Category Archives: Values

Patterns to Live By

patterns of multi-hued clouds as seen across a dusky sky in Carrboro, NC

Aristotle and many deep thinkers since have argued that we should seek out patterns of causation. Inspired by this idea, I’ve sketched some thoughts on three resources that set in motion life patterns – patterns that determine our quality of life.

First, we have time. Or more specifically, how much or little of “discretionary time” we enjoy. Time allow us – or not – to live life as we intend. That is, to explore and act according to our values – be it showing kindness toward others, appreciating poetry and sweeping vistas, or treading lightly on earth. When people have sufficient time – i.e., they’re “time affluent“, they’re more likely to savor things, to take life a bit slower. To walk or bike or ride the bus to work or friends’ houses, rather than feeling the need to drive. They’re more likely to prepare their own meals, reflect on how they’d like to grow as people. A pattern emerges – the more time we have, the more we live life as we intend. 

Something similar happens with our attention. When we deplete our attentional resources – say by focusing on not getting hit by cars when walking about town – we become irritable, fatigued, even angry. We make poorer decisions and treat people not as kindly as we normally would. Running low on attentional fuel, we become less like our true selves.

Enter nature. When immersed in a natural surround, we “restore our attention.” We improve our mood and outlook on life. And sometimes in natural settings, we experience awe, which as we know, makes us feel small. And feeling small makes us less self-interested and more invested in what exists outside ourselves – i.e., nature and other people. A pattern emerges – the more we embed ourselves in nature and restore our attention, the more authentic, caring, and vitalized we become. 

One last example involves the world of human construction. What some call the “built environment.” As we’ve seen with time and attention, the built environment can support or suppress our natural inclinations. Wide roads, noisy flight paths, scattered parking lots and drive throughs with multiple entry and exit points, all mix heavy and fast-moving machines with rambling humans. They suppress the natural human activity of moving from place to place using one’s own power.

Built environments designed for people incorporate large swaths of semi-managed nature. Think parks, gardens, trails. They provide comfortable and safe places to gather. Think plazas, squares, communal lawns. People-intended places invite non-human brethren. They allow children – and adults – to climb, put on plays, find each other amidst features in the landscape. A pattern emerges – the more space we design for people and non-humans and the less space we offer machines, the more we live life as humans, as intended. 

Time, attention via nature, and people-designed places offer patterns to live by. Imagine living in a culture that privileges these life-affirming patterns.  Imagine a world where our all-powerful administrators see and act upon these patterns.

Pin It