Knowing, being, doing

“As participant designers, we focus on changing ourselves and the way we do things in order to change the world.” — Joichi Ito

Kanji — as used in Japan, at least—are helpful for thinking about how to use “now” to change ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

The only time available for action is “now”. One thing we do “now” can be illustrated using three kanji: tree (木), eye (目) and heart (心). A tree is anything observable. The mind’s eye scrutinises the tree for evidence of value. The heart responds to a perception of value in the observed object. An urge (想) is created. This is the “being” layer of behaviour.

Movement in the direction of perceived value creates a path (道: “head in motion”). Generally, we want to get where we’re going quickly and effortlessly. So we use the “being” mechanism to seek out good tools (道具: path items) and good guidance (道徳: path merits, often translated as “morality”). This is the “doing” layer of behaviour. Note that “good” is defined solely in terms of how best to achieve our goal.

One quintessential human tool and medium for guidance is language. When a language teacher (for example, a parent) and a language learner (for example, a toddler) know that they are paying attention to the same object, the stage is set for the learner’s heart to move in the direction of sound (音) or other sensory input that the teacher associates with the object of attention (“Moon!”). For the learner, this arrangement can generate meaning (意: sound + heart). If the learner’s heart then moves in the direction of meaning, the result may be memory (憶: meaning + heart). Eventually, the learner will produce the sound at an appropriate moment, and the teacher will know that the target language is now known. This is the “knowing” layer of behaviour.

A mind for the other
The three layers of behaviour influence each other, and the heart is often a downright nuisance, but this framework may serve as a “good tool” for those striving to design a better world.

The key, I believe, is to harness the power of “a mind for the other”. This is what I say in English to convey the idea of 相手を想う心 (aite wo omou kokoro), a phrase made up of trees, eyes, hearts, and a hand — a hand that someone may lend us, or use to point us in the right direction.

The more skilfully we apply “a mind for the other”, the more accurate will be our judgment, the more effective our action, and the swifter our progress towards the change we desire.

But remember: 一切唯心造 (issai yui shinzo). The heart creates everything.

If you perceive any value at all in the “tree” outlined above, then you may find your heart moving in the direction of a PechaKucha talk that I presented in a very loud voice.