A fruit vendor in the distance
Last night, outside my window there was drumming, singing and firing of rockets (fireworks? guns?) until pretty late in the night. At breakfast, Mrs. Mukherji told me that what I had heard was a wedding. There is a community centre outside my window.
She also told me about the Taiwanese custom of eating a monkey’s brain while it is still alive. The family she lived next to in Taiwan used to do this during parties. They kept monkeys in cages at the top of the house and would use them up one by one. “How can people do a thing like that?” she asked me. I couldn’t answer her. I started thinking about the things that happen to animals inside huge “agribusiness” farms.
A bit later on, she paused and then asked “Why did you come here?” I could tell that she had wanted to ask this question for a while. “There are different problems in Canada than there are here. Especially with education. You do not have the same issues with access and quality. What could you be hoping to learn?”
I told her that I came here to learn about the thought process behind a social innovation. How can we get students to become innovators? That is what I wanted to learn.
“Ah, yes.” She said, satisfied. She warned me that ideas are one thing, but implementation is entirely different. “We need cohesion. We need people to work together. Having a good idea won’t ensure that.”
“We need cohesion. We need people to work together. Having a good idea won’t ensure that.”
At the Ghosh house, Pradeep told me he had been waiting to challenge me about something since he read my first blog post. And he did.
“We have been talking about breaking the box, about getting people to think beyond the sets of restrictions posed to them by society, their families, schools and workplaces. But it seems as though you want people to break out of their box and come join you in your complex systems box.”
I nodded. I knew. It was something that had always bothered me. Specializing in this way, in systems, has changed me. It has changed how I look at things. I am less open than I used to be. I have stronger convictions about the ‘right way’ to do things.
“You see yourself as complex. You see me as complex, Shibani as complex, India as complex. But you miss pieces of us if you do that, you miss many things. You stop listening to people who don’t see these things as complex. You convince yourself that only you are right. But if you only use your perspective to look at a problem you see one tenth of it.”
“You see yourself as complex. You see me as complex, Shibani as complex, India as complex. But you miss pieces of us if you do that, you miss many things. You stop listening to people who don’t see these things as complex.”
Pradeep challenged me to move beyond this box; to step out of this safe area and let myself think openly.
“How were you when you came to India? When you stepped off the plane into the Delhi airport? You were like a child, were you not? You were soaking everything in, not always trying to make sense of things, just looking around. And you settled into here in less than a week. Didn’t it seem natural to you? Why are you looking to make things more complicated? More complex?”
“You have to let the child inside you live. When was the last time you did that? When was the last time you allowed yourself to think without limitations? When was the last time you dreamed?”
“You will not be able to understand a problem nearly as well as you need to if you do not approach it like everything is new. Like you are a child. You have to value that perspective because it allows you to take in the perspectives of others without judging them. Everything is equally important.”
“You will not be able to understand a problem nearly as well as you need to if you do not approach it like everything is new.”
I thought about what he said then and am still thinking about it now. That is all I will say at the moment. You can be sure that there will be more to come.
Then, he gave me another challenge. Tomorrow I will talk about the McMaster Social Innovation Lab in front of a class of Management graduate students, the college’s director and some professors.
After lunch (dal [lentil soup], potato curry and river fish with rice), I again boarded the bus with Shibani. Today was my last day at the museum school. The children and I were walking through the exhibits when the museum, lit naturally, suddenly turned dark. Heavy rains had come and clouds make the sky dark. I had wanted to say a proper thank you and goodbye to the children but our time was cut short. The claps of thunder seemed an appropriate end to the kind of day it had been. We scurried back to the bus.
In the past twenty-four hours, many things have knocked me off balance. I feel lost, but good. This is what I travelled here for – to be sent spinning. When I first emailed Pradeep, I told him that I was willing to have my ideas about social innovation ‘proved wrong’. He said that this was the most important part of my application.
Where from here? We will see.
Brianna Smrke, who has been working with the SiG@Waterloo simulation team, is visiting the OaSiS Social Innovations Laboratory in Bhopal, India. She is blogging about her experiences at downwithvowels, which you can also follow here at socialinnovationsimulation.com.