“Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”
-Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
“I’m trying to put myself in a resident’s shoes. What would make me feel more secure? If I lived in a building with a transitory population…” I don’t have time to finish my thought before Tom Brennan stops me in my tracks.
“Wait a minute,” he says calmly and cooly. I am sitting in a conference room in the Green Garage with the rest of the El Moore team on a Wednesday morning. For all intents and purposes, it is the first time that I am discussing the work I’ve been busy with so far: designing policy and services for the El Moore’s Urban Lodge. Specifically, we are discussing the merits of allowing guests to book a reservation for as little as one night or have a minimum of a two night’s stay.
“There are no transitory populations here. We should feel very strongly about this — everyone coming to the Lodge is a guest. It is very important that our language be precise; you are either a resident community member or a guest community member.” It is a subtle but powerful distinction. I allow it to sink into my mind. I realize I was following a train of thought based on an equation of discrimination. A binary that basically translates as “Us & Them.” I have a bias against the guests and the lodge hasn’t even opened yet!
This turn in the conversation stuns me a bit, and though I know I shouldn’t be, I‘m a bit embarrassed. I realize that the old rule books have to be, if not thrown away, then re-edited. I need to revamp. I have to comb through all of my old notions. Picking out all of the ones predicated on thinking that “I know” or “I’m right.” This is easier said than done. We go through our lives basing decisions on those notions. But they can be very limiting. They could cloud my judgment. I could be skipping a necessary evaluative step and more importantly, a layer of understanding. How do you come to know, when you think you know, but you don’t yet know?
When I was a toddler, my folks marveled at one of my apparent preoccupations. I would begin at one end of the house and shut each door in succession. My mother claims I couldn’t abide an open door. I would only go to sleep soundly if every door in the house was closed. Decades later, I watch my cats as they occupy themselves doing just the opposite. They have a biological imperative to survey. They need to know what’s happening behind that door. They are investigators acting on instinct.
By the time our conversation about the El Moore Lodge comes to a close, I have a better understanding of my mistake. No one here has been unkind or dismissive or even come out and called it a mistake, far from it, but it weighs on me. I know my error was one of instinct and context and yes, of habit: I think quickly, I make decisions, I have a position rather than a flow. I understand now why there are community review sessions and discussions and conversations around every decision–this is edifying.
My participation in this project is still so new it basically still has the wrapper on it. There is a lot to work on, inside and out, and I look forward to a time when my instincts align with my context. I look forward to staying open. I am confident that I am taking the first steps down that path now. In the future, I don’t want to feel embarrassed that I don’t have all of the right answers–it doesn’t matter. It is better to understand than to be right. There is a balance between trusting in your ability to make good decisions based on your experience and judgement and being open to reinterpretation, to be open to learn again and again. I should aspire to be more like the cats — perpetually investigating — eyes and ears wide open and receiving.