Those of us who have lived in the same cities or towns for over a decade have witnessed the disappearing open spaces, disappearing trees, disappearing streams and disappearing air quality…
The water supply has become more erratic, with the municipal water not remaining fit to drink anymore. The traffic and congestion have both increased, as has the expanse of our city. The landscape has turned into concrete in all directions including towards the sky!
The amazing thing is that no one says that they do not want open spaces, trees, or streams. No one wants poor water or air quality. No one wants traffic or congestion. No one wants the city to be a concrete jungle.
Why is it then that, despite no one wanting it so, we succeed in making the city less and less liveable?
The simple answer is that we live as if we are not interdependent and our life can go on without any relationship with anyone or anything else. We live as if no one else matters, nothing else matters. We are systems ignorant. Were we to apply our minds, we can recognise our interdependence, our relationships with each other and the world around us, can’t we?
Each relationship we enjoy together with a shared purpose is a system. When we forget the relationship, or its shared purpose, we corrupt the system.
For example, as buyers and sellers, we enjoy a relationship with the shared purpose to exchange the surplus goods, services or money. We often corrupt our market when we forget our shared purpose or our interdependence.
When we exploit, encroach or pollute the shared purpose, we ensure that we build a world that we do not desire.
While our schools teach us literacy and numeracy, they fails to teach us interdependence. They leave us systems ignorant.
The larger our cities become, the more we fail to recognise our relationship with the water cycle that protects our water. Instead living as if interdependence doesn’t exist, we build new exploitative systems to sell water. We fail to recognise our relationship with the farms and forests that bring us food, air and literally bring us joys. Instead we encroach these to profit from real estate as if we have no relationship with our farms and forests. We fail to recognise our relationships with people to make our lives meaningful, not transactional. Instead we pollute our relationships by putting a monetary value on every interaction as if relationships have no other purposes.
The more global our cities become, the worse are our relationships with our world.
Is it any wonder that our cities, towns, villages in every district fail to protect their livability? Is it any wonder that after even changing governments or transferring officials we still end up eroding the livability and destroying that what we value? The solution was never in changing the people, it was always in recognising and reviving the shared purposes that form the basis of our relationships.
Governance, therefore, cannot be fragmented into departments for land records, roads, water, traffic, health, eduction, energy etc. as if they were independent of each other. Governance, therefore is not about development projects that spend thousands of crores of tax money on roads, flyovers, identity projects or schemes to hand out benefits.
Unless we learn to be systems literate, to recognise the relationships we have with each other and our environment, we can never succeed in protecting that which sustains us. We will always find our world eroding.
The more the short term we think, the more we focus on ourselves. We focus on our decisions as if the world does not matter. When we learn to care about the short now – the lifetime of a child born now – we move away from short term thinking.
Our future lies not in a relationship-less idea of development projects but in systems literacy.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph