26 December, 2022
Now that I have completed my Master of Media in Strategic Communication, I have a bit more time to think about things that capture my attention. For most of the month (December 2022), I have consistently returned to thinking about why some people keep on moving forward, and only fall back a little way when things don’t work out as planned, while other people agonize about every step forward, and come crashing down back to where they started from years ago each time something goes wrong.
When I started thinking about this spectrum of experience in relation to my friends, colleagues, family, and former students, I realised that I know an equal number of people who keep on pushing through to a new level, or who crash back down to where they started from years ago. This means that, from my limited sample, there are at least as many people who get bruised and battered by life without getting near where they want to go, as there are people who take tumbles and keep moving toward their goals. Everyone suffers falls as they traverse life, but some people fall harder and spend a lot of time clambering back to where they were before the last thing went wrong.
In order to consider this spectrum, I decided that I needed some sort of mental representation to simplify what might be going on. I briefly thought about employing a game of Snakes and Ladders, but quickly ditched this option. Yes, life is full of risk and chance, but the snakes and ladders of life are not distributed arbitrarily, as the game would suggest. Snakes and Ladders doesn’t incorporate agency and adaptability.
Instead, I decided on the mental representation of a terraced hillside. Now, please keep in mind that I can’t see what a terraced hillside looks like, so use your imagination and work with me. If you have ever seen (or been on) a hillside like the one I am about to describe, then please use the contact form below to tell me about this place.
Imagine a hillside with a bubbling brook at the bottom. Right beside the water is lush vegetation that can’t grow anywhere else. A little bit above this lush vegetation is our first terrace. On this first Human built terrace we have rich soil and easy access to water, and we can grow almost anything in abundance. A little bit above this first terrace we have our second Human built terrace. On this terrace we have plants that need a bit less water, and fruit trees whose roots can snake down toward the brook. On our third Human built terrace I am imagining a stone and timber house surrounded by olive trees. On our fourth terrace I think we will have grapes. Above this fourth terrace we will plant trees for building things and fuel, and above this little forest we will let the hillside be wild, so that we can hike and hunt, and admire the view from the top of the hill.
Life should be like a terraced hillside. We should push ahead just far enough, so that we can build a new safe place with food and shelter that we can share with those we care about. Each terrace we build should provide us with more things we need and want to share, and give us a sense of accomplishment that will sustain us as we plan what to do higher up the hill. When the effort required to manifest our vision of what the hillside could become increases, we will know that it is only a few steps down back to the last safe and satisfying place that we have created on the hillside. If we lose our footing and fall down the hill, we will know that the fall will be small and that we will land on flat and friendly ground that we have already prepared. When we decide that we don’t need to build any more terraces above where we are on the hillside, we will know that we can explore the wild spaces beyond our made world without ever being too far from home.
Life should be like a terraced hillside, because not building terraces leads to terrible falls down hillsides on to the rocks at the edge of brooks. People who don’t build terraces tend to aim just as high as those who do, but they don’t have safe places at which to rest, plan, and venture out as they push up the hill. Without flat ground to arrest your fall, every step up a hill is a risk, and every tumble down the hill is larger and more dangerous than it needs to be. People who don’t build terraces make their lives harder than they need to be, and they suffer more injuries than they should.
With New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Resolutions just around the corner, could I please ask you to visualise your life as a terraced hillside. If the image comes easily, then please share your terraces and how you built them with the people you care about. If the vision feels appealing, but unfamiliar, then please start learning from the people who care about you who already know how to build terraces on hillsides.