The Commonplace #5

We sometimes doubt the value of our own work and works.  I include all of you readers who have found or followed our work here at Social Possibility Lab, since so many of us are in the midst of pausing, reconsidering, and re-engaging.  We who try so much to do good, build community, and spread kindness. We are want to wondering at our garden, our seeds and fruits.

In this instance, is a project that explores possibility a deluded exercise in a kind of blind optimism?  Particularly in this moment of crisis amidst an abundance of cautionary tales?

Let us consider for a moment, the value of possibility, amidst crisis and suffering and difficulty:

  • Writing for The Conversation, Heather Abrerro reminds us that utopian thinking is not simply fantasy but also the inspirational fuel that stimulates change.   She cites the hundreds of eco-friendly intentional communities around the globe such as Transition Marlborough, in England.  The group’s Bee Roadzz project is helping to preserve and extend habitats and counter the decline of bees and pollinators, bringing together a network of local residents, businesses and organizations in the process.  

  • Small businesses around the United States have been struggling, and yet many have adapted in creative ways that suggests new opportunities for the future.   The examples are numerous but here are a few instances:   
    • The Jaglowicz, Maria and Jeff, opened a Sub Zero Nitrogen ice cream store in 2017 in Virginia Beach.   Like many businesses, they have operated as carry out only via curbside pickup during the crisis, but also have begun a popular FaceBook live stream, Virtual Science Saturday event where they carry out interesting science experiments in real time, as a learning activity for children and families. 
    • In Simsbury, Connecticut, Necker’s Toyland has been serving children and families in the community since 1948.  Long-established businesses can also be creative, and many have had to over their long histories.  During the quarantine, Necker’s has offered a FaceTime browsing option.   Workers were walking kids around virtually, giving them an actual feel of being in the store and holding up items for inspection and selection via curbside pickup or even delivery to nearby areas. 
    • Here in Roanoke, Virginia, Big Lick Screen Printing supported other local businesses (from yoga studios to non-profits to restaurants) by offering special order t-shirts for sale with a customized design for each entity.   A portion of the sale price, $10, goes directly to that local business. 
  • One may note above that these businesses are making adjustments, shifts, small changes in creative, responsive ways.  I did not describe these as “pivots”, although that word seems to be having its corporate culture-speak moment.  And I have used the word on odd occasion.   But a pivot refers to something turning on its most central point.   To be more precise, most of these activities by small businesses are more tweaks than pivots.   I also think it prudent to avoid the overuse of buzzwords as we can.   A buzzword being a “profound-seeming phrase devised by someone important to make something sound better than it is”.     They may still have their place in our work life, but use buzzwords with caution, as Olga Khazan writes for NextGov.


  • This a good time for local food, from our own gardens to local farmshare programs.   During the weeks of relative scarcity, our local food co-op has often been better stocked with locally sourced, hormone free, naturally raised meat than our big box grocery has with mass produced industrially farmed meat.  Our farmshare, Thornfield Farm,  is a delight – we order online, selecting what we want (it’s the start of bok choy season here!) and pick up curbside at designated spots in the city.   Local food systems have become an ever more central concern for us all:
    • An article from the Brookings Institute highlights the critical role of farmers markets during COVID-19.  The markets, which in normal times serve as a vital place for community gathering, have adjusted to the changing economic and health conditions.  Hanna Love and Nate Storring suggest that this flexibility and innovation will serve them well in the long-term, enabling markets and produces to enhance their support for community health and well-being, particularly for vulnerable populations.  Still Love and Storring emphasize that more help for markets and producers is needed as market closures may cost small farmers over $600 million in lost revenues, and new and vulnerable farmers will suffer the most. 
    • This episode from the Strong Towns podcast features Chris Temblador, of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council.   Temblador describes how regional food system actors have worked to continue to serve their communities amidst the COVID-19 challenges.  Local organizations have innovated and he suggests the result will be an even stronger, more resilient food system for Angelenos.  The Healthy Neighborhood Market Network, for instance, has worked to help the populations most impacted by Covid-19 to continue to access healthy food.  The Policy Council, meanwhile, is working with area policymakers to help them better understand how, amid Covid-19 and into the future, Los Angeles County can improve food access for all its residents. 
    • On a broader note, I found great affinity for the words of Victor Frankl through a recent post from the BrainPickings site.   As Frankl wrote in 1946 after surviving the Holocaust:
      • “The fact, and only the fact, that we are mortal, that our lives are finite, that our time is restricted and our possibilities are limited, this fact is what makes it meaningful to do something, to exploit a possibility and make it become a reality, to fulfill it, to use our time and occupy it.”
      • COVID-19, as crises tend to do, reminds us all of our mortality, of the fragility of life.   That tempers our optimism certainly, but rather than bending our outlooks to pessimism, our experiences may instead inject a healthy perspective to our days and aims.  
      • As Frankl wrote, reflecting on the lessons from the horrors of fascist-fueled hatred and war and his experiences amidst the concentration camps, “We are the ones who must answer, must give answers to the constant, hourly question of life, to the essential ‘life questions.’ Living itself means nothing other than being questioned; our whole act of being is nothing more than responding to — of being responsible toward — life. With this mental standpoint nothing can scare us anymore, no future, no apparent lack of a future. Because now the present is everything as it holds the eternally new question of life for us.”
      • There is no comparison between horrors and crises, and now, for Americans, is not the Holocaust nor the Black Plague nor even the more recent and ongoing murders and starvation and loss and suffering from a Syria or a Yemen.  Still, so many suffer and experience loss and some element of fear.  We cannot generalize, as Frankl points out, but rather must individually turn to seek the answers to the questions that life is posing for us now…and then again…and then again.  What possibilities are open to us in this moment, and to which are we to attend and pursue?
      • For, “…life always offers us a possibility for the fulfillment of meaning…”