An Alternative to Organizations II

An Alternative to Organizations – II   IF  NEIGHBORS GATHERING IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION, WHAT IS IT?   What do I mean by an ‘organization’ ? I don’t mean an alternative to organizing.  For instance, if I have knives, spoons, and forks in a drawer, I don’t mean an alternative to separating each according to … Continue reading “An Alternative to Organizations – II”

An Alternative to Organizations – II


What do I mean by an ‘organization’ ?

I don’t mean an alternative to organizing.  For instance, if I have knives, spoons, and forks in a drawer, I don’t mean an alternative to separating each according to its kind and giving each kind its own compartment.  There is, I’m going to argue, a difference between organizing things and organizing people, or perhaps I should say, allowing people to organize themselves or a group of people to self-organize.  Or, using different terms, organizing objects and organizing subjects.  The objects in a drawer cannot organize themselves.  But subjects can and do organize themselves – IF they are allowed to do so.  By subjects, I mean all life forms.

What do I mean then?  I mean by “an organization”, every group of individuals who decide to work together in an organized way for a common purpose such that they become an organization.  This includes religious groups, charities, businesses, social clubs, homeowners associations, political parties, environmental groups, clubs, etc.,.  The key words here are “an organized way”.  The “organized way” of organizations is to treat others as objects or things rather than as subjects or persons. I suggest that an organization is a machine which we create composed of people.

An organization is created when a group becomes organized in a way that creates these characteristics:

  1. Membership.  A boundary is established between those who are in the group and those who are outside.
  2. Hierarchy.  Members are ranked according to levels of decision making and/or control and derive status according to position and label (boss, chief, owner, manager, foreman, etc.,).
  3. A corporate identity: A name which separates the group from other groups, often including additional symbolic representations, ie., a flag, logo, song, handshake, lifestyle, etc.,.
  4. Organizational links.  The group becomes related (as a group) to other groups, within the group, without, or quite often both.  The group may develop sub-groups such as committees, boards, staff, etc., or it may have horizontal relationships with other groups in a network.  (So what’s wrong with groups?)
  5. Imposed order.  Order is established through obedience/submission to a controlling authority such as rules, constitutions, by-laws, etc., and/or the decisions of other members.

There are pros and cons to creating an organization.  It is my belief that, all things considered, the cons are many times greater than the pros and that before a group decides to become an organization, they should consider an alternative.  An alternative that I offer as an example is the neighbors gathering that my wife and I held in our home in a suburban neighborhood in North Port, FL.  The gathering adopted certain principles which can be found here:

Neighbors Gathering

So, let’s take a look at our Neighbors Gathering and these five characteristics and see if they apply. We can look at what I intended for the gathering to be when my wife and I invited our neighbors into our home, and I can discuss what the gatherings were from my experience.  

(1.)  Membership.  The first article in the list of principles of gatherings shows my intent to be inclusive, to not put a boundary between us and them.

Neighbors are welcomed without regard to religion, politics, race, social status, wealth, gender, age, sexual preference, or ability to tell jokes.

Coming out of a fundamentalist Christian background and having been persuaded to accept and then later reject the theology of 5-point Calvinism and the division of humanity into the elect and non-elect, I wanted to see if it was possible for humans to get along with each other in spite of differences.  If we couldn’t, I thought,  there was no hope for global peace and an end to war.  I’ve been called an idealist and have been accused of being naive about “human nature” but my experience of the gatherings convinces me that it is possible, and, I might add, preferable.  Our soul is enriched by having a diversity of friends and neighbors that we care deeply about who differ from us.  A diversity of worldviews, when added together, provides a much bigger view of the world.  And yet, I’ve been told, that if we want to have deep intimate sustained relationships with one another, we must be “like-minded”.  This assumes that if one’s mind changes while in a relationship, the relationship becomes estranged, families become separated, friends are shunned, couples become divorced.  This assumption, I believe, is like a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Gathering only with others who are like-minded leads to (1) dogmatic beliefs and opinions, (2) a lack of critical thinking skills, (3) alienation, and (4) isolation -all evil attributes of tribalism.  

