Nothing in particular is going on

Here at ground level we can hear and see the untold story.  Here, the important thing happening is nothing.  Nothing in particular is happening; yet something remarkable is going on.  We need to see and hear and understand the nothing, because it tells us about tomorrow or, at least, a tomorrow we can have if we want to.

Here, to begin, is a modestly sized urban park, somewhere in a large British city.  The park is reasonably well-maintained, with well-mannered borders, areas where dogs and children can be separated, routine patrols by amiable men and women in uniforms.  There is a little graffiti here and there.  Sometimes there are arguments; perhaps there is, from time to time, a ripple of fear that muggers or murderers or paedophiles are lurking among the apparent normalities.  Today, however, is not a day for such reflections.

Today (Friday the 13th) presents the world of the park in its very best light, antipathetic to the tone normally associated with this most inauspicious conjunction of day and number.  Today, from 3.30pm and for two or so hours, the world pours into the park in all its astounding diversity, pours from the schools and homes and offices and shops that surround the park and in an extraordinary atmosphere of early autumn peace, happiness and sunshine - nothing happens.

Nothing happens as a group of seven or eight year-olds play football.  They hail from Scotland, Croatia, Somalia, England and Jamaica.  Calls in all tongues bound with the ball.  Sundry parents lounge and chat.

Nothing happens in the queue for the ice-cream.  An old man waits patiently behind a young boy waiting behind a nanny behind a pair of chattering mums.

Nothing happens when a group of Asian youths join a group of white youths and a group of black youths on the basketball pitch.

Nothing happens near the paddling pool, as the children from the state school and the children from the private school remove their day clothes and become indistinguishable.

Nothing happens on the nearby roads - despite ample opportunity, no accidents take place.  Nothing happens again and again and again.

No strategy begat this miracle.  No plan or policy is in place.  No authority has ordained the nothing.  People are simply getting on with their lives, respecting one another, spontaneously creating the delicious nothingness.

Pure anarchy reigns, as it does - Colin Ward explained - in Milton Keynes.

(Yes, it probably needs a lattice of organised infrastructure to facilitate the anarchy, but its minimalism is key.)

Multiple lessons here, it seems to me, but it is upon the nothingness that I want to focus.  As Sarah Bell pointed out in her inaugural professorial lecture, sometimes the right thing to do is nothing.  It may mean that you can't attach your ego to some iconic construct (be it a building or an artefact or a project or a policy) but that's the point.  In the age of complexity and multiplicity, leadership and change are both diffuse and de-individualised.  We need to get over ourselves.

So keep an eye out - for nothing happening, and for the opportunity to do nothing.  They might both be the best things going on.


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