What We’re Hearing

One of the inspiring parts of our trips so far is that wherever we go, we hear similar phrases. There really is a movement building, diverse people with a common ethos. We don’t yet have a name for this ethos or any full understanding of it, but we’ve begun to recognize common features. First, these people are not driven by selfish desires, the way classical economics imagines, they are driven by a need for relationship, connection and meaning. Relationship is one of the agents of change. When you nurture deep relationships, you turn around lives. In every community, focus on the assets, not the deficits. Deep mutuality is the ethos. There is no such thing as haves and have-nots. We are all walking this walk together. If there is one phrase we have heard most, it is “whole person.” When a student walks into school, she doesn’t leave behind her issues around safety, nutrition, health care and so on. You have to relate and care for the whole person. There’s an intense personalism in this work along with an intense realization that the whole community rises together.

Great Community Builders are often characterized by…

  • Moral Motivation: Community builders are motivated primarily by moral and emotional aims: a desire to make a difference, to feel right with the world, to live in intimate relation with others. Their motivation can be captured by the Confucian principal, jen, the deeply satisfying moment when you bring out the goodness in others.
  • Deep Relationality: Community Builders are driven to seek deep relations with others, as a matter of personal need and social purpose. “I am broken. I need other people to survive,” said Stephanie Hruzek from Houston. In nearly everything they do, they seek to open vulnerability, rebuild trust, extend care, and give the people they work with a sense of being known.
  • Walkout Experiences: Very often they worked within a conventional company or in an existing system until something happened and they realized they had to walk out into a new life. Their prior system was corrupt, empty or unfulfilling, but the new work is meaningful.
  • Vocational Certitude: Perhaps the most striking trait in almost every community builder we’ve met is the sense that they radiate that they have found their calling. This is what they were put on this earth to do.
  • Somewheres not Anywheres: These people are almost all firmly rooted and in love with their particular place.
  • The Assumption of Responsibility: Many people see problems in society. Community builders assume responsibility for addressing them. They often seem to do this without a lot of contemplation or philosophic thought. They assume responsibility as naturally and as modestly as doing the dishes. There are dishes in the sink so of course you’re supposed to do them. As Sharon from DC put it, “I do the work I do because I don’t consider it work. I do it because my mother and grandmother have taught me it is a responsibility to respond.”

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