Hay Vida En Las Calles

During my visit to Salento, Colombia, a beautiful town located in the foothills below the Andes Mountains and adjacent to the famous Cocora Valley, I picked up on a slogan that I found very endearing and memorable. “Hay vida en las calles” was posted on an advertisement on one of the vendors there who was dishing out ice cream, snacks, and other goodies. “Hay vida en las calles” translates to the English language as “There is life in the streets” and I found that to be a very positive sign and one that gets people out of their homes and into the parks, squares, and plazas where the basis of all community life is formed. While life in the streets cannot be found everywhere, I found this prevalent attitude consistent in many towns and cities during my travels in Latin America.

The emphasis on communal spaces and public gathering places is something I really admire about Latin culture and I find it to be a healthy feature of any society, which has strong communities and families. Being able to leave your homes every now and then to walk five minutes away to be in a public park or a town square should be natural and available to more and more of us.

As is well known in psychology and sociology, Human beings are social creatures and we want to be around other people even after we have had some alone time. In order to do so, responsible local, state, and national governments should provide that to their peoples in order to build more trusting and kind societies. In societies where people are isolated, lonely, and without opportunities to meet people and build new friendships, problems related to anxiety, depression, and even violence are likely to rise.

In countries such as the United States and other Western countries, statistics related to anxiety, depression, and loneliness are rising and part of the reason I think for the rise in these issues is related to not being able to gather and socialize in a public place. The atomization related to suburban living, the lack of public transportation options, and the decline of shopping centers all help to contribute to this rise in loneliness. I mention the closing of shopping malls because due to technology giants like Amazon, small businesses and large companies alike are closing their doors causing people to order anything from food to clothes to Amazon Echo from their homes.

While shopping malls and outlet stores aren’t an optimal way to build a sense of community, they still brought people together and were a place to hang out. The question remains regarding how will we replace these stores, strip malls, and outlet centers if they all go out of business? A revitalization of public places from small towns to big cities will not just be a prudent step forward but help societies deal with rising anxiety and loneliness rates. There should be life in the streets.

Whose responsibility should it be to encourage this kind of ‘life in the streets’? I believe it’s the local government combined with local businesses who can really make it work. Also, local community groups and organizations can play a big role in making sure everybody feels welcome and to promote activities, discussion groups, and issues in the community that need to be resolved. The average citizen living in the town or city can contribute to by hosting ‘block parties’ or contributing food or drinks. We ask our taxes to pay for roads, schools, and parks, but why not also a community gathering place, indoors or outdoors, where people can be social, discuss issues, and make new friends.

Without investing in our citizens by providing a ‘public square’, we are really selling ourselves short and it could hurt the fabric of our communities, towns, and cities in the long run. Without a way for people to interact and socialize with each other for free and without needing to buy anything, society as a whole can really benefit. It may sound like a ‘utopian’ idea to some but I think it makes a lot of sense in terms of the potential benefits to people’s mental health.

When I was in Salento, Colombia, for example, there were numerous food vendors, there was live music, and people were chatting with each other on benches. Children were playing in a nearby playground and the air was fresh and clean. The noise of the cars and the buses was off in the distance and it was a sea of calm where there were plentiful trees, flowers, and you could hear the birds chirping. People need that kind of space to gather, talk, listen to music, eat food, and watch their children play peacefully.

In my travels through Latin America in the past few years, I have seen this in multiple towns and cities where there is an emphasis on using the public squares for the public’s benefit. While this may not be a universal thing across the entire region, it is a priority here and one that I really appreciate coming from a culture where these gatherings are in decline. The good news should be that with greater effort and investment, we can bring the public spaces back again in the United States and elsewhere.

Further automation and loss of jobs in the retail and manufacturing sector is a tragedy and one worth acknowledging. My hope is that the loss of these retail and commercial spaces can be put to some good use and even lead to different kinds of jobs to take root, ones that are more social and that benefit people more, especially young children and the elderly. Being able to revitalize certain neighborhoods with greener public spacers where people can gather, eat, play, talk, and even dance would help curb the loneliness epidemic that we are seeing in Western societies. If there is life in the streets, people will show up and they will be better for it.

Part of the beauty of travel is seeing how other cultures value family and community life and make it a high priority. I believe that you can take these positive values from other cultures and place them within your own. It must involve buy-in though from the people themselves and they have to feel that it was the next step forward in improving their community. With the rise of automation and the closing of large shopping centers, we may be at the point in time where we can turn these empty buildings and useless parking lots into real gathering places in the future.

Without social interaction and a sense of community, people will suffer as a result mentally. This has been shown in many studies and in many surveys. I think it is part of who we are as social animals and being isolated in our homes and in our cars for 90% of the day will not make us healthier. For what I saw in Salento, Colombia a few years ago and what I have seen in other towns in Latin America, placing a high value on social life within these communities will make people feel a sense of togetherness and cohesion. A greater emphasis on community gatherings and social spaces would create a large ripple effect that would drastically improve the greater society, the country you’re in, and the world.

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The Power of An Idea

According to the University of Southern California’s Laboratory of Neuroimaging, the average person has about 70,000 thoughts per day. That is about 45 thoughts per minute and 2,700 thoughts per hour. Most likely, 90% of those thoughts are focused on the day-to-day habits and responsibilities that we take upon ourselves out of necessity. Where we go to eat, where we go shop for food, what to clean and how to clean it, and the need to brush, dress, and groom ourselves so that we look presentable to the world. However, what makes us stand out as a species is our ability to pull a few ideas from these thousands of thoughts that end up changing the world in some measurable way.

