Social Exchange

Moving more slowly than usual, people ambled up and down the Narrow Way.  Even the traffic near by very thin, the streets becalmed by heat. Especially in this weather, my strategy of waiting to see who comes to me seems more successful than pestering those who are unwilling to engage.

Most people ignore the barrow, others pass comment or say “hello” and continue on their way, and then there are those who come over and talk to me. For those that do, the conversations that open up offer windows into other realities, lives that are usually very different from my own.

My presence on the street does not represent an organisation or a company. I try to provide a positive yet neutral space for whatever arises. I cannot provide solutions to the problems that people sometimes bring. All I have to offer is a social exchange, a meeting where two people see and hear each other.

The conversations that emerged today revealed feelings and needs as well as achievements and things to celebrate. Deep into those conversations photographs not always appropriate.

“How do people afford to live round here?” one person asked, frustrated by a system that fails to value their input into society. “We want money, not talk,” said one woman. Someone else came to talk because, “I am not experiencing friendliness” at home. They shared their story, and then asked, “what are you going to do with this information?”

In the hearing of stories, personal details remain private, but in writing this blog I may quote from actual conversations and reveal how I feel. In sharing, giving and receiving there is a delicate balance – how to receive without taking liberties, how to give without tapping into dependency issues. How do we take care of ourselves, yet still be available to relate to others?

Another person, annoyed by people who “suck the nutrients from you” with insincere chatter said, “I like to be real.” It was a good reminder to step gently and with truthfulness in this exposed social economy.

I shall stick to the advice given by the parent whose daughter has  “changed their life”. The dynamism and optimism that they have to share brings hope to the world. “Keep experiencing Hackney!” they said. It is a very rich experience.

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2 thoughts on “Social Exchange

  1. Ros Southern

    Thanks for these reflections. I can see what a delicate balance it is and I am guessing that it is quite exhausting because you need to be so alert and so sensitive and also very genuine? And also its a joyful experience as its all so real and deep from which incredibly creative and beautiful things emerge? Its a bit like my experience of community mediation I think.

  2. Nicholas

    Did you start with a notion – a prejudice, a set of assumptions – about what ‘friendliness’ was? What it meant beyond a vague sense of connectedness and community?

    Is it worth asking people what they understand by the concept of ‘friendliness’. Perhaps you have done so already. And received a series of interesting and varied answers – it would be good to see what those were.

    Speaking from experience, whenever I start on a creative project – especially with a creative project – it comes freighted down with a whole set of assumptions that often get challenged.

    What are the parameters here? How would you measure the response to your question about friendliness before, during and after the project.?Is that even a relevant and valuable question ?(I believe it is, because how else do you evaluate the quality of those connections, moments, brief points of mutual understanding).

    Friendliness is a very complex set of social dynamics. I know plenty of people who appear very friendly but are much more astringent, judgemental, combative – when the shell of ‘friendliness’ is pierced, Likewise, there are plenty who hide behind a mask, an armour – and given a chance quickly demonstrate an inner warmth.

    Just some thoughts on your wonderful project.


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