Building Community & Embracing Diversity
Excerpt from the ‘Social Dimension’ of Gaia Education’s online course in ‘Design for Sustainability’
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
Building community can make all the difference! There is a ‘group mind’ that is far wiser than any individual; there is a group potential far vaster than any solo effort. We all live in community as we participate in the human and ecosystems communities of the place we inhabit and work in.
So the choice is not, whether to live in community or not, rather to what extend we consciously acknowledge this fact and take responsibility for creating a well-knit, positively expressed form of community that allows all participants (human and the wider community of life) to thrive and express their individual gifts creatively and constructively for the benefit of all.
In essence, respecting life means consciously caring for community on all levels. Although we concentrate here on the building of community within the human world, the qualities required to do this are basically the same for our relationships with all of nature as well. Connective thinking and acting is needed in every realm. Developing an ever finer capacity for sensitive observation and communication are the stepping stones.
Climbing out of a space of inner judgement, in which we feel that we already know it all, allows us to perceive freshly. This will bring out the true individuality of everybody’s special gifts. Cooperating and sharing then become possible. Building a new global-local culture capable of regeneration, resilience and transformation in the face of inevitable change will be the accumulated product of much individual and collective work.
All of life — humans, animals, and other living beings — have an intrinsic value. Having intrinsic value means they are worth being here and have a role to play simply for being who they are — an expression of life’s continuous exploration of novelty. We have come to look at most of life and even many human beings simply in terms of ‘instrumental value’ (how they serve us to meet a need or a goal). This mistaken attitude is one of the roots of unsustainability and the multiple converging crises humanity is facing.
Diversity is a gift that we should cherish and celebrate. It is the immense accumulation of the treasures created by life’s evolutionary journey. Diversity is the key to health, resilience, and transformative innovation. All separation in the human community, whether due to class, race, political observation, gender, or age is socially created false separation. We need to shift from the ‘story of separation’ to the ‘story of interbeing’ (see Eisenstein, 2013) and heal the wounds of this false separation by recognizing our profound interdependence and interconnectedness as wonderfully diverse expressions of the wider process of life’s evolution.
We have already started on this journey towards recognizing our interbeing and are beginning to understand that a sustainable world will also have to be a more equitable and egalitarian world, since we will not be able to sustain the current levels of inequity of money, power and education and create a healthier world, nor would we want to sustain them anyway.
Whether we start by acknowledging that all world citizens have the same “right” to limited CO2 emissions and being to understand the atmosphere is a common good or global commons. Whether we finally acknowledge the equal rights of women which have been denied historically in so many places and are still being denied in many but are gradually improving in most places. Or whether we are looking at the strong movement in all walks of life to find ways of organizing institutions and workplaces so that the combined contributions of all involved are honoured and synergistic, while benefits are shared more equitably. There are many examples that we are beginning to recognize our unity in multiplicity, celebrate our diversity, and are doing so with a deeper human solidarity. We are not all the same, and yet, we have the same rights and responsibilities as participants in the community of life!
Equal rights alone will not solve all problems. Is increased institutionalization of children, elders, and individuals with disabilities necessarily the best form of organization? The Scandinavian welfare states are thought by many to have found viable solutions. They have solved many problems, but marginalization and loneliness cannot be dealt with only by providing people with an income. A modernization of the welfare state has taken place through private initiatives over the last 40 years. Cohousing communities, especially for the elderly, and intentional communities have sprung up in great numbers in Denmark [and many other places] and are spreading to the whole world.
This movement can be seen as a response to the need for everybody to be part of Thomas Berry’s “communion of subjects.” Berry’s vision of the “great work” (Berry, 2000) — participating consciously in the transition to a thriving and regenerative human presence on Earth — is primarily about our ability to re-inhabit the Earth and the Universe in a deeper understanding of our own being coming forth from the intimate interactions we have with all other beings.
We are relational beings that only exist in relation to “other”, but not as separate, isolated selves, much rather as facets of our large self — the community of life. As the Vietnamese monk and teacher of socially engaged Buddhism Thich Nath Hanh has put it “to be is to inter-be” (we will revisit this point in the Worldview Dimension).
“The Universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” — Thomas Berry
[Note: The 2017–2018 online course in ‘Design for Sustainability’ starts on October 23rd, 2017 and is enrolling now. The course starts with the Social Design dimension, which this excerpt is taken from. The material for this dimension was mainly written by José Luis Escorihuela (Ulises) who also leads the online team for the Spanish version of the course. This excerpt has been co-authored with Daniel Wahl and other sections are by Alyson Ewald from Dancing Rabbit ecovillage who is a mentor on the Social Design dimension.]