Awasu » Mime power
Thursday 23rd December 2004 5:10 PM [General]

Thinking outside the square. I hate the phrase but love the idea it represents.

I recently had a conversation with someone about my work history which has been unconventional, to say the least. While I trained as a computer programmer and have spent most of my time working in IT, I have also taken big chunks of time off to do other things: travel, play music, teach kids Maths and English. The whole process of going to school, graduating, working in jobs we hate to make money to buy the things we need crave has become so ingrained into our social structure that there are plenty of people who are amazed when someone suggests that there could be any other way. A while back, Dare Obasanjo also mentioned this kind of blindness brought on by a society that has become used to thinking about things in a certain way.

I read an intriguing article today about Antanas Mockus, mayor of Bogota, and some of the unconventional methods he has been using to help fix his city's problems.

Another innovative idea was to use mimes to improve both traffic and citizens' behavior. Initially 20 professional mimes shadowed pedestrians who didn't follow crossing rules: A pedestrian running across the road would be tracked by a mime who mocked his every move. Mimes also poked fun at reckless drivers. The program was so popular that another 400 people were trained as mimes.

"It was a pacifist counterweight," Mockus said. "With neither words nor weapons, the mimes were doubly unarmed. My goal was to show the importance of cultural regulations."

And in his own words:

"The distribution of knowledge is the key contemporary task," Mockus said. "Knowledge empowers people. If people know the rules, and are sensitized by art, humor, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change."


"There is a tendency to be dependent on individual leaders," he said. "To me, it is important to develop collective leadership. I don't like to get credit for all that we achieved. Millions of people contributed to the results that we achieved ... I like more egalitarian relationships. I especially like to orient people to learn."

I think it's no coincidence that he used to be a teacher. When I was talking to the same person about how to improve the performance of the people she was responsible for, I was trying to persuade her of the importance of any change coming from them, not simply being imposed from above. As one person commented on a talk given by Mockus:

He focused on changing hearts and minds - not through preaching but through artistically creative strategies that employed the power of individual and community disapproval. He also spoke openly, with a lovely partial self-mockery, of his own failings, not suggesting that he was more moral than anyone else. His presentation made it clear that the most effective campaigns combine material incentives with normative change and participatory stakeholding.

And how can you possibly not like a guy who does this:

... when faced with a rowdy auditorium of the school of arts' students, he dropped his pants and mooned them to gain quiet. The gesture, he said at the time, should be understood "as a part of the resources which an artist can use."

Now you know.

4 Responses to this post

I hope you didn't find that when you were looking up s/mime.

Nah. I was going to make some techie joke about it but figured it was just too geeky for your average Joe. Nice to see you picked it up though :-|

That is very interesting from a psychological perspective. It comes down to the old scarlet letter technique. Sometimes, well maybe always, public shame works better than private punishment.

"Public shame" might be a bit harsh. I think he was going more for social and peer pressure to conform to accepted norms :-)

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