It takes both practice and teaching, I believe, to learn how to relate to those who don’t share our customs and traditions, beliefs, ethnicity, and worldview.  In our suburban neighborhood, neighbors lived for years next door to each other in ignorance of one another’s first names.  And they would drive several miles to attend different churches. In spite of proximity, they were strangers to one another.  It’s why, in order to experience intentional community, people will relocate in order to live next to like-minded folk.  This is why I described our purpose in creating a gathering as learning to be neighbors rather than being neighbors, and that becoming a neighbor involved caring for those who differ from us.

The purpose of these Gatherings is to learn how to be good neighbors; to create intentional communities of neighbors within walking distance.

Our gathering consisted of neighbors who were Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, New Agers, agnostics, atheists, liberals, conservatives, anarchists, and a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds.  One family barely spoke English.  One first time visitor, mistaking our gathering for a Christian meeting suggested that we pray following another neighbor’s emotional sharing of a recent experience.  There was an awkward silence of not knowing how to deal with the suggestion until I explained that not everyone there shared the same idea of what or who God is and so, therefore, a prayer would be uncomfortable for some.  But, those who shared  the common belief that God is a caring benevolent Being would probably also be of the opinion that this God is aware of the needs of each of us and of what we share with one another when we gather, and so we could consider the telling of these stories of our experiences with one another as a form of prayer.  That seemed to satisfy the visitor – especially when followed by hugs all around.  Politics were discussed but not argued over. Strong opinions were tolerated, not encouraged, and tempered by friendship which we did not wish to risk losing.

(2.)  Hierarchy.  At the very first gathering of neighbors in our living room, neighbors were kind enough to allow me to give a rough outline of why we had invited them into our home and our vision for future gatherings.  At the second meeting, I took ‘charge’ again and handed out my prepared agenda.  We gave each neighbor a three-ring notebook into which I hoped they would put each week’s agenda and any other materials handed out at the gatherings.  Fewer and fewer neighbors showed up each week until, at one point, only one neighbor from across the street (“Faithful Joe”) came to keep us company.  I stopped printing up agendas and we continued to hand out invitations door-to-door which included some neighborhood ‘projects’ for neighbors to participate in.  Rather than an agenda, we did continue to maintain a simple structure of meetings which allowed me to step into the background and facilitate the self-organization and spontaneous order of each gathering.  More neighbors started to show up. Later we suggested and introduced the idea of a ‘talking stick’  as an aid to storytelling.  The stick was a symbol of our “Egalitarian” ethos, the shared authority to speak and share ideas.  On more than one occasion, when I would try to interrupt a neighbor holding the stick, the sharp end would be pointed at me in a threatening manner.  Humor was used as an effective means to keep me and others from trying to dominate.  Anthropologists have noted the place of humor and other methods used in egalitarian “primitive” societies to resist the efforts of those attempting to gain a dominant position in the community.

(3.)  A corporate identity.  We did have a logo of sorts –

It was intended to convey a message of inclusivity rather than an identifying symbol.  And the name, “Neighbors Gathering” is generic, more of a description than a label.  The closest we came to a particular identity was to call ourselves the “La France Area Gathering” – which we seldom used because there was no need to distinguish our gathering from others.  There were no others – although it was our vision to have a network of gatherings throughout the world.  

(4.)  Organizational links.  We almost became linked with another organization (SCOPE) through my recruitment and assignment as a VISTA volunteer.  The organization was interested in my community creating activities and wanted to exploit our gathering as an example and as a project under their purview.  Many non-profit organizations depend upon government grants to fund their expenses such as staff salaries.  SCOPE applied for and was awarded a grant to improve neighborhoods and wanted to channel money to our neighborhood through me and, of course, under their supervision.  When I refused to accept the money for our neighborhood, I was “fired” (how do you fire a “volunteer”?).   When I asked what we were expected to use the money for, it was suggested, that we could buy food for our weekly potluck dinners.  Of course, that would have been completely contrary to the sharing ethic I was trying to foster, and the metaphorical significance of the food – that sharing food is sharing life.  Besides, some of the food came from our neighborhood garden.

