(My photo: A ‘non place’ in Barcelona)
Poetry, photography and travel posts have been a bit thin on the ground recently. I’ll get back to them soon, but I have an itch to scratch here first.
I’ve written again on the theme of meaning in a world that distracts attention from it. In particular, I’m interested in the idea of ‘non places’ mentioned a book by Mark Sayers.
“Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval”. Mark Sayers (Kindle ebook).
We’re getting it so wrong it seems. We are looking for love (a.k.a. meaning and belonging) in the wrong places, which actually are ‘non places’.
‘Places’ are where we are involved with others, feel part of the whole and experience community. These could be homes, sports clubs, churches, worksheds, community drop in centres, family reunions, a street party, the clean up after a natural disaster, maybe schools and maybe workplaces (depending on how humane and humanizing they are).
‘Non places’, conversely, are where we are self contained, just passing through, without meaningful interpersonal contact. Examples are shopping malls, CBDs, airport terminals, coffee shops and bars; anywhere anonymous, sterile, faux neighbourly, but empty of any genuine care. And while we’re on the topic: would that include anywhere and everywhere we sit glued to social media?
‘Places’ nurture us and augment our humanity. ‘Non places’ alienate us and stunt it. It’s not really about the actual place is it? It’s what happens there and how we respond. Get the idea? Maybe we should be talking of ‘dehumanizing contexts’ rather than ‘non places’?
Non places offer illusions of freedom, choice and absence of responsibility. We can, and do, use them as an escape where we soar free from everyday reality. Offering freedom, they deliver instead disengagement and passivity. Enticing us to indulge the self, they close us off from others and, in the process, make us less human.
Wandering through a shopping mall (some people enjoy this, I’ve been told) we can dream of purchases that will make us whole. Skipping around the internet we have infinite choice and minimal engagement. Sitting alone in a cafe, people watching, we bathe in our own invisibility while passers by may as well be holograms. What we do not experience generally, is anything much that nourishes the soul, or reinforces who we are, or binds us more closely to our fellow human beings.
Non places are ‘self’ places. The problem is, turning in on ourselves, we become less able to notice others.
Why does it matter? Why should we care about this? Well, it’s kind of relevant if we are interested in becoming fully human.
Are we looking for love (meaning and belonging) in all the wrong places? Are we looking inwards to ourselves to find what can only be found in positive relationships with others?
Who would have thought?
Non places are everywhere and anywhere. One person’s place can easily be another’s non place. It depends on how a person experiences and responds to his or her surrounds there. Perhaps wherever you are, if you are in a cocoon, without emotional connection to passers by, it’s likely a non place for you.
The whole of Sydney was, for me recently, a non place when I had two days to kill while my wife attended a conference there. Lovely scenery and lots to do, granted. However as I walked around, I felt removed and alone. I forget who said it: “One is never as alone as when one is alone in a crowd”. Of course that could have changed in an instant for me for a whole host of reasons. A medical emergency or a lost child would have dissolved the membrane and had me dealing personally and humanely with some who shared the space. Instead, they remained alien souls floating past in a video collage.
I was so happy each afternoon to get back to the hotel (another non place) when my wife had finished her conference session. We would go out for dinner to what could have easily have been yet another non place, except that we enjoyed it together.
Might I deduce that being fully human is all about relationships rather than the self? I’ll qualify that. Relationships that nurture and affirm our humanity. There are far too many of the other sort.
Maybe what Sayers has said about ‘non places’ could apply to ‘non relationships’?
Could it be that our relationships are the key to our becoming fully human?
Maybe I should change the title to “Looking for Love in all the wrong relationships”?
That’s a thought.