How can you have a healthy relationship with something you don’t understand and/or how it exists?
For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to define the concept of the institution as a collective of stakeholders, organizations, that operate according to a set of consistent and organized patterns of behavior or activities (established by a law or custom) that is self-regulating and adheres to a set of generally accepted norms.
The example provided by the Business Dictionary describes
- political institutions as the kinds of entities which are involved with (and regulate) competition for power; and
- economic institutions (such as markets) as the kinds of entities that encourage and regulate the production and distribution of goods and services (e.g. jobs, housing, etc).
Is it even possible to have healthy relationships with institutions when
- they’re complex
- they’re massive, and
- our relationships with the sources of these instutions both DO and DON’T actually EXIST?
When we assessed this question in the scope of our own roles in society, it became easy to acknowledge that most individual people aren’t institutions (which is ironic because tax structures often treat institutional & regulatory entities as if they are accountable for their own fiduciary and tax liability)…, yet they often have actors which represent some functional role within them that have consequences upon the people we can actually see and interact with?
An institution is different than an action or process like movement in that you can ask yourself whether you have a healthy relationship with movement and begin to dissect which benchmarks and attributes you can measure to begin to develop some kind of answer to that question.
Whereas, you can ask the same question about whether you have a healthy understanding of institutions when trying to make sense of why — for example, a vacant and abandoned property, which attracts crime in your neighborhood can’t be rehabbed if your city is facing an affordable housing crisis or high rates of homelessness.
Even if you were to go down to your local urban planning office to find out why this problem exists, there are so many pieces and parts which may contribute to why these conditions exist, that it’s impossible for one single person to know what’s involved, who to appeal to, or how to fix it.
For example, in the housing scenario, the vacant property may be deeded to a person who no longer owns the property, may actually be in possession of lending institutions like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, may have federal and municipal liens or other title issues placed on the property which makes it impossible for a community development corporation who’d like to put the property back into productive use, and the local agency that manages land use development may not have access to records from lending institutions to know who’s in possession of a piece of property. These zombie properties may be dropped from a financial institution’s asset portfolio once an appraiser decides that a piece of property is not a worthwhile investment and the bank may not even aware that they own it after a certain amount of time has passed because they don’t have a system in place for assessing it after it’s been appraised as a property considered to be worthless.
There may be many broken parts of a system or disorganized processes that you may be unaware of which influence why despite the best efforts of yourself, local organizers, and your local government can’t just fix up abandoned properties for the homeless.
So when we consider which questions we should be asking about what our relationship is with institutions and why we have the relationship that we do with them, what we realized was that the question we really needed to be asking was how do institutions shape our experiences toward one another, as individuals, and as a community?
Is our relationship with our understanding of institutions healthy?
If it is in some cases, how does that relationship differ from the institutions with which we don’t have healthy relationships?
What is our role in repairing our fractured understanding of institutions and their impacts?
If we need to organize and form strategic partnerships to improve our relationships with institutions, how can we approach that in a way that allows us to be effective while also acknowledging needs that compete for our energy, efforts, and time?