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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Soul Growing and Community Building

I did not add a meditation on community building and spiritual exercise in my collection Soul Growing because I make the connection in almost all of them. However, by way of an afterword, let me make that connection more explicit.

Soul-growing is important, essential to community building. Community building is essential to soul growing. Or in other words, we are not growing our souls if we are not building community. And to build community we must practice, teach, and foster soul growing.

I've read on, been taught about, and practiced organizing--neighborhood, metropolitan, labor, election, party, voluntary association organizing. I know the techniques including personal interviews ("one-on ones"), house and other small group meetings, power analyses, action research, leadership training, translating private interests to actionable public issues, tactic and strategy, public actions, negotiation, coalition building, press and public relations, evaluation, etc. But I'm not sure I often taught spiritual exercise as a technique and, more, a condition for community organization.

There are certain attitudes and values that are distinctive of good organizers and leaders. They like people; they believe all person have worth; they get angry at injustice to anyone; they know how to focus anger into winning strategies; they treat people as subjects not objects of action; they don't do for others what they can do for themselves; they value power as the ability to act together for all people; they are oriented to those left behind or out. I want to add another attitude and value: they have soul.

Community building is more than organization. Good teachers build community in their classrooms; good parents build community in their families; good neighbors build community in their neighborhood; good bosses build community in their offices; good coaches build good community in their teams; good citizens build good community in their cities and countries.

Community building is not merely converging on shared interests. It is more than having a common culture, language, value. And it is more than desiring to take care of one's own family, friends, and affiliates. The essence of community building is growing and sharing soul. Solidarity.

Solidarity is the foundation of community. Richard Rorty notes that solidarity is shared suffering. Suffering can mean both painful and joyful experience. Our ability to share suffering consists in our evolved capacity to enter into and mirror the very activity of others in and to their world. Human being in and presence to the world occurs through media (words, pictures, models, ideas). And in that same moment there is unmediated subjective presence. The act of being present to the outside world becomes transparent to itself. We call that immediate subjective presence consciousness; and when we enter others' actions in their world, we perceive, indeed share, their consciousness, their suffering, their soul, and their world. We become soul mates.

Good novelists like Dickens, Morrison, and McCarthy, good teachers, leaders, caregivers can conjure up that consciousness so that we feel deeply what the other feels. But even for this to occur, we have to interact with others, body to body, face to face, speech to speech. Interaction grows our own soul and the soul of others. Interaction creates solidarity in suffering and thus builds community.

We organizers often wonder why so many organizations with which we worked so diligently die out. Could it be that we didn't go deep enough as we were building these communities? Did we have the concern and take the time to put on the other persons mind, look out from his eyes, feel her hopes and desires, identify with their sense of inadequacy and powerlessness? Did we set up the process where all persons could experience the worth and potential of each other? Did we discern with them, not only an emerging vision for themselves and their community, but also a common character, consciousness, conscience--the soul off our community?

Spiritual gurus often counsel private meditation, prayer in church, walking the labyrinth, personal experience when taking communion, and feeling the Christ or the Buddha within. And that's fine. But it is not soul growing if we do not mess with the murky conditions of matter, if we do not probe the pathetic practices of power, if we do not grope with the grunge and gridlock of governing. Being pure by avoiding power and its complexities is the antithesis of spiritual growth.

Power is not force. It is not domination. It is the gathering of souls to confront force and domination. It is based, not on fear or hate, but on solidarity where all are respected as shapers of their lives and organizers of their communities.

When spirituality is separated from social justice, it is a sham. When we hide in the cave of individual spirituality instead of the city of justice to find hope, we lose it. Go to your heaven above and your remote paradise! Leave us to celebrate the paradise we have in each other right now, messy as it is.


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