Making a Place We Can All Call Home:

Wrestling with VUCA – Through Placemaking

As Wellbeing By Design

This is four in a series of 6 Thought Pieces by Ian Wight exploring his contribution to Urban Hub 20: Accelerating City Transformation in a VUCA World (curated by Marilyn Hamilton, published by Paul van Schaik, to be released April 2020)

With a visceral sense of your own praxis, you are now well prepared to venture into  inter-subjective according with a vengeance. Appreciate that a shared praxis – with others having a sense of their praxis – paves the way for some ethos-making, by potential co-creative integrities. Getting subjects to agree on how we can live in accord with nature will depend on the ‘subjects’ operating in and as co-creative integrities, forged in a co-created ethos, as integration-in-action. Think of it as collective-consciousness-in-action – ‘grounded’ in the noosphere we co-constitute.

In ethos territory your praxis shifts from the personal to the inter-personal. You are still ‘you’ but just as a praxis disposition facilitates the transformation from ‘me’ to ‘I’, so an ethos orientation also engages increasing dimensions of your ‘We-ness’ – the We-ness at work in ‘You’ with others, exploring common ethos territory. The ethos-making occurs as the integration of personal embodiment, self-transformation, relationships and systems (see below). Discernment – our ability to judge what is good, true, and beautiful – comes again the fore – but now in a collective, co-creative, context; marshalling the inner knowledge in collective intelligence of how to act on that which we perceive.

We operate in ‘fields of engagement’, disposed to acknowledge that ‘institutions are us’. We present as whole persons – engagers, engaging, engagingly. We seek to achieve right relations, just relationships. We support one another on a self-transformation journey from I to We. Think of ethos-making as the ‘inter-work’ between our ‘outer’ work and ‘inner’ work.

An ethos is much more than a bundling of ethics. The latter may be conceived as more ‘out there’, at an institutional distance from us, ostensibly objective, ultimately a set of third-person ‘its’. By contrast, ethos may be conceived as more ‘in here’, constitutive of our core, subjective – perhaps more accurately inter-subjective – a manifestation of the combination ‘I + We’; real, lived, always being made and re-made, as conditions evolve. Defined as ‘the distinctive character, fundamental values and spirit of engaged members’, ethos draws on the Greek term for ‘accustomed place’ or ‘starting point’. In an important sense, ethos seems to represent the origin of ethics; it is prior to ethics.

Ethos entails a higher level of common meaning-making, quite distinct from logos and pathos. One particularly appealing rendering situates ethos as ‘a habitual (ethical) gathering place’ which inspires the sense of ethos as a unique mesh of personal, professional and planetary ethics, constantly enacted, always ‘on show’. Here, ethos is positioned as one, potentially central, integral ‘making’ (situated between praxis and poiesis) – a making that is also an integration, the embodiment of those aspiring to be an integral (transcending while including what we currently might refer to as a professional).

For professionals en route to being integrals, and for individuals en route to identifying primarily as persons, ethos-making can open you up, in good company. Here are two scene-setting fragments of an ethos (Agency in Communion) developed by a mix of built environment professionals – city-makers all – reflecting on their common inter-professionalism:

We are professionals, in development,

from solo to synchro, generating synergy,

inter-professing together, integrated and integrating,

in service, to our wider worlds, beyond us,

transcending while including, all we hold dear

We are personals, in relationship,

whole beings, making meaning,

discerning – truth and goodness and beauty,

agents of wholeness,

enacting our truth, exuding goodness, privileging beauty

in a loving embrace

Ethos-making aligns perfectly with efforts to achieve an inter-subjective accord on how we might better live together, with nature, in our cities, in pursuit of well-being, by co-design. It features extraordinary inter-relating, the quality of which is very much helped by some grounding in praxis work.  In turn, it takes our knowing/doing/being beyond the concrete into more subtle realms, that transforms what would otherwise be simply group-work or team-work. It achieves a ‘compound interest’, through co-creative integrities, in extraordinary service, for city transformation in a VUCA world.