The question could be asked about the status of our relationship to other gatherings if others were created.  Would we have become an organization?  My vision was for a “Rhizome Structure of Organization” with each gathering interdependent yet self-governing.  I hadn’t yet given thought to the nature of organizations or why groups should avoid becoming one.  At no time, at least as best as I can remember, was there a conflict between the gathering and the autonomy of individuals.  There was cooperation between neighbors on projects and events, but no binding commitments.  And I think that is one of the lines that are crossed when a group becomes an organization.  When an organization has an organizational link with other groups, it has the power to make binding commitments on behalf of individuals within the group.  At that point, the group transcends the individual.  It becomes a ‘machine’ and the individual merely a part.  I hinted at this relationship when I wrote,

An organic organization is dynamic and open to unpredictable changes.  A mechanistic organization, on the other hand, attempts to control input and output. A machine is efficient and controlled, but it is also dead.

(5.)  Imposed order.  As I wrote above, there were no binding commitments between neighbors and the group.  There were times when requiring certain commitments were suggested, such as the requirement that a neighbor work in the garden before they could help themselves to part of the harvest, and that only neighbors who showed up at the gatherings consistently could participate in any group decision making.  Those suggestions were never accepted.  However, again, there were no group decisions which were binding on any individual neighbor.  Before I was even familiar with the term, our gathering operated on the basis of stigmergic collaboration.  In other words, neighbors self-organized themselves and nobody told anybody else what to do.  Order emerged, it was not imposed.

So what?

Well, so what if a neighbors gathering is not an organization?  For many, if it is not an organization, it doesn’t count as anything.  When a group enjoys doing something together or wants to do something as a group, it’s almost automatic – someone will try to organize them and appoint themselves as the leader.  Only a short time will pass before rules for the group will be created and criteria will develop to decide who’s with us and who’s not-us (them).  A name for the group will be chosen. Eventually titles will be given to leaders to give them ‘official’ status. ‘Business’ meetings will be governed by Robert’s Rules of Order (possibly disturbed by snoring!).

The “way of organizing” is a well-worn path leading to increased productivity and efficiency.  It creates order out of chaos.  It is also the path to boredom, alienation, imprisonment of the soul, loss of innovation and creativity, control and domination, and away from the Spirit of Community.  The increased productivity and efficiency found on this path result in increased consumption of the world’s resources and the destruction of habitat for all humans and our non-human kin. The “way of organizing” is a mimicry of life by a machine with human parts.  It is a fairly recently discovered path relative to the existence of humans on earth.  We’re discovering that it is the path to extinction.

Another path is usually ignored, hidden, or rejected as too ‘primitive’ or lacking certain qualities such as ‘leadership’ or having someone ‘in charge’.  This path also produces order from chaos, but not at the cost of individual autonomy.  It is the self-organizing way of all organisms. It is the way of life.  


It’s been a long time since I last posted my thoughts here.  Most of my written thoughts have been expressed on Facebook – more response there, and opportunities to compare my thinking with others.  However, I feel an obligation to continue this story of Neighbors Gatherings.  That story must include why the gatherings in North Port, FL ceased, and why I believe they didn’t continue.  And, of course, why my dream of starting a movement such that a global network of gatherings could come into being didn’t happen.

When Terry and I moved from Florida we were hoping to take Neighbors Gathering on the road with us.  But, in the six weeks of travel before arriving in Washington, we received several discouraging emails from neighbors.  I was amazed at how quickly what we had put together in our home, came apart. The gatherings became ungathered – although there were hints of problems before we left. Three in particular:

