Community Conversations: Our Path to a Caring Culture!

by: Sara on 04/02/2013
Posted in: Community

Today's blog post comes to us from Cecile Andrews the author of the just released, Living Room Revolution, A Handbook for Conversation, Community and the Common Good as well as Slow is Beautiful, Circle of Simplicity and co author of  Less is More. Cecile is a community educator focusing on voluntary simplicity, "take back your time," the "Sharing Economy," and Pursuit of Happiness Conversation Circles. She and her husband are founders of Seattle's Phinney Ecovillage, a neighborhood-based sustainable community.

 

We need to move from a society of “Every man for himself” to one in which “We’re all in this together.” To do this, we must come together for conversation, community and the common good! Coming together is the only thing that really motivates us and the need for social change is growing more dire!

In my book, Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community, and the Common Good,  I describe the many  ways you can get involved in conversation and community, but my biggest hope is that people will gather together in what I’m calling “community conversation circles” — small groups in which we talk together about how to build community. In these groups you not only learn how to build community, you experience community at the same time.

Let’s take seriously Margaret Mead’s words “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Any one can do it. Here’s all you need:

Community Conversations

When have you experienced community?

How does our culture affect community?

How can you build community?

Three questions that can change your life, and indeed the fate of the world. 

Why? Because ever since the Sandy Hook massacre people have been crying out for a more caring culture; from every corner I hear, “We need more community!”

There are lots of ways to create community, but one in particular is related to President Obama’s words after the massacre: “We need to do more soul searching.” 

Community... Soul Searching...Creating a more caring culture. We must come together, as people throughout history always have — to talk together and create change.  From the salons of the French Revolution to the consciousness raising groups of the women’s movement,  people have gathered to talk, think, and take action.

In recent years many of us have gathered in Conversation Circles, helping each other see more clearly how we want to live and work for change. And we’ve learned that it all comes down to these three questions because they allow us to learn three vital skills: thinking for ourselves, building social ties, and taking compassionate action.  

We must learn to think for ourselves or we’ll be captives of manipulative and deceptive forces. In fact, who isn’t shocked at the extremist positions on things like climate change and gun regulations! It seems there’s no thinking at all! 

We must build social ties because they are  central to the well being of people and the planet, but  people are becoming more and more isolated with group participation declining.

And finally, we need to learn to act in a new way — in a participatory, collaborative way— because acting together is the heart of community as well as democracy. 

We must learn to talk, think, and act together.  I think of it as Connection, Reflection, and Action.

Connnection:  First question: When have you experienced community?

For this question, people search their lives and remember stories about times when they worked with others, when they felt they belonged to others, felt they trusted others. The vital point is that you’re discovering your own feelings and emotions! Emotions fuel change, yet when do we learn to consult them? Not in our schools. Not in our work places. We need to learn from our own life by examining our feelings and emotions. As Gandhi said, “Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it.”  

When we tell our stories we not only clarify what’s important to ourselves, we also build social ties — stories bring us together! You discover what you have in common; you get to know the real person. Research has found that we need this face-to-face interaction because it makes us feel that we matter. Our corporate culture is becoming more and more impersonal and indifferent. Too often we feel invisible and anonymous. People need to be heard. We need attention!

Talking about your experience and emotions connects you to yourself and others. 

Reflection: Second Question: How does our culture affect community?

Here we move from feeling to thinking, from emotions to ideas.   After looking at our own experience, we look at the broader culture. and search for patterns.   What’s going on in the larger society that might affect us?  For this question we can consult the experts. We look at their research, their critical analysis. But we look at the expert ideas in the light of our own experience and ask if it makes sense.  We don’t accept their ideas just because they are experts. The answers grow from our own experience! Otherwise we’re slaves to secondhand ideas and have secondhand lives.

The women’s movement called this  consciousness raising — the personal is political. Women realized we had blamed ourselves for our problems, not realizing we were conforming to cultural expectations around gender. When we saw the truth — the power of societal forces — we felt liberated and we brought about change.

At this point we’re searching not just our personal experience, but our intellectual experience —our reading, our ideas. The most creative thinking always comes when you share your ideas and you think together.

Action: Third question: How can I build community?

Yeats is supposed to have said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” When we come together, we’re educating each other and we want to start a fire! We want to take action!

In our community conversations, we  don’t stop with intellectual insights; we go on to act. You learn to act on two levels: the personal level and the public level. You change your own life as well as work for broader political change.

The important thing here is something Weight Watchers and AA understand. Don’t send people out alone! We need support if we are going to change our lives or change the culture.  When we ask the third question, “How can I build community,” we brainstorm together; we problem solve; we encourage each other; then we try something ; and then we return to the group to evaluate what we’ve done. And we try again, always returning to the support of our group.

Creating community means asking these three questions and, together, finding answers for yourselves. What did I experience? How did my culture affect me? How can we change? And so you might end up talking about your own experience of feeling short of time for community; then you analyze the culture in terms of it’s long work hours; and finally make a commitment to have your neighbors over as well as support your local unions’ work for shorter hours.

Basic to a democracy is the belief in the sacredness of the individual; the importance of the flourishing of each human being; the belief that if one does better, we all do better; the ability of individuals — not governments or corporations (it used to be kings or the church) to know what’s best for themselves. We have to commit to community discernment in order to create community. Then we have to come together to act.

Getting Involved:

These are the conversations we need to be having, so I hope you’re asking, “Where can I get involved?”  We’re creating Community Conversations wherever we can. You can do it with a few of your friends; you can start a group at work; you can go to a group you belong to like a church or an environmental group. Find a place to meet and have name tags ready at your first meeting. 

You don’t need any training. Just talk about the three questions. You can do one gathering, or start an ongoing circle. You can generate new questions each time —the aspects of community are limitless. New issues always emerge and you just stay with  the framework: Describe your experience; explore the causes; try out some solutions. Connect, Reflect, and Act.

Conversation:

The only problem you might have is that people often fall into old habits of discussion and debate — trying to win, trying to prove they’re right. Too much of our public discourse is hateful and ugly. It’s almost as if people have forgotten how to talk with each other. Just remind people that we’re not trying to make decisions. We’re supporting each other in finding our own path, our own truths. It’s a conversation, not a debate. It’s a barn raising, not a battle. No need to argue. Just tell your story; listen closely, nod your head a lot, and periodically murmur, “Good point.” “Yes, that happened to me too.” You’ll learn from yourself. You’ll learn from each other.

Cecile Andrews

Contact Me:

And if you can get at least a few people together,  I’ll meet with you via a phone call or Skype. I can be reached at cecile@cecileandrews.com.

 

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