhile for some market participants and a disadvantage for others. Solving climate change must be transformative across the entire economy. Public, private, and civil actors alike will have to shift their mindset from short-term gains to long-run outcomes and profits, particularly against the backdrop of financial stability and transition risks that must accompany any serious plan to contain and reverse climate change.”
Other than the Apollo mission, which was directed at the Cold War challenge represented by the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite, “[t]oday’s missions should focus on global challenges, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which set 17 key thresholds of green and equitable development. So far, 193 countries have signed on to the SDG agenda. In recognition of the sweeping nature of the challenges before us, the SDG lays out measurable progress for its signatory states to address inequality, hunger, gender parity, climate change, and other vital issues. The goals are decidedly aspirational, but still allow the signatories to frame ambitious objectives and achievable missions for themselves. […]
Global missions of this sort also require international collaboration and regulations. Missions require not just leveling the playing field but actively tilting it. This can be done through another group of incentives that reward certain types of behavior. For example, in the independent region of Biscay in Spain, the local government is using a new type of tax policy to reward firms that make contributions toward Biscay’s priority SDGs. The officials who monitor such actions then go on to ensure that the performance of participating companies can be compared — and receive, where eligible, a preferential tax treatment. Such measures are crucial in allowing the SDGs to help clarify what type of economy, society, and environment we want — and to harness tax policy to actively promote action toward these goals. In short, far from acting as simple market-fixers, missions require governments to rethink their role as market creators and shapers.
It’s important in this context to stress that green transformations are not just about renewable energy. They’re also about achieving a cross-sectoral approach to innovation — centered on the goal of building a diverse portfolio of mission projects that engage multiple sectors and spur experimentation by many different types of organizations. The history of green innovation in recent years has indeed relied heavily on tangible and successful mission-oriented, cross-sector projects.
The success of [early collaborative projects, as the German Energy Transition policy (‘Energiewende’) which required all sectors in Germany to transform themselves into sustainable and low-carbon enterprises, in the same vein that the steel industry intends to, and USA’s SunShot Initiative,] points the way forward, as we seek to marshal a scale of commitment to state-enabled innovation that far surpasses that of the original New Deal. Solving climate change must be transformative across the entire economy. Public, private, and civil actors alike will have to shift their mindset from short-term gains to long-run outcomes and profits.
By setting the direction for a solution, missions do not specify how to achieve success; we don’t (and can’t) know the right answers in advance. Rather, missions stimulate the development of a range of different solutions to meet grand challenges — and go out of their way to reward those actors willing to take risks and experiment. By definition, a climate-change mission must also be globally driven and systems-minded. A green transition cannot happen in one isolated economy or nation-state; the entire global and interdependent system must shift in tandem. The globalized nature of production chains means that even products that can become greener at point of use, such as electric vehicles, require cobalt and lithium — nonrenewable elements extracted in countries with loose child labor and human rights laws. This means that private-sector owners of these supply chains and public-sector regulators must co-design the new system.”
“We will only get real and significant change when our goals translate into investment and innovation pathways. These need to be nested within a vision of the kind of economy we want and the planet demands: a more inclusive and sustainable one. Missions are not about picking winners or investing in large projects. They are about choosing directions, using all possible instruments to galvanize investment and innovation to follow those directions, and tilting the playing field to reward the willing. Missions must be inspirational, not only to mobilize investment across the economy, but also to promote active and informed citizen engagement. In a public sphere presently overrun with pseudo-populism and increasing disenchantment with politics and politicians, missions can help people believe again in the power of policy to improve our daily lives. They can and must shape, with deliberative and equitable design, how we experience a city, the water we swim in, the homes we live in, the spaces where we meet together.
