UK Riots – A Lesson of Resilience. Or lack of it.

U nfortunately, there is no way you can avoid talking or at least thinking this week about the London riots. Without a question, they are series of mindless and senseless acts that would appal every reasonable person. After the initial hesitation of the Metropolitan Police, the huge amount of arrests, the swift sentencing, and the three-in-a-row calm nights, the society seems to be back to normal. We just need to find a good mirror to look and find out what the root causes were. I don’t think that filling prisons with teenagers and young adults is a long-term answer. And I hope no one else does. And while I do feel that six month sentence for a stolen £3.50 case of water is really harsh punishment for a school boy, I cannot pardon participation in absurd riots.

While the recalled MPs were eloquently and vividly discussing what happened, I had the privilege to attend the London screening of a unique “silent” film – City Delhi Symphony, an amazing production of Sergio Lopez Figuerosa, founder and director of Big Bang Lab. The film is a short, 20-minute visual poem, created by underprivileged children living in sheltered homes in Delhi. Under the direction of Sergio, the kids had learnt how to work with a video camera, how to interview people, how to shoot and edit film. They participated in the creation of their own documentary about their city, shooting around their neighbourhoods, the streets and a Heritage site. By coming up with their conclusions about social and environmental issues affecting the city, they also engaged with their own musical heritage by producing new music for a contemporary digital silent film.

The film was a truly mesmerizing visual symphony! But what really grabbed me was the followed showing of a documentary film about the making of the project. The story of the idea, its supporters and challenges, weaved around several dozen children who took the film in their hands. And while some of them were uncertain or reserved at the beginning, during the live performance of the production on World Heritage Day in New Delhi, their eyes were full of inspiration, hope and gratitude.

I could not help but to compare the communities from the screen with the burning streets of London. On the screen you see inspired children, thinking about their communities, asking questions to parents and adults, raising questions about important and difficult issues, dreaming about their future. On the streets of UK: angry, bored, unhappy youths spontaneously get together for random opportunistic acts of violence, looting, and destruction. Rioters seemed completely disconnected from reality or the impact and consequences of their nights out. It is true that people could be sceptical of the impact of one man with a camera in a city with several million children, and some would even criticise him for giving unreasonable hopes to children with uncertain future. But I think what Sergio showed is a way to connect one’s life, purpose, and future with others in the community.

These two melodies – City Delhi Symphony and London Violent Opus – resonated with my thinking about how resilient our communities are. Or, rather, how we lack resilience, in a broader sustainability scope. Resilient communities are connected entities of people, who live, work and create with awareness and purpose. Resilient communities are built by individuals understanding their environmental and social impacts. Instead, what keep most of our communities together are not strong bonds between people, but very thin webs of systems and organisations. We grew disconnected from each other and started to rely more and more to connect (unwillingly and inevitably) to everything through the fragile web of systems – for our finances, our food, social networks, energy grids.

We did create these global systems and they significantly improved our lives (at least, for billion or two of us). It is true, that we can no longer live in isolated, feudal, self-sufficient villages – we are too many, we are too inefficient in smaller groups, and we are running out of resources. But our comfort, built on complex web of systems, organisations and infrastructures made us more disconnected with the impact and consequences of our own activities and choices. We no longer know or care where the strawberries in a plastic container come from. We do the “right thing” by separating waste and recycling but we don’t know what is happening with our own rubbish. We heat and light our homes and fill our gas tanks without understanding the vast infrastructure behind this comfort. We pour tax money and savings into the opaque box of the ill financial system and choose to keep it on support rather than to call Dr. House. We rely so much on this convenience that we do not see how disconnected we are indeed from other human beings and our own life purpose. And our disconnectedness with everything (except consumptionism and financial wealth) is making our communities less resilient.

These kids destroying businesses and livelihoods of their own neighbours do not feel as part of a community, they do not fully understand the consequences of what is happening. They might even feel they are brave and brake away from the “system”. Parents, teachers, community leaders are also distanced and apparently unaware of their youth feeling lost. We somehow rely on law and order to keep everyone calm so we can carry on. And the events of the last few nights show that if we do not have durable relations within our society, the thin walls that we insist on building will not hold.

Now is the time to focus on building resilience within our communities and our lives (and probably start with defining what that would mean). We should not wait for the next horrifying disruption but start the discussion and plan action steps. There are many questions that could help framing the discourse: in how many days city supermarkets will run out of food, should transportation system shut down? How long can we survive without ATMs and banks, should payment systems freeze? How many zeros we need to add to our salaries to feel happy?


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