Systemic Malfunction – A Design Problem

new york city skyline from the hudson river

This was originally published on ZULUECHO INITIATIVE on June 27th, 2020.

“It’s a systemic issue”… I think we’ve all heard this a lot recently.

I have to admit, I did not know what that truly meant until now, and even still, I am learning more and more what it means and the extent of the impact of systemic injustice. As I continue to educate myself, however, I can’t help but think how all this new knowledge can inform and truly provide insight for me to constructively use my creative work in achieving not only my own goals, but also helping people who have been systemically deprived of that ability achieve theirs. The short answer as of now, is I don’t know yet. I have TONS of work to do in terms of thoroughly educating myself, but I think the first step is to ask the difficult questions and situate ourselves within our context. We must examine our surroundings, to understand how systemic injustices manifest themselves in our respective industries and creative endeavors. We are each responsible for our OWN research in this regard. Here is my thought process thus far…

I was on a phone call the other day with a friend and we were discussing an idea. I told him something that he seemed to find tremendous value in, and when he re-shared my quote on his social media, I began to think about it further.

“How can we design a ‘system’ whereby when people benefit themselves, they are in fact benefitinthe world?”

Yes, this is a somewhat loosely and overly optimistic thought, but if we really think about it and adapt it to our working and social cultures, it can inform a shift in mindset – a revolution of how we THINK about the work we do, while also grounding it with a worthy purpose. Let’s take a step back.

The nature of systemic injustice, and the reason that it is so incredibly oppressive, is not as simple as “good people” vs. “bad people”. When we say “systemic” we are referring to something that has been designed to function in the way it is functioning, whether for the good, or the bad. In other words, a horrific event that is continuously repeating itself with no change, is evidence that the system was designed for that event to occur, time and time again. It’s something bigger than the individual. THAT is the problem.

I consider myself a digital creator and an architectural designer, but to limit the expectation of my influence to these fields alone is to separate their potential as change makers from the greater context of social, cultural, and systemic reform. This is a critical connection that I urge ANYONE who is on a path towards conceptualizing a project, chasing a dream, following a vision, founding a business etc. to consider. The nature of creative types is that they are rebellious. They want to try things in new ways. They want to challenge not only the status quo but they want to challenge themselves as well. They want to see things nobody has seen before and do things people may not even have imagined before. For this exact reason, these people are positioned in a unique place to actively contribute to global change. Their art resonates with people. Their music inspires people. Their photographs tell the stories of those who can’t tell their own. Their films help you see the world through the eyes of others. Their designs and spaces shelter and empower those who need it. These are the impacts that creative people CAN have. But before we can have such an impact, we need to realize the power of our medium. The power that we have to express through our art, content, design, whatever it may be, something beyond us. Something much, MUCH bigger.

We hear the term “influencer” thrown around a lot, typically associated with high follower counts, and brand collaborations, but the truth is that you are an influencer even without the backdrop and hype of social media. The first person you influence on a daily basis is yourself. The way you talk to yourself, the way you think about and reflect on the experiences you share with others is all part of the influence that you have. Leverage that influence. Start with yourself first. Don’t follow the numbers, follow the potential to use your platform in a way that educates and inspires. There is a necessity for that. Social media is not just a game, it can also be tool. And like with most tools, they have two sides, one that is detrimental, and one that if used correctly, can truly bring about generational change. Just take a look at the landscape of social media recently. Take a look at your friends who have started fitness accounts, cooking accounts, self help accounts, or have changed their personal feeds into resourceful posts to help YOU learn the things that you don’t know because of the extent of the “system.”

It’s hard to say that one person can change the world and believe it. It’s impossible to expect one person to change the world. What changes the world isn’t one person. What changes the world is a value that ALL people can share. When that value becomes the driving force for our collective actions, that is how change is brought about. The question is, what do we value? Whoever you are and whatever you do, what influence are you having? Let’s re-evaluate what we consider important in our lives.

To believe in the power of y(our) dreams is to recognize the responsibility we have to create a culture where EVERYONE can have that belief, not only the privileged few.

We have work to do… #zuluechoinitiative