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Adequate signage

Many things can happen only in iterations.

When we can’t know how the pieces will behave until we let them loose in the world, we learn primarily through failure. And that kind of learning can be…enchanting, actually. It can be so much fun when something breaks in an unexpected way, and such a joy to unravel the mystery of why.

For some reason, though, in our more human-centred endeavours, iteration and its associated failures can become some terrifying spectre that we dare not look directly in the eyes of. We can become cripplingly self-conscious about it.

That can make us shy away from all the messy human intersections where the failures are most likely to happen.

Now, personally, I like to exist on the peripheries; floating between worlds I’m never really a part of. Observer and outsider. Interested, but not invested. Lonely, but by choice. It is a rare thing that demands my full commitment, and a rare thing indeed that would want it, but that’s another story altogether.

Because of my fickle proclivity, I have forced myself to endure and enjoy many, many intersections. And, in their virgin state, they are always such clumsy, confusing places. But there is also such delight – such inspiration – to be found in cleaning them up and having the traffic flow smoothly, so to speak.

There is no more satisfying place to navigate than an intersection with adequate signage. Until, of course, it gets boring.

It’s hard to achieve, though. And scary to look at, at first. No-one knows what’s expected of them; some people plough into everyone else with no ability to expand their perspective, and some people are paralysed at the thought of accidental harm. It’s easy to make intersections a place we choose to avoid.

So how do you create a shared understanding, that keeps everybody safe? Well, it can only be done in iterations.

It starts with comprehending the languages involved. Crude tools that they are, words are how we convey ourselves to others. Everyone has their own peculiar way of doing it, but when we coalesce into groups, our idiosyncracies merge into collective structures and we develop common routes. We use shortcuts. We make jargon. And in that jargon we find not only meaning, but belonging. So what words are meeting at this intersection? And how might we translate them?

Meaning is nuanced. You can read a definition, but until you’ve felt that word in your mouth, heard it in a dozen sentences, and used it to gain appropriate reception, you won’t begin to find the borders of it. The words we choose will need to be tested, and they’ll also need to be settled into, so they can come out in their natural form. We won’t make the right choice first time. Someone will prove how the thing we thought was clever is actually stupid. We’ll say it wrong, or start second-guessing on the third syllable. This is the way of things.

Once you’ve found the words, where do you send them? Where is everybody coming from? In which direction are they oriented? What do they see from where they are? Where are they trying to get to?

You need to know, too, when everybody is arriving. And, while we’re at it, how. Are there patterns and rhythms to their comings and goings? Does one throughway need priority, because they only travel here when things are serious? Are they wearing sensible footwear, or decked out in fancy dress? Do the cracks in the pavement threaten to harm them? Do they need better lighting?

There are questions you didn’t think of. The truth of the situation can be borne out only over time. And even as you ask, ahead of time, trying to avoid another costly or embarrassing iteration, the truth is these visitors may not know the answer themselves.

I think we’d all benefit from braving more intersections with people and groups we don’t yet know how to navigate with. I think we probably need to find a way of forcing that into our lives. And I worry that it’s oh so easy to avoid it now; to stay in our friction-less bubble of people-like-us, and demonise the embarrassing failures that lurk just outside its glossy film.

It’s a wide world, with so much to see. Go find some new perspectives to look at it with. Endure the embarrassment of a new intersection.

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