  1. No “home base”.  Although several neighbors had volunteered to hold gatherings in their homes occasionally, no one was willing to open their home on a regular basis.  Our home was recognized as what some called, the “club house”.  (What the gathering was or how to label it was always a problem for some.)  But, without a default location to gather at, there was no physical center.  “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.” (Yeats).
  2. Rules were created.  One of those “rules” had to do with how often gatherings should occur.  It was decided that, rather than simply relying on the invitation of a neighbor opening their home to a gathering, meetings were to be held monthly.  And of course, rules were created because certain neighbors had a desire to be in control.  Rules and rulers develop together plus someone wanting to enforce the rules.
  3. Internal division.  A person began attending who was intensely disliked by another neighbor (the same person encouraging the creation of rules). It didn’t take long for an infection of disaffection to spread and shunning to occur.  Eventually the person was accused of  breaking a rule (taking a picture and publishing on FB) and was told to stop coming to gatherings.
So that happened.  Which raised the question in my mind whether the gatherings would have continued if we hadn’t left.  Were the gatherings ego-centered? Was I the center? Were they  dependent upon me?  And, if so, would I want to start again gathering neighbors in other places?
My wife and I started a “home church” in Wyoming several years before we moved to Florida and had walked away from it, because I could see how it was becoming institutionalized and dependent upon me to be the ‘pastor’ (I’m not a fan of the clergy/laity system). Plus, I could see potential problems ahead as my theology began changing radically.  I didn’t want to do that again.
How could I encourage neighbors to gather with other neighbors if I really didn’t believe their efforts would be rewarded (and it takes a lot of effort and commitment)?  If I wasn’t willing to be an example, practicing what I preached?  Better, I decided, to figure some things out – like, can neighbors really learn to get along with other neighbors?  Is the vision I have for an egalitarian, non-hierarchical (anarchic), peaceful world a pipe dream? Maybe … but maybe not.
More to come …



This is the Invitation

To a new conversation

Of depth over speed

Of gift over need

A new Listening…


The structure of how we gather

Speaks of what really matters

Telling a new

Story of who

We are to each other


This is the Invitation

Community’s Restoration

By just showing up

We’re gifted enough

To birth a new world


Though we don’t know

what it will look like

We’re feeling that world’s alive

Like it’s ready to bloom

Here in this room

The seeds in each life


So Community’s New Frontier

Is finding all that we need, right here

To weave a rich, local life

Into a tapestry lined

With the connections we share


This is the invitation

To join a celebration

Of neighbors & friends

Connecting again

Creating the new…


Of neighbors & friends

Connecting again

Creating the new


My neighbors & friends

I’m glad to come in

And be here

With you.


Words & Music by Randy Weeks
with thanks to Peter Block and A Small Group

[email protected]    April-July 2009

Recorded 7-27-09 at Monastery Studio, Cincinnati, OH
Production & Engineering: Ric Hordinski
Acoustic Guitar & Vocal: Randy Weeks



Am I a Hoarder?

I think that if I did more blogging I would probably find myself repeating the same complaint:  It is very difficult to begin.
The problem is not that I have a scarcity of ideas or words.  The problem is, in fact, the opposite.  There is an overabundance of words and ideas swirling around in my mind.  It’s like living in a house with too much stuff that has been collected over the years.  Eventually, in such a house, freedom of movement becomes very limited.  The only option one has to get from one room to another, after the floor is covered with stuff, is to clear a path by getting rid of stuff – either by throwing it away, selling it, or giving it away.  
There is a tendency, I believe, to become a hoarder of stuff if we live in one place for an extended time.  The possessions of Hunter/Gatherer tribes were minimal because owning too much stuff had a negative value. Anything that had to be carried was an encumbrance.
But, my analogy has caused me to digress.  My intention is not to complain about having too much stuff (although I often do), I want to find a solution for being encumbered – paralyzed even – with too many words and ideas.
It occurs to me this morning, that my ego may be the problem.  With a world full of people speaking and writing, it seems that there are too many words out there for mine to make much of a difference.  I begin writing, and then discover that someone has written what I intend to write – but better than I can.  So why should I write?  My ego tells me that unless I can be the best at what I do, it’s not worth doing.  Damn ignorant ego!  Fortunately, I can choose to hear a wiser voice.
That wiser voice, which I choose to identify as the voice of the Spirit, tells me that words are gifts that we offer to one another to meet one another’s need to understand.  I can hoard the gifts of words that I’ve been given, or I can pass them on to others who may have similar needs to mine.  Each word offered, as it is passed around in a community of givers, includes a portion of the life of the giver.  Sharing our words is a form of sharing life.  
The really cool thing about giving words is that, unlike material things or money, they are not given “away”.  I am not less for giving, I am more … and my capacity to be more is increased.  And, while I realize that at times I talk too much, or that my writings are too “wordy”, the solution is not to hoard my thoughts, but to listen more – especially to that voice of the Spirit as she speaks to me through my neighbors. 



It has been over two years since my last blog here.  Seems I left without saying goodby or an explanation which was a betrayal of relationships on many levels.  I know that there were several who were reading my blogs with hope that my intention of saving the world by helping to change neighborhoods would ‘work’.  

It didn’t happen.

My neighborhood did change during the time that we held Neighbors Gatherings at our home.  Much of that change was documented on the Neighbors Gathering website.  After we moved, the neighbors continued to meet but less frequently.  I don’t think they are meeting now.  My hope that other neighbors gatherings would form and that a movement would be born didn’t happen.  Even my wife and I didn’t try to start a neighbors gathering in our new location for which I have several excuses – some may even be valid.
I believe that it is truer now than when I published it on the web page

It’s increasingly becoming clear that our social, economic, political and ecological systems are in trouble—civilization may be heading for a global collapse.  Chaos theory tells us that when stable systems become unstable they can reach a tipping point where the complex factors which produced the instability overwhelm the systems, leading to either a breakdown of order or a breakthrough to a new and different kind of order. 

 I continue to believe almost everything else I wrote in these blogs and on the website.  The trend toward more separation, isolation, and hyper-individualism continues and unless it is reversed we face a hospice situation for our planet.  But the effort to reverse the trend by forming neighbors gatherings is not enough.  What is required, I believe, is a cure for the disease that drives the trend.  What happened in North Port Florida did relieve locally and temporarily, a few symptoms.

I do see many signs of hope — of movements that have the potential to lead to a cure.  My efforts these last few years have been toward the development of an eco-village – an attempt to create a microcosm of a healed world.  Unfortunately, I’ve come to see that those efforts, like Neighbors Gatherings, are similar to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it was sinking.  There are three candidates that I see presently that offer the sort of meta-systemic change that I’ve begun to see as necessary:

New Earth Project
The Venus Project

Of the three, Copiosis seems the most viable.  I think it has the most reasonable plan for a transition or a way to build a bridge from this world to a more beautiful world and a cure for the global disease which has the least chance of killing the patient – or waiting for all the patient’s life supporting systems to fail and then resuscitating with new systems in place.

If there is to be a breakthrough to a new and different kind of order there must also be a breakthrough into this world of the power of Spirit of Love working in the place of the power of control and domination.

It’s happening.  

+Charles Eisenstein has opened my eyes to the work of the Spirit of Love at work around me and in the world more than any other, and it is mostly in his writings that I find reasons not to sink into total despair.

And if my words fulfill their intention, which is to catalyze a next step, big or small, into the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible, my very ordinariness becomes highly significant. It shows how close we all are, all of us ordinary humans, to a profound transformation of consciousness and being. If I, an ordinary man, can see it, we must be almost there.
Eisenstein, Charles (2013-11-05). The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible (Sacred Activism) (p. 7). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition. 

My intentions are to participate in this breakthrough, if it occurs, by being open to the Spirit of Love so that it flows in and through me, enabling me to take those next steps, big or small, toward that More Beautiful World.


(1) We hosted a Crime Prevention Seminar in our home last night.  (2) This week I’ve been reading Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block.  (3) I’ve been in an email conversation with my sister-in-law concerning sport hunting and having compassion for the “other”.
Three events seemingly without a causal relationship, but tied together with meaning.  They seem to fit Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity:  Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner.  So, how are these three events related by meaning?

