Nurturing Community, Countering Individualism

Human beings are innately compassionate. When we explore ourselves deeply and connect with the ground of being, we realize all life is interwoven, we feel at one with the Earth community, and we love others as we love ourselves.

At the same time, however, being authentic can release antisocial impulses that undermine community, such as fear, hate and the urge to dominate. Moreover, powerful, self-interested external forces manipulate people by triggering those negative, primal impulses.

A recent essay by Stanley Fish, “‘Transparency’ Is the Mother of Fake News,” is a critique of the claim that the unfettered, free flow of information on the Internet will benefit society. Fish’s argument applies to other realms as well, such as education, personal growth, creativity, and spirituality.

Fish argues:

There is no way to assure that “new information is used to further public objectives.” ...It can, that is, be woven into a narrative that constricts rather than expands the area of free, rational choice.... [and serve as] instruments in the production of … inequalities….

The more that the answer to everything is assumed to be [transparency], the easier it will be for interest and motives to operate under transparency’s cover.... [and] float free of the standards of judgment ... where manipulation and deception find no obstacles.

[These] prophets [of the “free” Internet] will fail to see the political implications of what they are trying to do….

When speech (or information or data) is just sitting there inert, unattached to any perspective, when there are no guidelines, monitors, gatekeepers or filters, what you have are innumerable bits (like Lego) available for assimilation into any project a clever verbal engineer might imagine; and what you don’t have is any mechanism that can stop or challenge the construction project or even assess it….

Any opinion will write if there [is] nothing but your own interpretive desire [that] prevents you from assembling or reassembling bits of unmoored data lying around in the world into a story that serves your purposes….

What is found in a landscape where data detached from any context abounds is the fracturing of the word into ever proliferating pieces of discourse, all existing side by side, indifferently approved, and without any way of distinguishing among them, of telling which of them are true or at least have a claim to be true….

No one believes anybody, or (it is the same thing) everyone believes anybody….

To counter oppressive external forces, individualism is not adequate. Educators can’t merely tell students, “You can be whatever you want.” Spiritual leaders can’t merely say, “Let your conscience be your guide.” Therapists can’t merely say, “Become self-aware.” Political activists can’t merely say, “Let the majority rule.” Artists can’t merely affirm, “Art for the sake of art.”

A compassionate society can’t leave people totally on their own, vulnerable. Positive social change requires a balance between self-determination and mutual support. By developing face-to-face communities rooted in a compassionate worldview, individuals can fortify themselves against external threats and internal weaknesses.

How best to do that is a never-ending learning process that changes as conditions change. Peer learning, especially the power of example witnessed in person within supportive communities, is a particularly effective method.

A compassionate worldview, however, can easily become a rigid ideology. We assume we have the final answer. Our convictions lead to disrespect for those who disagree. We forget how to make judgments without being judgmental. We worship certain policies and insist that others endorse those policies in order to be included in our community. Our beliefs become a litmus test that we use to excommunicate nonbelievers.

Grounding abstractions in reality can reduce the risk of dogmatism. By addressing tangible concerns, a common ground of agreement on values that is also rooted in concrete principles can help a community stay together over time, rather than splintering over doctrinaire disputes.

With those thoughts in mind, I’ve been working with some friends and associates to draft a statement of principles and values, “Change Myself, Change the World: A Commitment (Draft)” It seems that such a statement could become the foundation for a holistic network that nurtures the whole person -- within the framework of a compassionate worldview that faces negativity and affirms positive, pragmatic idealism -- with a balance between the abstract and the concrete.

A related project is “Possible Methods for How Group Members Can Support Each Other with Their Self-Development.” This list presents possible specific activities that groups -- such as book clubs, study groups, social service agencies, and political action organizations -- might use to provide mutual support and advance positive social change.

Those documents aim to help develop a perspective that can help social-change agents avoid the dangers of both individualism and ideology. Feedback on those drafts is welcome. Working together, perhaps we can nurture effective, holistic social change.

Change Myself, Change the World (Feedback Please)

On May 6, I sent the following bulk email. The latest draft of the Commitment will be maintained here.

+++++

Greetings:

I’m sending this email to you and 74 other old friends. I’d appreciate receiving your feedback about the following draft by no later than Friday, May 11. Do you have suggested changes? Once it’s polished, should we circulate it widely? Unless you ask me not to, I may share your response publicly.

Thanks much,
Wade

+++++

Change Myself, Change the World:
A Commitment

(Draft)

I commit to:

  • Pay attention to, control, and strive to change thoughts and feelings that can lead to oppressive or counterproductive behavior.  

  • Acknowledge my mistakes and resolve to avoid them in the future.

  • Become a better human being.

  • Talk about my efforts with close friends and listen to them talk about their efforts.

