Applying evolutionary theory on the ground to improve David Sloan Wilson’s city of Binghamton, NY got its start by realizing the potential in the city’s many vacant lots. A Design Your Own Park competition was created and facilitated by Wilson and a group of his graduate students. Criteria for participating in the competition required design input from all age groups within the immediate vicinity of each lot; each neighborhood group then developed a system to resolve conflicts; design decisions were made by consensus; a contract was drawn to assure sufficient volunteer help to spread workloads; and after a park was constructed there needed to be on-going interaction among neighbors to help the city with maintenance. Design Your Own Park was a brilliant start to raise the valleys that appeared on the Geographical Information System map generated by a previous survey asking thousand of Binghamton’s public school children to anonymously rate themselves on their social sensitivity to serving, respecting, and helping others in their community. (See my November 11, 2013 blog titled Who’s in Your Neighborhood?) The competition tapped into the creative power of small group interactions; it created an outdoor space that everyone could enjoy; and environment is suspected to be a more significant indicator of behavior over genetics.
Even though environment may trump genetics, genetics still play a significant role in our lives from affecting how we respond to medication, what we should and shouldn’t eat, and even how we get along with others and make our way in the world. Wilson states understanding our differences become “part of the knowledge that’s required to know how to operate and fix ourselves.” Knowing that someone’s aberrant behavior can be genetically based caused my heart to open and fill with compassion.
The following quotes will give you some insight into this good man who wants us to guide the evolutionary process so it takes us where we want to go. “People are spiritual, or have soul, to the extent that they are searching for meaning in a way that will lead to a better life for all not just themselves.” “The idea that self-interest promotes the common good is profoundly wrong…” “If we are not making decisions on behalf of the common good, then we will be generating conflict, neglect, and decay…” David Sloan Wilson’s Evos continues to work with many interdisciplinary professionals researching solutions to make this a better world for us all.
I wanted to read Wilson’s book for I felt certain it would confirm what I convey in my memoir, “God Never Hurries,” telling of my significant struggles and the deep abiding comfort I found in the natural world, along with the help I needed from others to refuse the victim role and find my voice. Nature did and does heal me. After my husband’s suicide in 1975 I began filling my house with plants for they are signs of life. Many of them have aged in place with me and still bring solace. And in the 1990s, as I struggled for my mother’s care as she descended in Alzheimer’s disease, long walks with a Shepherd-Husky named Bear steeped me in the beauty and comfort of the natural world and kept me sane. And often, it would only take another’s kind voice, note, or knowing smile to lift me up and keep me going. I am grateful for the help that directed and sustained my own evolution.
What if we all understood the role we play in each other’s evolutionary process?