Thoughts can be random, scattered, and hard to quantify but with concentrated effort and documentation, these thoughts become ideas that later can become a reality. How does an idea turn into a real thing? Well, one part of making an idea real is jotting it down on paper or even on a smartphone today and really spending a lot of time focusing on the plausibility of it. Ideas can make the best sense in the world to you but if they are not popular or don’t transcend just your belief in them, they will go nowhere fast.

Ideas are meant to be tested, changed, and optimized so that people believe in them, for better or for worse. The paradox that is inherent with ideas is that they are very similar to human nature. They can be used for the greatest good or the greatest evil. Ideas are so powerful that wars have been waged over them, millions have lost their lives, and untold amounts of money have been spent to promote or degrade them.

When you really think about it, ideas that are put into action have caused changes to human civilizations throughout the millennia. Whether its education, health, infrastructure, scientific advancement, community building, ideas are at the forefront of upending the status quo and changing human lives, sometimes for the better or sometimes for worse. While I just mentioned the positive advancements that come from ideas, it is also valid that ideas have led to war, poverty, inequality, destruction, and multiple isms that have caused conflict and strife among nations, races, and religions.

You may be reading this article and wondering that maybe it’s best to not contribute your ideas to the world in some way. I think this is a false dichotomy because I like to think that if your ideas are not harming people, are not harming the planet, and can lead to a better community, country or world, then you should try out your ideas and see what happens. The key part to realizing an idea of yours is to see how other people react to it. Are they happier because of your idea? Are they healthier because of it? Are they better educated because of your idea?

You should be asking yourself: Is my idea doing some sort of measurable good for the world and how can I improve upon it? Ideas start out as being imperfect but once you start acting to make those ideas a reality in the world, you will soon learn that implementation of those ideas will take serious hard work and effort. Getting feedback from unbiased users or participants is a key step to see whether the idea is worth merit and whether it is sustainable or not in the long-term. Imposing your idea on the world without substantive feedback or without understanding how your idea fits in to your specific niche will end up in failure.

If you have an idea, remember to write it down and construct how it could work and whether it would be worth pursuing. Similar to starting a business or launching a campaign, you have to test drive the idea first to see if people would be interested in what you have to offer whether they are paying customers or voters from the town you are running your campaign in. Careful assessment and fleshing out of your idea will make a better idea and will make your idea stand out from others that are similar or may be able to usurp yours.

Ideas do not always have to be original but there must be some added benefit or advantage that hasn’t been tried before or could change the status quo in some positive way. There is a rightful stigma against ideas, but it is important to realize that our faith in ideas is crucial to keeping civilization going even when some ideas turn out to be bad for us. Our shared belief in ideas is what leads to massive companies like Google or Apple becoming the most influential or profitable in the world and has led to nation-states forming in the past few centuries such as the United States of America or the United Kingdom.

Without thoughts that turned into ideas which turned into actions, where would humanity be? Our ability to analyze, process, and think about how to change the world or how to introduce something new in the world is what sets us apart from other species on the planet. Essentially, the story of human progress could be argued to revolve around how to maximize the impact and spread of good ideas and how to minimize the influence and the source of bad ideas. Most of us tend to shy away from sharing our ideas or trying them out but I think having a more entrepreneurial and innovative vision is a key part of being self-actualized as a person.

Having a sense of belief in your ideas and how you can leave the world better than you found it is extremely powerful. While working on the ideas of others and promoting them to the world is also very useful, I tend to think that each and every one of us has a good idea that could be fleshed out, tried out, and implemented with the help of others, which would play a key part in making the world a better place.

Because the world is so interconnected, ideas spread so rapidly that it can be overwhelming with how much is out there. However, the ideas that stick around are the ones that take time to develop, that are tweaked with, that refine their logic and their execution, and for which have gained a solid following of people who believe in those ideas. An idea that has a powerful story which resonates with people can also withstand the test of time.

The next time you have an idea, think deeply about it. Maybe you’re on your commute to work or you’re in the bathroom, or you’re on a walk in the local park, but don’t let it slip away if you think that it can serve a positive purpose and if it is actionable. Ideas can come and go in a millisecond so being able to concentrate on the idea, remember it, and write it down as soon as possible could pay off in a big way. Another way to let your ideas form is to focus on the impact that it could have and how people could benefit from the idea(s). I believe that the more observant you are of your surroundings, the better your ideas will be. Another part of gaining traction with your ideas is reading books, whether they were entrepreneurs, inventors, politicians, and reformists from different eras of history.

You may find that your idea is not so unique and may date back a few decades or even a few centuries but maybe that idea never took off. You are eager to learn more about that so you do your research, you find out more about the history of the idea, and you decide why it may be right for the present and into the future based on changes to society. Just because an idea failed in the past doesn’t mean it can’t make a return with a few useful tweaks. From the electric car to virtual reality to smartphones, these kinds of ideas have their roots buried firmly in previous unsuccessful efforts in the past only to be revived because of inventors and thinkers who thought of how to adapt these inventions to the modern era.

Ideas are powerful because of are shared belief in them and how they can change the world. However, without serious action, commitment, and hard work, ideas of ours will just stay like that as ideas alone. Ideas without belief or without support from others will go nowhere. The key to implementing good ideas in our era is that they have been tested, have some measurable benefit to humanity, and have staying power because of their relevance to our societies. If you are not sure that you are an ‘ideas’ person, try to concentrate on your thoughts and remember whether there are any of them in your daily life that could become a reality.

You must decide if any of these ideas of yours could be written down, planned out, implemented, and eventually supported by the work of others. Once you go through that chronological checklist, you will be ready to start putting those ideas into action. Your ideas may ultimately fail and you may get discouraged but if your idea(s) were able to have a kind of positive impact on someone or something because of that thought that you first had go through your mind, you will know that it will have been worth the effort of carrying it out in the first place.