  • Support the development of social structures that nurture personal and community empowerment.

  • Help transform my nation into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of all humanity, our own people, the environment, and life itself.

  • Help improve my nation’s public policies.

++

If you sign, I’ll send you only one email -- to verify your signing and invite you to:
1) report on your efforts;
2) horizontally discuss your efforts with other signers, and;
3) possibly self-organize new collective efforts to promote this commitment.

+++

[Insert a Google Sheets form here]

Transform the System News

Wade Hudson, Editor
April 23, 2018

Contents:

  • Readers’ Reactions
  • Blog Excerpts
  • Books
  • Resources
  • Editor’s Note

READERS’ REACTIONS

Twenty-three individuals have commented on the publication of Transform the System: A Work in Progress. Their comments are posted here.

Penn Garvin, formerly a community organizer and consultant in San Francisco, has offered the most substantial feedback. Penn now works in rural Pennsylvania where she founded ActiveCommunityTraining.org. She reports, “I really have tried to incorporate how we treat each other as an integral part of our work.” She’s also working with the Poor People's Campaign “to bring together those agencies working on the front lines with the poor and marginalized.” And she’s on the Board of a community center where she formerly worked that addresses toxic trauma. She wrote:

I really appreciate all the work you have done to bring this book out.  There is a lot of really good history, perspective on how it relates to where we are now, and analysis of the present movement and its problems.  You are a very good writer and it all flows really well. Thanks for your ideas and love and care for the movement. All of that comes out really clearly in what you have written. You refer to a number of movements towards integration of thinking which I have been following and really glad that you incorporated. Your proposal for a new mission is really good and one I applaud. It would be a good move on the part of the movement to start discussing and thinking about this mission.

My suggestions for your booklet are basically two:

(1) I believe that until this nation deals with the history and legacy of white privilege which has distorted our democracy from the beginning, we will never have a truly democratic nation….It would be good if you could incorporate some of this into what you have written.

(2) I would give ideas of how to help activists (who are already doing so much) to integrate what you have suggested into the work they are already doing rather than suggesting they form new circles to study and talk about this.  There are some who may want to and yet there are many who could integrate the new mission and some of your perspectives into the work they are already doing.… I truly support you in your work….

Wade’s reply: Thanks much for your helpful, extensive comments. Though I did address white racism, I did not address white privilege and agree that I should have. I believe I did suggest how activists could integrate my suggestions into their work rather than starting a new circle. In the future, I’ll try to clarify that, solicit ideas about how to do it, and seek to evaluate those options jointly.

Following are some additional comments:

Robert Anschuetz: I find both the flow of your argument and the writing itself quite terrific…. I myself am on board with it. I even buy into your idea that, in order to build "a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of all humanity," we Americans must ourselves first "become better human beings."... Congratulations on completing it….

Bruce Schuman: Masterpiece.... You are onto something great here, Wade. I want to hang out with this and keep breathing and see what I can absorb. I think we're on a resonant wave.... nicely done....

Roger Marsden: I like the humility in your introductory comments about your experiences; what has worked; what hasn't; seeking collaboration, etc. stated in a way that invites collaboration. The sections are nicely organized. …In that part with William James and James Baldwin there could be some CG Jung shadow work. …More is needed about people who don't just "disagree" but hold VERY different values. …. It looks like the key here is how we define “developed.”
 

BLOG EXCERPTS

Intimate Mutual Support

      …Subjective gut reactions, emotions, beliefs, norms and values shape behavior. Habitual thoughts and feelings call for careful self-examination. We can strengthen our effectiveness by undoing some of our conditioning. If we change ourselves, we can better change the world….

READ MORE at https://goo.gl/Hh5sQR.

________________

Why Systems Thinking

A systemic worldview exposes root causes, clarifies how issues are interconnected, avoids divisive scapegoating, and affirms that the primary problem is the self-perpetuating system, not particular individuals. While acknowledging individual responsibility for reinforcing the system, systems thinking cultivates humility, respect, and mutual understanding.

A holistic approach encourages the development of communities whose members support one another in their efforts to both become better human beings and help transform the system. It acknowledges that the subjective world changes the objective world and the objective world changes the subjective world. It encourages us to integrate personal, social, cultural, and political growth. By overcoming counter-productive thoughts and feelings, we become more effective….

READ MORE at https://goo.gl/s99hKg.

________________

Transforming the System

    Personal, social, cultural, and political changes headed in the same direction are contributing to social transformation. Self-empowerment, community support, cultural shifts, and political action are reinforcing each other. No one predicted legislatures would adopt gay marriage so quickly, the Florida legislature would pass a gun control bill, or the West Virginia teachers would win their strike. Evolutionary revolution is underway….

