By Dr. Wayne Ruga, FAIA, FIIDA, Hon. FASID
In our world that is circumscribed by histories, beliefs, and biases – our true heritage – the natural human agency, to express ourselves freely, that we were each born with, gets increasingly constrained as we progress in our development, an inescapable paradox that most of us are blind to. ‘Structure’ – such as norms, rules, and policies – is the insidious and ever-present constraint to ‘agency’, and for many of us, reproducing and producing more limiting structure is what we unknowingly become practitioners of, and rewarded for, rather than drawing upon our own natural agency to liberate ourselves, and those around us, to become more of who we were originally born to be.
At the Seventh Symposium, our Keynote Speaker was Bernie S. Siegel, a surgeon, who encouraged us to examine how this ‘agency-structure paradox’ creates limitations in our ability to achieve greater personal health, deliver more compassionate healthcare, and live our lives in ways that are more fulfilling. The theme of his presentation was captured in a compellingly simple photographic image, that he presented, of how nature is unstoppable in its pursuit to express its agency – even in the face of the most severe limitations of structure.
Dr. Siegel’s image was of a dandelion that had forced its way up through a newly paved and striped urban roadway – a road where the asphalt was still shiny in its newness and the yellow painted center line was, as yet, untrodden by vehicles – and this dandelion was the only natural element in this sterile urban setting, beaming triumphantly in the rays of the sun, having become the brilliant dandelion that it was created to be. Of course, the point of the image was to encourage us to each become like this dandelion.
Anais Nin expressed this same point with breath-taking eloquence, when she said – ‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom’. Through these simple words, we can begin to see the fact that we do have a choice – it’s not an easy choice – but it is a choice that is available to each one of us. Do we choose to remain as a bud – constrained by structure, or blossom – as an expression of our natural agency?
Of course, since we all want to choose to blossom – why is it so challenging and difficult? To suggest that it is simply a matter of beliefs is to oversimplify the situation. However, our beliefs are key to what we choose. For example, in The Doctor and the Soul, by Viktor Frankl, we see a dramatic example of how the power of our believing that we have a choice, and making it, can profoundly inform our experience – even in an extreme situation where pain is involved. In Viktor Frankl’s chilling personal account of being tortured, he describes how he chose to be triumphant over his situation, drawing a direct parallel to Dr. Siegel’s brilliantly radiant dandelion image.
Now, in its 35th year, the Symposium has a proud legacy of being a highly fertile field, providing the essential conditions that enable its participants to blossom – the extreme opposite of the newly paved urban roadway or the torturous conditions that Frankl survived. The Symposium is a unique place with an established history of supporting positive beliefs in our ability to improve the world, supporting our choosing to blossom, and actively encouraging our blossoming because of the invigorated agency that our courageous Symposium community supports our access to.
In fact, in support of our belief that we can each improve the world by making better tomorrows – we have compelling evidence that the Symposium accomplishes precisely what Dr. Siegel encouraged us to do: by providing the conditions that support our liberated expressions of agency, the Symposium enables improvements to our personal health, it has championed a more compassionate delivery of healthcare, and has enriched a vast number of human lives. Rather than contributing to the already-too-much-structure, the Symposium supports expressions of agency – bold agency, courageous agency, agency that enables our community of believers-in-better-tomorrows to actually create better tomorrows, day after day, and year after year – in the face of the ever-increasing structure that continuously attempts to constrain our expressions of agency.
As an original creation – unlike anything that existed before it – the Symposium was created to be a community of like-minded individuals. It was intended to be an annual ‘place’ to learn from each other and to share resources. The very name, ‘Symposium’, was carefully chosen to express the value of ‘discussing together’ – the non-hierarchical and inclusive activity that gives its flourishing community an infusion of vitality and a taste of the splendor of openly expressing our uniquely individual agency. As active participants in this experience of ‘discussing together’, we can feel the warmth of acceptance and a valuing of difference.
One of the original hallmarks of the Symposium was its open invitation to all stakeholders in health, healthcare, and design to engage in a new, and very different kind, of collaborative discussion – to provide this new and ever-expanding global community with the opportunity to hear new voices and different perspectives, to learn new ways, as well as for your voice to be heard and appreciated, for you to be seen and recognized, for your ideas to be openly expressed, for your resources to be shared and valued, and for you to learn in ways that open your mind to new possibilities.
The Symposium is a place for YOU to blossom: as an attendee in the 3-day long annual event, with ongoing discussions with Symposium community members between the times of the annual event, through the special relationships that develop through these discussions, and through the positive reinforcement that being in community with like-minded colleagues – those who believe in making better tomorrows – can encourage and support.
As this year’s 2022 Symposium returns ‘home’ to California, the state of its ‘birth’, YOU are invited to return ‘home’ to the fertile conditions of the annual Symposium where you will be encouraged to blossom, and to re-discover being the triumphant active agent that you were born to be. I am looking forward to our further blossoming together in Long Beach, in September.