Alexa, remind me to call Ana at 12 noon

Alexa, Siri, Bixby, Cortana, to mention the most popular virtual assistants, are a reality. We are not talking about the future but about the present. New technologies are no longer new, they are technologies that are increasingly ingrained and incorporated into our everyday lives. Our homes are getting “smarter” every day as we let gadgets into our homes that make our day-to-day routines easier.

I would say that we naively let them in, motivated by the promised assistance the time saving devices would bring, removing some of the stress from our workload. They remind us to take the food out of the oven, to do the shopping, attend an appointment… They tell us the weather forecast in case we need to take an umbrella or recommend music suited to our tastes. Robotic vacuum cleaners even sweep the floor while we are out and smart thermostats switch on the heating so that when we get home from work, we find our homes warm and welcoming.

And this is only the visible, the ordinary, that is available to all, which requires little investment and which many of us already enjoy. Because to be honest, I am the kind of person who is not keen to keep up with the latest trends just for the sake of it, but I will if someone recommends it.

At Home Renaissance Foundation, always concerned about the central value of homes in society, we have asked ourselves if all this is being born and developing within a legal, social, moral and ethical framework that benefits people, because we do not forget that where we are letting in all these new dynamics in is our home, that safe and intimate place for the human being.

Sonia Livingstone, professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science, says in the Preface of our new book ‘The Home in the Digital Age’ (now available here)An intrusion into our home is an outrage, and being homeless is a tragedy.”  So I wonder if all these gadgets that supposedly promise to make our lives easier are in fact an intrusion into our homes, in a subtle and seemingly useful way.

Let’s test it to the limits, before it is too late and understand the kind of challenges we face and analyse if AI and all these technologies really are for the wellbeing or the detriment of the person. Let’s fully assess the risks of accepting them into our homes so that we can consciously face both the positive and negative consequences.

This latest book that we have compiled in collaboration with the STI and with research by prestigious academics (see the Index here) from different disciplines, is HRF’s initial contribution to discovering where exactly these ‘not-so-new’ technologies are taking us.

The invisible disability

Can you imagine a 3-4 year old boy lying on the pavement and kicking his legs in the air because he doesn’t want to cross at the traffic lights? What would you think? What might you say or even do? Well, stop and reflect for a moment, because probably what you are seeing as a tantrum or an unruly child has more to do with a disability.
There are millions of people in the world who live with invisible disabilities. We tend to associate disability with something that requires a wheelchair or crutches but many disabilities are not so easily recognisable.
In our Communication Project we talk about some of the less visible disabilities such as autism, hearing problems, mental disorders, multiple sclerosis or also called a thousand faces disease because it can affect people very differently. Not being able to identify them in an obvious way can make us fall into greater social and employment discrimination.
We have received thousands of responses to our latest project on Caring at Home for those with extra needs. We are happy, overwhelmed and very grateful for your help in the dissemination of this topic. But we would like to go further, and encourage people to take their time reading it and to empathize with the true life stories that it contains … In other words, for people to be aware of how important these people are to society and how sometimes we can make judgments through a lack of understanding.
I received this photo through our Instagram profile. A person with one of those invisible disabilities posted it in an act of protest. How many times do we complain because someone ignores us when we request something … can you imagine what it must be like to feel that society as a whole isn’t responding to you, but instead judging you?
This project will hopefully serve as an eye opener and help us to be more understanding by drawing attention to the fact that disability is not a problem but a different way of being and living in this world, which demands acceptance, respect, and caring attitude. At HRF we acknowledge that this must all begin and be cultivated in the home.

Taking the hard road

‘It’s part of life to have obstacles. It’s about overcoming obstacles; that’s the key to happiness.’ (US jazz pianist Herbie Hancock)

Life is a great gift, it’s true. But that does not mean it’s devoid of difficulties and obstacles which can complicate our day.  What’s more, I would say that life is wonderful, thanks to those obstacles and difficulties and barriers that can block our way.

Those challenges we face are what make us grow and improve ourselves and help us know ourselves better. It is through adversity that a person’s true potential is discovered and what we are capable of achieving.

None of this is new, but sometimes we forget. In fact, today’s society tries to avoid any kind of pain or suffering by preventing young people from understanding that this is also part of life. Children can be so overprotected that they are deprived of the tools with which to overcome small obstacles when they are young, leaving them helpless and vulnerable when faced with difficult problems when they are older.

And thanks to each and every one of the testimonies that make up our last Communication Project ‘Caring at Home for those with extra needs’ we have been able to discover how people with disabilities wake up every day aware of their weakness – but that knowledge, that awareness of what one is and what one has, makes them strong, turning their disability into an opportunity.

Learning about the day-to-day lives of people such as Horacio, Adriana, Kara, Sader, Miguel Ángel, Monica and Annick has been an inspiration to us all. I truly believe that the siblings of these children and their families grow stronger and are better prepared for life because they witness in their homes their joy, courage and determination to overcome any obstacles that stand in their way.

The different challenges we all face make our lives very worthwhile. And as Dr. Max says in the Netflix series ‘New Amsterdam’, “Sometimes it is convenient to take the harder road, because it will allow you to have better views.”

Needs and Gifts

Last week HRF published our timely communication report ‘Care at Home for those with extra needs.’ The message of the report is very clear one: it is in the home that needs are met and care is not just given but reciprocated. The focus of the report is on those with extra needs, broadly defined in terms of needing extra support for physical or intellectual disabilities.

There is another side of this coin that can sometimes go unnoticed. The specific care and support, not of those with extra needs, but of those with extra or particular gifts. The phrase “gifted children” is one that conjures up for many of us images of musical or maths prodigies, but in fact, a wide range of giftedness can be identified across the curriculum. It might also seem that this is a “non-problem” as surely the gifted are at a natural advantage at school and in later life?

A recent paper in the prestigious International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests things are not so smooth as we might think.
“Emotional Intelligence Profiles and Self-Esteem/Self-Concept: An Analysis of Relationships in Gifted Students” by Ana María Casino-García, María José Llopis-Bueno and Lucía Inmaculada Llinares-Insa, looks at the lived experience and potential disadvantages of being identified as a gifted child. Evidence suggests that depending on the support and understanding offered to such children, emotional responses vary from thriving to vulnerability.

What seems a key driver in this is the recognition and nurturing of students’ Emotional Intelligence (EI). The development of high EI is connected to higher levels of self-understanding and esteem, but also understanding the motivation and needs of others. High EI can help build the resilience and empathy necessary for all children to thrive, but can be seen as particularly relevant for the mental health of intellectually gifted children.

It is the quality of such children’s relationships with others that is “one of the strongest predictors of their well-being.” Negative experiences of feeling isolated from their peers – “singled-out” – can result from being identified as gifted, if the identification is not followed up by appropriate support. The authors cite the importance of teachers and education professionals in this support, but conclude, tellingly, “The most important source of social support is family; family cohesion is essential for life satisfaction.”

The full paper is a detailed examination of the evidence building to this conclusion, but for HRF and our vision we hear the same, strong message: the irrefutable link between home, relationships and well-being. The home is where needs are met and gifts are nurtured – whatever those needs, whatever those gifts.

Caring at Home for those with extra needs

A few months ago we received a request: Why not show the world that homes, where people live with disabilities, are happy homes? Why not make visible the difficulties that these families live through and the courage with which they face them? Why not praise this example at a time when society becomes blocked and frustrated at the slightest obstacle?

And we said: “Yes.”

At Home Renaissance Foundation we have talked many times about the importance of home care. But we present a new perspective – that if in itself care is vital in the development of the person, then it is even more so with those facing difficulties.

We present you with our latest Communication Project: Caring at Home for those with extra needs

We are proud of what we have achieved. It has not been easy because these people are so humble that the last thing they want is to be the protagonists of anything. But they deserve it. Them, their families, their environments. For their attitude, for their courage, for their way of looking at life, for their determination, their effort and their example. Because there is nothing impossible for them and they are a constant lesson in self-improvement.

Thanks for agreeing to participate in this project. Society needs you more than ever.
We would be very grateful if you would share this document. Let others enjoy reading it too.

Big Questions

Last November, we asked a question “Do happy homes lead to a happy society?” The question is a very big one and at the heart of the vision of the Home Renaissance Foundation. Happy Homes: Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes was intended to be a physical academic meeting in London. It has become an online discussion addressing many of the different forces and attitudes at work in creating and sustaining well-being as individuals and as a part of flourishing communities.

