Seeing the world in a new light: creative uses for your surroundings

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

There are a bench and asphalt path that is right near my place. It’s shaded by several trees, somewhat isolated, and kind of nice.

It was the perfect place to solve a minor problem of mine, but I never gave it a second glance until recently.

One of the first times I passed by, I saw a senior citizen sitting there with her caretaker.

They kept on doing that for a few weeks, and so it imprinted in my mind that’s what it was used for.

Until recently, I’d been searching for a place to do calisthenic exercises. I had been struggling to find a path or public park near me that I didn’t need to pay for. Just a simple place to do a few pushups and stuff when I didn’t have time to commit to the gym.

But I never considered going there. Not until recently. I was watching a Youtube video that showed a guy practicing on an asphalt path, which caused me to give it a second look.

No one was around, and a cool breeze was blowing as I walked out there. The summer heatwave had long since passed, but it was still nice to have a cool place to do a warmup.

I ended up doing a full-blown calisthenic workout, lasting 45 minutes and working up a sweat. But I stayed fairly cool in the shade, with a nice breeze often accompanying me at times.

It was the perfect place to work out, but it took me re-evaluating my surroundings to see it.

Single-use society

For better or worse, our society is designed as a single-use society. A parking lot is a place to park cars. An office is a place to work. We have designated multi-use facilities, like libraries or parks, but mostly there’s an unspoken societal code for most buildings.

If you’ve ever been on the subway (meant for transportation) and panhandlers or artists start using it as a performance stage, notice the reaction of most people at the start. It ranges from annoyance to tolerance (and rarely joy if the performer’s good).

But why is that the case?

It’s because that’s what makes it easy for people to process the wealth of information around them.

If an individual had to process not only appearance but history and all of the other factors of everyone they encountered, they wouldn’t be able to cope.

So the “parking complex that just so happens to never fill up that houses lampposts that just far enough to be the width of a regulation soccer goal” becomes “a parking lot.”

The “park that has a baseball diamond, lots of shade, and benches that are perfectly positioned so that you could watch some amateur baseball games during your lunch break” becomes “the path I walk to work.”

And “Tony, the Iranian guy working at the Falafel restaurant who dreams of being a musician and has 3 kids but his wife is still back home.” Becomes “That falafel guy.”

Creatively finding uses in a single-use society

So how do you start changing your thought process?

How do you beat something that’s ingrained into your brain?

Break down what you’re looking for.

There’s a parable I heard once.

A master had three disciples.

One morning, the Master asked “What walks on four legs, has two small ears, and a tail that droops?

Each of the disciples was quick to answer.

“A mouse!” One said.

“A dog!” Another said.

“A cat!” The last one said.

“That’s correct.” The master said, leaving the disciples confused.

“Which one was correct?” The first disciple said.

“All of them.” The master replied.

There can be more than one answer to a problem that you’re have. Just like there can be more than one use to a singular structure.

Take a closer look at your surroundings. Perhaps there might be hidden gems right around you, that might solve the purpose that you’re looking for.

(If you’re having trouble with this, you might want to check out this post for a test to help you with it)

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning: https://tinyurl.com/y5m2j42v

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