We cannot get away from the fact that social missions are harder to fulfill than purely technological ones: Unlike technophilic solutionism, the wider and more ambitious sweep of mission economics combines political, regulatory, and behavioral changes. Setting, financing, and monitoring a green growth agenda requires courage from all actors involved to move away from traditional ways of thinking about climate change and innovation; to develop targeted, directed policies and protocols; and to start out quickly with aspirational, achievable, and compelling popular missions. To battle climate change, we can transform today’s fears of uncertain outcomes into a mission to be accomplished, as bold and inspirational as the 1969 moon shot. This will require visionary leadership, patient strategic finance, a grassroots movement, and bottom-up innovation. In order to work at all, such an agenda must be economy wide, and take shape at all levels — local, regional, national and international, federal and municipal. Only through widely disbursed stakeholder governance of green transitions can we assure growth that is both sustainable and inclusive.”
Lacaton & Vassal’s “never demolish” principle
According to the jury, “The work of Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal reflects architecture’s democratic spirit. Through their ideas, approach to the profession, and the resulting buildings, they have proven that a commitment to a restorative architecture that is at once technological, innovative, and ecologically responsive can be pursued without nostalgia. This is the mantra of the team of Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal since founding their Paris-based firm in 1987. Not only have they defined an architectural approach that renews the legacy of modernism, but they have also proposed an adjusted definition of the very profession of architecture. The modernist hopes and dreams to improve the lives of many are reinvigorated through their work that responds to the climatic and ecological emergencies of our time, as well as social urgencies, particularly in the realm of urban housing. They accomplish this through a powerful sense of space and materials that creates architecture as strong in its forms as in its convictions, as transparent in its aesthetic as in its ethics. At once beautiful and pragmatic, they refuse any opposition between architectural quality, environmental responsibility, and the quest for an ethical society.”
“This year, more than ever, we have felt that we are part of humankind as a whole,” says Chilean architect and chair of the Pritzker Architecture Prize jury Alejandro Aravena. “Be it for health, political or social reasons, there is a need to build a sense of collectiveness. Like in any interconnected system, being fair to the environment, to humanity, is being fair to the next generation.”
Though many lessons remain from their first project in 1984 — a modest house constructed from bush branches on a sand dune along the Niger River — the structure itself does not. “Searching for and deciding upon the site took six months, the building work two days. The wind took two years to destroy it,” the architects commented.
Yet from this point onwards they determined “never to demolish” and have renovated numerous buildings. “Transformation is the opportunity of doing more and better with what is already existing,” according to Lacaton. “The demolishing is a decision of easiness and short term. It is a waste of many things — a waste of energy, a waste of material, and a waste of history. Moreover, it has a very negative social impact. For us, it is an act of violence.”
“When [they] were commissioned to redesign a public square in Bordeaux, their response was unusual. The French architects told the client to leave it alone. They thought the square was perfectly good as it was, and that public money would be better spent elsewhere,” Oliver Wainwright writes in the Guardian.
“‘When you go to the doctor,’ said Jean-Philippe Vassal, ‘they might tell you that you’re fine, that you don’t need any medicine. Architecture should be the same. If you take time to observe, and look very precisely, sometimes the answer is to do nothing.’ In Bordeaux, the architects’ diagnosis was that the square just needed some new gravel.
“Vassal and his partner, Anne Lacaton, have built a 30-year career on knowing how to intervene with the most economical of means, for which they have now been recognised with the Pritzker prize, architecture’s highest honour. In an age of demolishing public housing and replacing it with shiny new carbon-hungry developments in the name of ‘regeneration,’ Lacaton & Vassal have worked tirelessly to expand and upgrade existing buildings with surgical precision, transforming the lives of thousands of people in the process.”
Anne Lacaton: Always Add
"We always start by looking at things positively, we always start by looking for the good." Watch the influential…
anne lacaton and jean-philippe vassal awarded 2021 pritzker prize
the annual award is bestowed on architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of talent, vision, and…
And also this
Over the past year, Leila Sackur has become addicted to house tours of micro-apartments and tiny homes, either uploaded by occupiers themselves, or by accounts dedicated to documenting them.
