The Fishbowl

The North End ‘Fishbowl’ Experience

It is said “a fish in a fishbowl has the world staring at it; from the perspective of the fish, nearly anyone can stare at it with curiosity, but it cannot really reciprocate, and has no place to retreat”. Exploring how this works out in a neighborhood like the North End, where people are almost always in close proximity, can be difficult. There are a lot of different ways to look at the fishbowl. From the actual fishbowl and the perspective of the fish to how the fishbowl brings people together in education or how it can aid in building “connectedness”.

A fishbowl in education is a practice that aids the art of active listening. In the context of education, the Fishbowl is a tool for facilitating dialogue between experts in a way that exposes others to their knowledge while expanding the collective understanding of a subject. The idea is to create circles that invite engagement from those less versed in a topic. The inside circle is made up of experts on a topic. The outer circles consist of others who are encouraged to contribute to the conversation as they wish. The key word is “contribute”, and having the freedom to weigh in in a safe and supportive environment. The key function being active listening.

In ‘Nurturing the One, Supporting the Many’ by Peg McCartt Hess, Brenda G. McGowan, Michael Botsko the neighborhood as a fishbowl is approached, not as a view into another’s world, but more how the “vitality and connectedness of the community” can be expanded and explained.

In actual, real life terms, living in a fishbowl brings with it day to day, mundane, and often annoying baggage. People are people and they do get annoyed. From the cat who has picked your yard to crap in, to the neighbor who walks around with his shirt off or the lady who is constantly smoking in her backyard and worse. For most of us the annoyances are simply annoyances, or they can be fodder for neighborhood comedy. For others unused to the close proximity, and especially people who were raised in the suburbs – where few alleys exist, the setback is almost always much more than 4 feet, and there is little or no “shared space” like our alleys and parking strips; the constant awareness there are people all around you can be burden…

“It’s just so messy” is a phrase I often heard over the years. I’ve seen people call the police because someone’s kids are playing in their yard or worse yet, the street. I’ve seen complaints about dogs, parking and too much trash in the alleys. I’ve personally been accused of spending too much time in my carport of all things. The complaints are made by people who have quite a bit to learn about being in the “fishbowl” of the North End. Sure, there are times when people cross the line, but most of the time people are doing with what they have and aren’t trying to hurt anyone.

The solution seems to me to be pretty simple. Be more empathic – ask who you can help or, if you don’t understand what’s going on, a simple “why are you?” question could alleviate some angst. Maybe the people with all of the trash got evicted or they’re splitting up, the guy with the shirt off doesn’t even know you’ve noticed, or the guy hanging out in his carport is really working on projects. The cat conundrum is a little tougher, but a little ‘kitty 101’ coaching might help…  or the simple question – “did you know your cat is crapping in my yard?” might lead to a solution instead of a confrontation.

It’s also the realization that you aren’t going to be able to impose your personal values on those around you. Living together requires compromise and sometime it means reaching out a hand without a club in the other hand. And if you don’t want to talk to anybody? All I can say is good luck. As my mom used to say “you’ve made your bed and you’ll just have to lie in it” comes to mind.

And lastly, thanks to all the great neighbors out there that have helped make the North End a unique, valuable and different place to raise a family, go to school and be part a part of something great. Every bit of it.

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