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Inspiration for Action
The Newsletter / Edition 017 ¾
From Sylvain Labs, this is Progress Report.
In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This weekly newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

In today’s newsletter… And this time, our illustration from Nora Mestrich.
From the Field

On Repair

From Joey Camire
As I write this, we still don’t know the result of the presidential election. A moment where a great number of people have invested a great amount of time and energy towards some vision of what the future might be.

And while we don’t know which vision of that future we might collapse into—a sort of nation-sized schrodinger's cat—the one thing we do know is that, regardless of who wins, the moment we’re in demands a mindset of repair. Repair of our health. Repair of our environment. Of our economy. Our companies. Our teams. And frankly, of our mental wellbeing.

I’ve come to realize that repair is a state of mind. A philosophy that has been in conflict with the wealth and abundance of our place and time. Pants are ripped? Replace them. Employee is underperforming? Fire them. Partner is getting on your nerves? To the left, to the left.

In a 2013 essay in Aeon, Ed Lake confronts our conflicted relationship with repair directly:
"Such rarefied instances aside, the prejudice against repair as an embarrassing sign of poverty or thrift is surely a product of the age of consumerism… It’s not hard to understand a certain wariness about repair: what broke once might break again, after all. But its neglect in recent times surely owes something to an underdeveloped repair aesthetic."
As Alain Sylvain put it—it’s weird to use his full name—we're currently in a state of collective trauma. COVID-19 has wreaked its ravages on us all, in deep and intimate ways. No one has been free from its impacts. And wounded from this trauma, we’re unable to ignore or suppress the other areas in our lives, communities and organizations in need of repair.

Racial injustice. The climate crisis. Our increased state of polarization. We can’t simply replace all of these things—our teams, our communities, our environments, our mental health—they need repair. And the things left unrepaired only fester.

We need to abandon the “just replace it” mentality—it isn’t serving us—for one of concerted repair. Where we aim to fix what is broken, not in a way that seeks to hide the damage from the past, but embraces the scars and cracks as part of the aesthetic. A sort of wabi-sabi repair of our system.

In Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig speaks about the effects it can have when things are left unrepaired:
“Waiting for them to get going one morning in their kitchen I noticed the sink faucet was dripping and remembered that it was dripping the last time I was there before and that in fact it had been dripping as long as I could remember. I commented on it and John said he had tried to fix it with a new faucet washer but it hadn’t worked. That was all he said. The presumption left was that that was the end of the matter. If you try to fix a faucet and your fixing doesn’t work then it’s just your lot to live with a dripping faucet.

This made me wonder to myself if it got on their nerves, this drip-drip-drip, week in, week out, year in, year out, but I could not notice any irritation or concern about it on their part, and so concluded they just aren’t bothered by things like dripping faucets. Some people aren’t.

What it was that changed this conclusion, I don’t remember—some intuition, some insight one day, perhaps it was a subtle change in Sylvia’s mood whenever the dripping was particularly loud and she was trying to talk. She has a very soft voice. And one day when she was trying to talk above the dripping and the kids came in and interrupted her she lost her temper at them. It seemed that her anger at the kids would not have been nearly as great if the faucet hadn’t also been dripping when she was trying to talk. It was the combined dripping and loud kids that blew her up. What struck me hard then was that she was not blaming the faucet, and that she was deliberately not blaming the faucet. She wasn’t ignoring that faucet at all! She was suppressing anger at that faucet and that goddamned dripping faucet was just about killing her! But she could not admit the importance of this for some reason.”
Our inaction or aversion towards repair might save us time, or energy, in our day-to-day. But over time, those creeping drips from our metaphorical leaky faucets weigh on us. Those unhelpful habits, broken systems, and unmended relationships burden us. The existence of Email Debt Forgiveness Day shows us how we can carry something as trivial as unresponded emails around with us. Imagine the weight we’re carrying from the important things.

In a moment such as now, with so much in need of repair, we’re met with a paradox—finding the gumption to begin to repair is hardest when we need it most.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Fix One Leaky Faucet In Your Life.
So much of this repair process, and shifting our mindset, starts with action. We don’t need to find big things, in fact, smaller changes can begin this process. Starting somewhere, anywhere, is a way to build momentum.

Is your working from home set-up less than ideal? Rearrange your space. Are you struggling with a person on your team or at work? Find time to connect with them one-on-one and address the problem head-on. Are you feeling anxiety around climate change? Most electrical companies have voluntary renewable energy sourcing programs you can sign up for. Do you feel like you haven’t participated in social organizing? Make a donation or volunteer one afternoon. Take a minute to find the leaky faucets in your life, and commit to fixing just one.

We’ve got a lot of things to repair, but it’s ok to start with one thing. That’s how it begins.

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