Apparently, she not alone in her obsession. “Search #tinyhouse on Instagram, and the search will return over two million photos. On YouTube, the channel Living Big In A Tiny House, dedicated to off-grid small spaces, has nearly 3.9 million subscribers. Never Too Small, an urban equivalent, has 1.5 million. Lifestyle concept stores have recently begun selling art books titled Petite Places and Small Homes, Grand Living,” she writes in The disquieting rise of the tiny home.
Commercial director of Never Too Small James McPherson told Sackur that “the increased demand coincides with a broader interest in minimalism, downsizing, and the increased demand to live where people want to live.” According to McPherson, “minimalism is the overriding, fundamental trend and focus, and the driving idea behind how we’re curating the spaces.”
“In his book The Longing for Less, writer Kyle Chayka charts the growing popularity of ‘minimalism’ as a commercialised lifestyle choice for young, middle-class professionals since the 2008 financial crash, as the conspicuous consumption of the middle classes in previous decades became not only unattainable, but distasteful. Chayka writes that minimalism becomes an ‘aspirational austerity,’ which involves owning fewer objects in smaller spaces, while also ensuring those objects and spaces are themselves luxury goods: ‘Just because something looks simple doesn’t mean it is; the aesthetics of simplicity cloak artifice or even unsustainable excess.’ In ‘micro-houses,’ tininess becomes a commodified luxury. One apartment featured on Never Too Small — a 27-square-metre space in an art-deco, heritage-listed site in Sydney — broke sales records in the summer of last year when it sold for $600,000AUD.”
“Behind the romance of the tiny home, then, lies brutal economic fact. In the UK, ‘micro-apartments’ frequently look like cramped office conversions; some are as small as 15 square metres, far below the national minimum space standard of 37. The material demand for smaller spaces beyond YouTube is clear — Anthony Breach, a research analyst for think-tank Centre for Cities, told Prospect that ‘over the past 12–18 months we can see that there’s been a high demand for smaller, one-bedroom flats in the UK. Although the rental market is crashing due to the pandemic, rent for one-bedroom properties continues to rise.’
According to Breach, in the long-term, we can make living in well-designed small spaces a reality for a more sizable proportion of the population by constructing more housing overall — including smaller, single-person dwellings. In the meantime, the spaces and design gaining currency online are still serving as inspiration for many. Scrolling through countless videos in my own mould-encrusted flatshare makes the bright open quiet of the single-person micro apartment seem like heaven. Being invited into a tiny house online is like being invited into a dream; one in which I can finally pretend to have a home — just a tiny home — of my own.”
“There isn’t a single balm which will soothe the many malaises of modern life: the loneliness and lack of belonging, the social polarisation and screechy public discourse. But there is one balm which comes very close. There is something everyone can do that offers profound connections and bonds because people suddenly feel understood and included. It humbly crosses the no-man’s land of the culture wars and, done wisely, can even separate sincere idealists from showboating blowhards: listening.”
Unfortunately, listening is very much a dying art.
“The problem arises because the vital prerequisites for good listening are equally scarce. It demands a quietening, even a temporary switching off, of your own interior voice. All bias and prejudice must be put away. You have to be cool with long silences and a lack of speed or direction. Listening needs stillness, humility and asceticism. Even curiosity, that other necessity, seems thin on the ground. Last weekend, I bumped into an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen for 20 years: for an hour he transmitted a series of self-aggrandising stories and didn’t ask a single question.”
“It always surprises me how exhausting [listening] is. Far from being passive, [it’s] very active: it requires an unusual combination of acute concentration and super-sensitivity. You need to listen not just to what’s being said, but to why it’s being said. And you need to attune yourself to all the subtext, to what’s not being said. All the while, it requires a taming of your own tongue, so that you never interrupt or offer solutions.