In February, we hosted a series of online workshops where academics who had contributed papers to the meeting had an opportunity to present them and to receive some relevant feedback. The four areas of focus give a glimpse of both the range and depth of the contributions. “What is the importance of architecture, housing conditions and choices?” “What role do relationships play in well-being in the home and beyond?” “What do the new SMART technologies add?” and vitally “What are the essential values of the home?”

These are all also big questions and it has been a privilege to hear the responses shared by a wide range of academics, from different continents, disciplines and career stages. One strand of thought kept emerging: these questions really matter.

Happy homes are built on happy relationships and shared values, access to the means to maintain them in an appropriate housing context and to be able to make real and informed choices about the new technologies we let into our homes.

For every statistic in the data shared, for every case study, every theoretical proposition are the individuals and families in a day-by-day engagement with these questions. “How can I be a better spouse/parent?” “How can we be better neighbours?” “What are the values that are important to me and that I want to make sure I share at home?” “How can I be happier and make others around me happier too?”

These are questions that are not going away, the pandemic has made them loom larger and more urgent than ever. At HRF we have not finished asking the questions and encouraging the answers. Please join the conversation!

 

Excellence in the home

It is curious but this was the title of our first conferences. We changed the approach but we kept the title. And although we were finally replacing it with the main theme of each meeting, the concept has always remained in the background. No matter if we talk about artificial intelligence, well-being, care or happiness, excellence remains perennial.

Because it is the final bow, the icing on the cake, that makes a well-done job shine. Excellence implies effort, detail, dedication, and care. Aspects that are difficult to convey on their own but that become the “soul” of the work.

In the last two weeks, we have held the workshops resulting from the papers presented to the 5th Conference ‘Happy Homes, Happy Society?’ And last Friday in the workshop entitled “Values and Domestic Life” the importance of excellence came to light straight away. It is impossible to talk about the work of the home without including the need for excellence.

Excellence is an essential element in the construction of our homes. It is a beam on which everyone’s work must support and rest. And it is also an aspect that is taught best by example. It is not a panacea, it does not guarantee happiness, it does not avoid discussions or possible crisis, but it nuances the problems because excellence transmits love, affection, the sensitivity that we have put into that work or that task that we have done and that is perceived.

When we are overburdened with laundry, ironing, cleaning, preparing food or dinner, when we are tired after returning from work and still have to bathe the children or think about the next day’s menu, or we have to pick up toys or do homework with the little one, or when we have to face a complicated conversation with our adolescent or study family finances with our wife/husband on Sunday night… When we feel like none of this, then we think about excellence, in the good that it will do to the recipient of that service, in the love that one will perceive when one finds the bed made, or the food on the table or the empty dishwasher, or the car filled with petrol, or the shopping in the fridge – let’s think about the selfless dedication that we are somehow transmitting to our relatives.

Maybe not today, but probably tomorrow, both you and everyone around you will value and appreciate that effort and a job well done. And the lesson learned will be key to building their future homes. Because there is a big difference between doing things out of obligation and without any intention, to carrying them out with care and delicacy.

That is excellence.

A game or reality?

In a few days, we will reach the first anniversary in the West of the incredible pandemic that was already raging in Asia this time last year. There are still days when I wake up thinking that nothing I have experienced over the past 12 months can be true but was all a bad dream. Curfews, masks, closed establishments, bankrupt businesses, impossible meetings, cancelled flights… and the saddest thing of all: over two million deaths worldwide related to Covid19.

But no. It is real. We are living in the middle of a global pandemic that has us all in suspense waiting for vaccines. And meanwhile, throughout the past year, we have seen on social network the ‘showcasing’ of our lives with more home interiors and kitchens on view than ever before. We have endeavored to adapt our houses to suit our needs and to make them more comfortable because of the necessity of spending a lot more time at home.  We have created workspaces, small offices, study areas for children and adolescents. We have decorated our small balconies in order to breathe in some fresh air.

With the situation that has been forced upon us, we have become experienced  “homemakers.” We have been forced to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner without rest. And we have even taken a liking to the kitchen, discovering that in some countries it was considered so obsolete that it is confined to a small corner of the house, impossible to cook in and organise the weekly menu for the whole family. What were architects thinking when they reduced the engine of a house to a couple of cabinets, plate racks and breakfast bar?

