Being good only works when those around both recognise that you are trying to be good and are themselves also trying to be good. Then their version of good also needs to match your version of good. These kinds of subtleties underpin every human engagement but most of the time people do not even recognise that they are there.
Here we have an interaction between two people. Even this simple image is immediately loaded with assumptions and presumptions about who these people are, what they are doing and what they want. So this meeting is the tip of the iceberg. Underneath the surface are a set of relationships that underpin the dynamics that led to this particular moment.
In anthropology, there are three main principles which help people understand the subtleties in social dynamics. The discipline has developed over 100 years, refining and building on these principles. They are:
- Participant observation (Malinowski)
- Thick or detailed description (Geertz)
- ‘Matter out of place’ (Douglas) ie. recognising that food and other ‘matter’ has different meanings based on who and where you are and what it is
These principles can help us understand how the desire to be good can be different in different contexts.
So we can go into a situation and use ‘participant observation’ to learn about how things are done and what the hierarchies are. When we observe a situation closely and describe it in detail, we have more information about it. If we consider what different objects mean to different people, we learn more about the objects and the people.
When people imagine different kinds of scenarios, the same level of attention to detail can be applied. The future visioning sessions are highly sensitive to such nuances. As people imagine a future setting, I try to make as few assumptions as possible. For example, I suggest that people ‘move’ through a space. I don’t use the word ‘walk’ as they might be on a vehicle of some sort.
Returning to my opening musing, I wonder what ‘being good’ looks like in different people’s imagined futures.