Paying Attention in Hard Times
By Foundry Cowork Nomad Member, Taylor Hinton
It is clear that we need to change our ways of being together in communities, from big cities to small towns, from neighborhood interactions to political systems. The last few months have revealed the dangerous realities many of us live with everyday. People in our community are going without very basic needs, like food and healthcare. Black, indigenous, and people of color have had their humanity questioned and been violently mistreated. As these realities are revealed, there are many people in our community who do not see, understand, or even acknowledge the truth in these difficult existences. There is an uncomfortable dissonance between many of us.
Lots of people are working to understand this dissonance. But the forces at play are big and daunting: public infrastructures that reduce community violence--from schools to libraries--have been intentionally and egregiously defunded, leaving a void that is too often filled by larger police forces. And those few infrastructures that survived the gutting of public resources are dictated by racism, sexism, and classism, making them oftentimes more dangerous than helpful. People are sharing many resources to help us understand these forces and I encourage everyone to seek them out. While these resources are important, I’m not going to delve into those here. Instead, I’d like to dream about how we can, in small ways, work to better understand the people with whom we share our space: people who walk on the same sidewalks, shop at the same stores, look at the same trees from their porch, and cross the same creeks on foot or in a car. I think that understanding starts with attention.
If I think about where I put my attention each day, it is most often invested in work. I spend most of my day focused on tasks I have to do either for a current job or to get a future job. Given that a job is the best way for me to sustain myself, it makes sense that I give attention to work. However, I’ve noticed this attention creeping into the small moments throughout the day when I try to pause and take a breath, like making a cup of tea or talking with someone in the common space at the Foundry. If something is not directly related to a job, I notice a subtle but very present guilt build around it. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. I’ve been convinced my time is invaluable, so much so that I feel as though I can’t spare time for a conversation that doesn’t have a clear goal. “What am I getting from this?” I often think. I don’t think it is all my fault. In a world driven by economic growth, who can blame me for desperately protecting my time and money? But what if there is a hidden cost to thinking about time in terms of efficiency and marketability? What if, when we focus on the most efficient use of our time, we’re missing out on small moments and conversations that grow into important relationships or community change?
I’ve been spending a lot of my time in community gardens lately. If you’ve seen me coworking at the Foundry, you might know that one of my summer jobs is running a summer youth employment program. I work with five teens who help maintain gardens around the City of Meadville. This work involves a lot of manual labor, like weeding, planting, and digging. But it also involves a lot of relationship building. People walking by might have questions about the gardens or want to contribute in some way, maybe by gardening with us or donating supplies. A lot of our time in the garden is spent talking to people. We might talk about the gardens and maybe someone shares their own story of gardening with their family. Meanwhile, the weeds do not pull themselves and the seedlings do not get planted on their own. The conversations can feel inefficient. That is until the conversations lead you to realize you share something in common with that person. And you begin to develop a relationship. And that person decides to get involved in the garden in a more substantial way. Maybe that person even helps to sustain the garden for multiple years. Maybe in future years, that garden is one of the few places people can get food in time of crisis, such as a global pandemic. Maybe that garden feeds people for many years and becomes a crucial community asset.
I don’t mean to suggest that relationships are only transactions waiting to happen, but rather that when we shift our attention to each other, the things we build--things like belonging, mutual aid, and comradery--are the first steps in larger, structural change. Relationship building and collaboration are how communities grow in resilience. In fact, this kind of collaboration is one of the core tenants of coworking. Sharing ideas, knowledge, and resources are exactly the goals of many coworking spaces. It builds community and, ultimately, work that is more connected to the needs of people. And we need, now more than ever, to be connected to the needs of all people, particularly those folks who are telling us they are being treated with violence in their own communities. I think we have an opportunity each day to pay attention to the people in our community and learn how they are impacted by the forces in our world--from pandemics to police policies. The trick with this attention work is that it is slow and organic. It cannot be forced. But it is intentional and the choices we make everyday, from talking to a neighbor, to coworking, to gardening, can bring us closer together.
Taylor is an educator in the Meadville community and enjoys teaching most in gardens and science classrooms. She has been a Meadvillian for almost ten years now, first as an Allegheny student and now as a tax-paying, parade-going citizen. When she isn’t teaching, she loves hiking with her dog, Misha, and skipping rocks in French Creek. Taylor is a part of Foundry Cowork as a nomad member. She enjoys using the Foundry space to work on lesson plans, develop community programs, drink delicious tea, and be in the presence of beautiful art work.