Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
If Candy Chang’s video makes one thing clear it is this: spaces are not voids. They are not things that never were or once were. Spaces are alive. They breathe. Spaces are a world of place.
The brilliance of her “Before I die I want to…” idea grew not from the uniqueness of her phrasing but by the uniqueness of her placing. She saw the space of an abandoned house not as an emptiness but as a shared place capable of becoming a giant chalkboard. Where some saw nothing but a place of shambles, she saw a space to connect. Where some saw a place causing community home depreciation, she saw a dynamic space capable of containing our deepest ideas and emotions. When Candy Chang talked about sharing “the same public spaces” and of gaining “a better understanding of our landscape” something in her voice seemed to be asking: How do you live your space? How will you live your space differently after my speech?
How do you fill the space between you and the gas station attendant? How do you fill the space between an idea about making a decision and the actual decision itself? Before you die, how do you want others to remember the spaces you shared with them?
In his masterpiece titled Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor E. Frankl wrote of the limitless potential of space:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
There’s always a space where we have the “power to choose our response” to what is happening around us. What Frankl says is although we often have no control over certain situations, space is that beautiful place where, finally, and like Candy Chang so beautifully illustrated, we do have some control. — Cameron Conaway
What Frankl is saying here is that space is a conduit; it’s a place of power where choices can be made. Sure, the tough choices clouded by emotions and perhaps even by life’s most brutal circumstances (like being at the Auschwitz concentration camp as he was) may naturally have to filter through more clogged conduits. But there’s always an opening, however small. There’s always a space where we have the “power to choose our response” to what is happening around us. What Frankl says is although we often have no control over certain situations, space is that beautiful place where, finally, and like Candy Chang so beautifully illustrated, we do have some control.
Although Candy Chang used physical public spaces, her idea also knocked on the door of the spaces we all put up around each other. She encouraged total strangers to open up a space inside themselves to someone outside of themselves. As she said, we don’t “bump into our neighbors” as often as we once used to and therefore our ability to share with, learn from and associate with each other is compromised. In his article about America’s rampant individualism titled Individualism’s Only Remedy, Michael C. Phillip states that associations with each other are not just important for our personal psyche but that:
“Just as our teeth will become discolored and deteriorate if we neglect to brush and floss (a daily habit), so will a democracy gradually disintegrate if associational life isn’t alive and active. Whereas individualism causes people to withdraw into themselves and concern themselves only with those in their immediate circle of contacts, associations draw individuals outside of themselves…”
In short, we can fill our spaces with things like empathy, which some argue has the power to save the world, or we can live under the illusion that how we live our spaces doesn’t have much of an impact on the spaces of others.
Some take the idea of things in spaces a step further. Let us end on this poetic paragraph from David Abram’s Becoming Animal:
“Each thing organizes the space around it, rebuffing or sidling up against other things; each thing calls, gestures, beckons to other beings or battles them for our attention; things expose themselves to the sun or retreat among the shadows, shouting with their loud colors or whispering with their seeds; rocks snag lichen spores from the air and shelter spiders under their flanks; clouds converse with the fathomless blue and metamorphose into one another; they spill rain upon the land, which gathers in rivulets and carves out canyons…”
How best can you use space to bring about the social change you wish to see? Did Candy Chang’s video make you rethink the impact you can have on the spaces around you?