When you get it right, it’s akin to waiting on someone in the most total, disinterested and solicitous way. And miraculous things happen. When I’m being truly listened to, it’s nothing like a mechanical unloading of what I already knew. It’s as if I’m making a discovery, as if someone has generously given me the tools, time and the space to order, structure and verbalise something I wasn’t aware of. Quite often, there’s an epiphany or ‘kairos moment.’ Which is why the first thing I usually do when writing a long, complicated essay is pick up the phone and call one of my listening friends.
The bond created by this waiting on each other is so profound that ideological positions can come to seem less distant. Real listening is akin to conversational aikido, and very often when someone discovers they are not being attacked or resisted, their centre of gravity will shift. Rigid stances invariably soften and we find common ground. We might not end up agreeing, but the bond created by deep listening makes the divide seem superficial.”
On March 20 in 43 BC, the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso, better known as Ovid, was born in “watery Sulmo.”
Brilliant, controversial and breathing poetry, he would be exiled by Augustus in AD 8 for ‘carmen et error’ (a poem and a mistake) to Tomis, which was on the coast of the Black Sea in what is now Romania. It was part of the Kingdom of Thrace, a client state of Rome. There, he would remain until his death in 17 or 18 AD.
“Now I’d wish to drive Triptolemus’s chariot,
he who scattered fresh seed on uncultivated soil:
now I’d wish to bridle Medea’s dragons,
she fled with from your citadel, Corinth:
now I’d wish for wings to beat in flight,
either yours Perseus, or yours Daedalus:
so the gentle air might fall beneath my swiftness
and suddenly, I’d see my country’s sweet earth,
and the faces in the house I left, true friends,
and above all my dear wife’s features.
Foolish, why utter childish prayers for them in vain,
things which no day brings, or could bring?
If you can only pray, worship the divine Augustus,
and petition the god you’ve known, in the proper way.
He can bring you feathers and winged chariots:
let him grant your return and you’ll have wings at once.
If I pray for this — and there’s nothing I ask more –
I fear only lest my prayer might be immodest.
Perhaps, sometime, when his anger’s sated,
I need to pray then with a still anxious mind.
Meanwhile something less, but a great gift to me,
would be to order me somewhere away from here.
Sky, and water, earth and air don’t suit me:
ah me! A perpetual weakness grips my body!
Whether the disease of an ill mind drains my limbs,
or this region is the cause of my misfortune,
I’m vexed by insomnia since I reached Pontus,
my flesh scarce covers bone, food barely finds my lips:
my skin has the colours of the autumn leaves,
struck by the first frost, when winter spoils them,
and no strength of body brings relief,
and I never lack the cause of grievous pain.
I’m no fitter in mind than body, rather both
are ill and I endure a double ache.
The nature of that fate I must view clings to me,
and stands before my eyes like a visible form:
and when I consider this place, the customs, dress,
the language of the people, what I am and what I was,
my love of death is such, I complain of Caesar’s anger,
who did not avenge his wrongs with the sword.
But as he’s exercised a mild displeasure, once,
let him ease my exile now, by a change of place.”
— Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC-17/18 AD), Tristia, Book TIII.IX:1–34 The Origins of Tomis
“In the cathedral of Lucca in Italy hangs a painting by Tintoretto, with Christ at the head of the table of the Last Supper. Edy Korthals Altes (97) went there every year. ‘When my eyes suddenly deteriorated, there came a moment when I could no longer see it properly. That was a huge shock. At that moment I started wondering: what was I actually seeing in that painting? Only then I did realise what meaning Tintoretto tried to capture in it. There is that enormous contrast with the two magisterial apostles in the foreground, who dominate the painting with their strong egos and are mainly concerned with themselves and ordinary things, without paying attention to what is happening at the head of the table, where something has visibly changed in the expression of the apostles. I only noticed that deep affection when I could no longer see the painting with living eyes. How important it is that people let themselves be touched again in our self-centred culture. So the inner eye can see things that the outer eye cannot see. Now that my living eyes are closed, I realise even more how trapped in our thinking we are without realising it.’” — From an interview in the Dutch newspaper Trouw with the former Dutch diplomat Edy Korthals Altes