READ MORE at https://goo.gl/9HEXPN

________________

How to Transform the System

If the American people unite, we can transform this country into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of all humanity, our own people, the environment, and life itself. The following measures can help us achieve that goal — step-by-step, with evolutionary revolution:

  • Build massive movements focused on proposals backed by strong majorities of the American people.

  • Encourage inactive individuals to become active by learning how to treat people with more respect.

  • Support one another to become better human beings.

  • Clarify connections between the issues we face by developing a systemic worldview that will hold us together over time….

READ MORE at https://goo.gl/rcqHLb


BOOKS

New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World -- and How to Make It Work for You, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms.

Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust, Adam Kahane.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt.

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, Alan Jacobs.

Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen, James Suzman.

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, James C. Scott.

Occupy Theaters: A New Political Process to Reorient Government to Serve the People, David L. Smith.


RESOURCES

Contributors have brought to my attention the following resources:

Conscious Elders Network

Charter for Cocreation

The Wellbeing Economies Alliance (WEAll)

Organize Training Center (OTC)


EDITOR’S NOTE

Dear reader, you’re invited to help:

  • Build the TransformTheSystem.org website and work  together on other projects. If you’re interested, please use the site’s Contact form to let us know.

  • Draft a manifesto and a pledge to advance holistic, systemic transformation grounded in self-improvement and mutual support.  

  • Evaluate Transform the System: A Work in Progress. Do you disagree with any of the content? Do you consider any of it important? How might it be improved? To contribute, you can use the form at the end of each chapter.

I’d love to collaborate with others on those efforts. Would you like to contribute in some way? Maybe write a post for the blog?

Right now I’m focused on the website and hope to develop it as a clearinghouse of information and analysis. I don’t plan to initiate any new projects, such as workshops, but I welcome invitations to participate in projects that others initiate. And I continue to look for a holistic community I can join.

The focus question for this project has been: What is “the system” and how should we change it? Other questions on my mind are:

  1. Is “the system” too abstract? If so, can we make it more concrete?

  2. Can this project’s current tagline — “personal, social, cultural and political transformation” – be improved?

  3. What easy-to-learn methods can facilitate open-ended, intimate mutual support for self-improvement? What new methods might do so? What about questions to be posed during “check-ins” at the outset of meetings, such as “What thoughts and feelings have I had recently that I would like to avoid in the future?”

  4. Could that kind of mutual support help you?

  5. What hashtag might best capture such an effort? What about a meme?

  6. Should we highlight either of these phrases?

The System is the enemy.
Change Myself, Change the World

Those are some my questions. What’s on your mind?

NOTE:

Please click here to subscribe to Transform the System News, an occasional e-newsletter.

You can buy Transform the System: A Work in Progress on Amazon ($4), read it online, or request a PDF version to be emailed to you.

Intimate Mutual Support

New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World -- and How to Make It Work for You by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms describes new approaches to social change. In the second chapter, the authors highlight a key issue: identity. When an individual’s sense of self is based on top-down “old power,” it’s hard to engage in collaborative “new power.”.......

Subjective gut reactions, emotions, beliefs, norms and values shape behavior. Habitual thoughts and feelings call for careful self-examination. We can strengthen our effectiveness by undoing some of our conditioning. If we change ourselves, we can better change the world.

Read More

Why Systems Thinking

A systemic worldview exposes root causes, clarifies how issues are interconnected, avoids divisive scapegoating, and affirms that the primary problem is the self-perpetuating system, not particular individuals. While acknowledging individual responsibility for reinforcing the system, systems thinking cultivates humility, respect, and mutual understanding.

A holistic approach encourages the development of communities whose members support one another in their efforts to both become better human beings and help transform the system. It acknowledges that the subjective world changes the objective world and the objective world changes the subjective world. It encourages us to integrate personal, social, cultural, and political growth. By overcoming counter-productive thoughts and feelings, we become more effective.  

Read More

Transforming the System

Personal, social, cultural, and political changes headed in the same direction are contributing to social transformation. Self-empowerment, community support, cultural shifts, and political action are reinforcing each other. No one predicted legislatures would adopt gay marriage so quickly, the Florida legislature would pass a gun control bill, or the West Virginia teachers would win their strike. Evolutionary revolution is underway.

Read More

How to Transform the System

If the American people unite, we can transform this country into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of all humanity, our own people, the environment, and life itselfThe following measures can help us achieve that goal -- step-by-step, with evolutionary revolution:

  • Build massive movements focused on proposals backed by strong majorities of the American people.
  • Encourage inactive individuals to become active by learning how to treat people with more respect.
  • Support one another to become better human beings.
  • Clarify connections between the issues we face by developing a systemic worldview that will hold us together over time.
Read More