The Beauty of Self-Organization

The social fabric is increasingly threaded with protections: rules, cautions, protocols, labels and restrictions endlessly pouring forward to protect us, increasing from,…, ourselves. This is likely an outgrowth of the profoundly “caring society” mindset, but I think it might be driving us down a road better left not taken.

Some really basic ideas I remember being drilled into my head by my parents no longer seem to be on the curriculum; ones as simple as the edict to look both ways before crossing the street.

Recently, I was driving through the downtown core of the town I work in. I noticed a young woman walking at about a 45 degree angle toward the road. Just to be safe, I slowed substantially. I’m glad I did because she continued into the line of auto traffic without so much as a glance into the road. Oh, and here’s the clinker: She was pushing a baby carriage!

I read recently about a fascinating ‘experiment’ that took place in Holland. There was a complex intersection that had the highest accident (and death) rate in Europe. One of the foremost traffic experts in the world recommended a radically unconventional “solution” to the problem; complete removal of all signage, warnings, lanes and control mechanisms whatsoever from this death trap intersection.

The result? Well, (perhaps) astonishingly, it is now one of the safest, most incident-free interchanges anywhere. The key appears to be that it shifts the responsibility for safety upon each individual user of the space.

Regulating stuff is probably well-intentioned, but it undermines the fundamental responsibility of looking out for oneself that is, ultimately, your best protection. It blunts the attitude of self-reliance, the first quality of which is paying attention to what is going on around you.

It’s probably too late for that young lady to suddenly start looking out for herself (and her child). Maybe it’s not too late to start teaching those values more widely.

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