The life of the environment

The environment is good, or bad, according to the degree that its thousands and thousands of centers are pictures of the self, what we might call “beings”.

On the face of it this proposition appears scientifically outrageous, because the relation of the great environment in the world to our own person would seem irrelevant to its quality.

The practical matters of fire, cost, family structure, wall construction, structural efficiency, ecology, solar energy, wind, water, pedestrian traffic — all these have their place. Function must be at the core of everything. But what governs the life of the buildings is not to be found in these matters, alone, but in a single question, always built on the foundation of these matters, but elevating them to a different level of understanding: To what extent is every building, and the whole building, and every garden, and the whole street, all made of beings? Asking this question is the right criterion to apply, because your self, and my self, and each person’s self, are all somehow linked — either by similarity, caused by genetic and biological homology, or by some deeper connection — to one another.

The thought expressed by my conclusion, though it seems at first frivolous, is precisely the watershed between the alienated world of mechanism and the non-alienated world of life. I well know that it may take time for you to appreciate the fact behind the thought. You need to test it, experimentally, as I have done, for years. You need to examine each piece of the environment you come across from this point of view. And you need time to weigh its unlikely character against the fact that, nevertheless, it seems to be true.

To do this, you need to become clear in your own mind about the distinction between centers which are more like beings — more genuinely related to your self — and those which are less so. That in itself takes practice, and discussion, and honesty about your inner feeling. If you try to develop that ability, slowly, by observation and experiment, you will then be in a position to conduct the larger experiment of trying to judge the difference between places which have more life and places which have less life. You will then gradually become persuaded, I believe, as I have been persuaded in the last fifteen years, that this one criterion, absurdly simple though it seems to be, does correlate accurately with the presence of life in the environment. It is that empirical fact, once you encounter it for yourself, which may then persuade you of the truth of what I am recording here.

It should perhaps be said that the word “being”, though I believe it is a true and helpful description, has such a heavy character that it cannot be used every day. In discussion with my colleagues, I find that we rarely speak about this “being” nature of the centers in a building that is being made: it is just too much to keep on talking about it. In ordinary discourse one says, perhaps, that a given bit of garden, or a given bit of ceiling, should be “something”, more of a “thing”, more solid, more of an entity. That kind of language conveys the same essential meaning, and is easier for everyday professional discussion. But those of us who speak like that, and think like that, know that it is the being we are referring to; and in our hearts, as we work, it is this I-like nature which we try to reach, in every particle.

(Page 109)

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