We have never before shared so many recipes … We have never before photographed our creations so proudly or shared our private spaces so widely. We used to spend most of our time outdoors, looking at the home from the outside, believing that away from the home was the only fun place to be. And just as everything appears to be returning to normality, a new wave occurs once again with increased numbers of deaths, infections, new variants and a return to the safety of the home.

A year later, we still have to focus our lives around our homes and it is becoming easier and less alien to us. I would even say that we now value much more the work that has been carried out in our homes in the past to make it a more friendly and comfortable place. And what seemed like just a game at first, a mandatory pastime that circumstances led us to, has become a reality. We all now appreciate our home more and value the work that has gone into making it into a liveable home.

How about your experience? 

With what motivation do we act at home?

As we have already explained previously, our latest book talks about the People who live in a home, the Care they require and provide and the Work involved in the correct management of our homes.

It is a book that was born as a result of the Conference on Wellbeing that was held in 2017 and that sought to delve into what are the sources of wellbeing for the person. Without a doubt, one of those sources and in turn, the main stage of our life is the home, since it is the place where the person is born and takes his first steps as a social being, marking his life forever.

According to Professor Argandoña, author of one of the chapters dealing with Work, the home is an institution with multiple purposes. The home is reproduction, food, learning, socialization, producer of goods and services, care of children, the sick and the elderly, provider of physical and ontological security. But also home is a hotel, restaurant, school, hospital, a place of entertainment, a school of virtues…

In other words, the home has many functions, although the main one would be “learning to live by assuming different tasks.” Household members, regardless of their age, must be willing to carry out different jobs while living together because the proper functioning of the “institution” will depend on that relationship that is established between them and on that common effort.

To understand work at home, you have to know the 3 types of results that derive from our actions and that are specified as extrinsic, intrinsic and transcendent. That is, what we hope to receive: the food on the plate each day; what we hope to achieve: learning to share, or learning to cook, or the satisfaction of a pleasant home; and what we hope to give: considering, taking into account the needs of others.

But it is important to understand that in the home there is no intention to compare because the home is not a market in which we continuously compare what we give and what we receive. In many cases, there is no direct reciprocity, nor possible forms of compensation. The only possible measure of this distribution is love.

Love is the most intense way to share. Love is, par excellence, the main virtue in the home” says Argandoña. Benevolent love is demonstrated when the person acts with a transcendent motivation, that is, when he only takes into account the needs of the other and seeks his good, not his own benefit. That is why Professor Argandoña says: “the home is a privileged place for the exercise of care. It is the temple of the civilization of care.”

How many times do we act like this in our homes?

Happy Homes: Happy Society? Going Forward!

If 2020 taught us to do and think things differently, then 2021 is giving us plenty of practice in this different doing and thinking. Behind every headline and statistic are individuals, families and homes that are living this reality of the pandemic.

At Home Renaissance Foundation we have been deeply moved by the stories that have been shared with us over the last year. We have been encouraged in our work by the ways in which people are working to keep things going for each other, from the frontline key workers to those offering daily care in their homes and communities.

When we planned our 2020 Conference Happy Homes: Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes, we could have no idea of the seismic social changes that the coronavirus was about to unleash. The contribution of domestic life has been incalculable and for so many of us “home” has been the only place of constancy and security – a rock in the shifting sands of the ongoing emergency.

It was very important then, to continue our work and to honour the contributions offered to the conference. We launched Happy Homes: Happy Society in November with a series of short video presentations by distinguished experts engaging with this vital topic. They can be seen here.

We are delighted that February will see paper givers to the conference able to present their work at a series of online workshops. The range of responses is reflected in the four workshop areas: Happy Dwelling? Perspectives on the World; Values and Domestic Life; Rediscovering Relationships in the Context of Social Changes; Technology and Well-Being in the Home.

We are grateful to Professors Abdelmonem, Chirinos and Nogal, and to Dr. Stephen Davies for their time and expertise in facilitating these sessions.

Although the context of these presentations is an academic conference, their wider resonance is not hard to find: “Positive Parenting in Covid Times”; “Working Women and Work-Family Conflicts: is working remotely the key to a better balance?”; “Smart Homes and Domestic Well-Being: What has been lost?” These are just a flavour of the very relevant and timely contributions that will be shared. We shall keep you all “in the loop” as these conversations develop.

We may be doing things differently but our commitment to seeing the home at the heart of life remains unchanged. Together, Homes are stronger!