Tension – evolutionary driver of cities


When I have an uneasy feeling, my being is aware of something whether I am conscious of it or not.  If unconscious to what bothers me I end up avoiding the natural itch within me to do what I know I ought to do, or be the way I really want to be.  I may be able to avoid it for ever, or something just my jolt me to see fully the tension I am experiencing.

Tension is often a gulf between what I know I ought to do and what I actually do. This phenomenon is called akrasia (for more see my last post, our cities are itching for improvement.)  Feeling uneasy is often a clue that akrasia is alive and well.  I have a choice about how much attention to put to that tension.

So what is the nature of the tension that forms the akratic gulf?

  1. Living with the akratic gap is unavoidable.  We operate in a world where we regularly grapple with what we know we ought to do and what we actually do.
  2. Living with akrasia is hard.  Akrasia is unavoidable for most of us – if we are seeking improvement of some kind.  The result is that there are always, everywhere, ways and places that things could be better and are not.  This is a reality that can be hard to live with.  Akratic gulfs are everywhere, so our relationship with akrasia is what matters.  It can be friend or foe.
  3. Living with akrasia means accepting vulnerability.  As we choose to explore what bothers us, we welcome unwanted thoughts.  They are typically unwanted because they threaten the status quo, but deep down they signal what is really wanted.
  4. Akrasia can serve or paralyze.  We can beat ourselves up about what we don’t do, or we can explore what is wanting to emerge as a result of discomfort.  The choice is ours.
  5. It’s not about getting rid of the itch.  The best way to live with akrasia is to scratch from time to time.  Some itches are best left alone because scratching can sometimes cause more itch.  It is a decision to be taken seriously, considering how much more itchiness can be tolerated.
  6. Akrasia is about questions, not answers.  Exploring the gulf between what I know I ought to do and what I actually do is not a linear exploration where questions have immediate answers.  Or any answers, for that matter.  An answer, whether given to me or provided by me, is really a way for me to avoid the deeper questions that will lead to more itch and deeper exploration.  Living with akrasia is a way of being where asking and exploring questions are primary.
  7. Akrasia pulls us along evolutionary path.  As we constantly strive for improvement in self and in our collective endeavours, we are stepping individually and collectively into the future we create for ourselves.

Exploring the tension in our world is a purposeful act of being self-aware and awake to what is happening with self and around self.  This exploration is tough for each of us individually.  It is infinitely more challenging at larger scales of social systems, for the gap is really a span as wide as our collective consciousness.  Imagine a canyon, with a city’s action on one side and what we know we ought to do at the other side.  On the ‘ought’ side, however, there are many perspectives on what that should be.  The gulf is small for some and massive for many others and we discuss and debate what we should do.  The actual span of the collective gulf is as wide as the perspectives within the collective.

As individuals, it is imperative that we explore the gulfs in our lives constructively and in a supportive fashion, or they will paralyze us.  And the only way for our cities to explore their gulfs well is if there are enough of us with the ability to do this for our selves.  This is learning journey for cities.  It is not a simple matter of jumping on a bus and giving the driver directions.  We do not know exactly where we are going.  We have to figure it out yet.  And we have such varied perspectives on this that it is quite messy.

As we steer our lives as individuals, families, organizations, neighbourhoods, cities and civilization, we need to be well with each other, consciously choosing how to live with each other and our tensions.  The gulfs between us and with us do not have to be a hindrance.  They can serve us, for the tension we experience is what drives our economic life and the very creation and evolution of our cities.

My next post will explore ‘itchy indicators’, the things that tell us when something is bothering us.  

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This post forms part of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.

Nest City is organized into three parts, each with a collection of chapters.  Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.  Click here for an overview of Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence, chapters 4-7.


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