Possibilities in the fractal

June 2, 2023 | Jennifer Newman, BHFH Executive Director

Photo: The visible fractal pattern in an iridescent Nautilus shell. Credit: Gilulia May

I recently had a surprising discovery in one of our cabinets: the spirograph toy from my childhood — a series of stencils that work magic, allowing you to easily draw a complex spirographic fractal image. Fractals are mesmerizing, and they are actually naturally occurring: clouds, mountains, coastlines, cauliflower, shells and ferns are all fractals.

In the book Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown lifts up fractals as a core piece of how we can think about social change, writing: “A fractal … looks roughly the same at any scale. Small-scale solutions impact the whole system. Use similar principles to build at all scales.”

What if we thought about Beacon Hill Friends House as a part of a fractal? We exist as one example of how to embody Quaker values in order to nurture and call forth the light in all of us. We hold multiplicity — generations of residents, different belief systems, adaptive structures, tradition and creativity, the one and the many. And yet, we are small.

My friend David Coletta calls us a “laboratory” for how to live in community. We are a place to experiment, to be transformed, and to imagine what is possible. As I step into the role of Executive Director for BHFH, I am excited about helping us explore the possibilities for what our small-scale community has to offer as a model for the world.

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