Crime Prevention

I had some misgivings about hosting the Crime Prevention Seminar, knowing little about how it would be presented and the motives behind the presentation.  I did not want to host an organizing effort to start a Neighborhood Watch.  I was involved in a grassroots attempt to make our neighborhood in Kansas City, KS a safer place to live that was essentially hijacked by the Police, turning neighbors into spies and allies of the government in its “war against drugs”.  When a group of us were invited to view a video that the local police had made showing a “sting operation” at a drug house in which the most hopeless and marginalized citizens of our community were terrorized, humiliated, and used as objects in a cruel game of sport for the amusement of the police officers… I was disgusted and heartsick.  Clearly missing was any compassion for the elderly, infirm, impoverished and depressed people who showed up at the house in order to purchase a respite from their suffering.  Such people are generally hidden from our view.  All we see are their caricatures drawn by those who profit from processing their souls in a dysfunctional and pathological “justice” system. They are the ones that brought condemnation down on Jesus because he identified with them by eating with them
As it turned out, the presentation wasn’t a solicitation for a Neighborhood Watch, but an attempt to sell products disguised by practical security tips offered as a public service.  We were told that with the products a fortress would be created around us.  It was assumed that everyone would want to live in a fortress. 
The existing community context is one that markets fear, assigns fault, and worships self-interest. – Peter Block

Restorative Community

Yesterday morning I was reading near the end of Peter Block’s book and came across this passage:
There is in every neighborhood structures for citizens to volunteer: Citizens on Patrol, Neighborhood Watch, safety meetings, educational pamphlets hung on people’s front doors by the police.  These go under the   title of crime prevention.  They are a useful warning system and help us watch out for criminals, loitering, strangers hanging out in the neighborhood, but they still function within the retributive mindset.
[What is the “retributive mindset”?  It’s a mindset based on fear and the need to control others by punishing them.]
Fear justifies the retributive agenda, fundamentalist in the extreme that has been on the rise for some time.  The retributive agenda believes that a just and civil society is one that gives priority to restraints, consequences, and control, and underlines the importance of rules.  It gets packaged as spiritual values, family values, the American way, love it or leave it, all under the umbrella of law and order.  It helps build the incarceration industry and the protection industry, it creates a platform so that those in power can expand their power, and it discounts the rehabilitation industry…. Fear also fuels the allure of suburban life and is a subtle but clear argument against diversity and inclusion.
Peter contrasts the retributive culture (which is the status quo) with a restorative community (which is a possibility for the future) and says that change from the present problems to a hopeful future comes through a shift in our conversation – a shift from conversations focused on fear and problems to conversations focused on hope and possibility.
We move toward a restorative community when we realize that safety occurs through neighborhood relatedness.


My sister-in-law emailed a picture of my younger brother (not her husband) kneeling in front of a bobcat holding its head in his hand as it lay on the ground.  At first I thought, “Cool!  Didn’t know they could be tamed.”  And then I realized that it had been shot.  My brother posed as though he was proud of the kill.  I was disturbed.  I wrote back:
Of course I realize that it is often necessary to kill animals.  Animals kill animals, as you pointed out.  There are some Deep Ecologists who claim a radical relativism when it comes to life – all life is equal in value.  I’m not one of those.  However, I do believe that ALL life has SOME value.  An animal killed for meat has both extrinsic value (it has value as food) and intrinsic value (it has value for itself).  In the same way, we have extrinsic value for others and intrinsic value for ourselves.  It would be a terrible world if we only valued one another for our usefulness.   
Another thing to consider, I think, is that everything is connected.  If an animal suffers, its suffering affects the well-being of everything (to some degree). Many Native Americans held a form of that belief.  They recognized the necessity to kill – but they also believed that when they killed a buffalo, for instance, they were killing a relative – something they were related to in a familial way. So, they were thankful to their brother buffalo for its sacrifice and they mourned its death. 
When I saw the picture of the bobcat, I felt compassion for the animal – and, I felt compassion for [my brother] if he was able to kill without compassion.  I don’t believe we can kill without it affecting us – without taking something away from us.  Doesn’t it affect our ability to love and to feel love?  If this is true, isn’t every killing a loss which should be mourned to some degree?  
I don’t mean to condemn the act, so please don’t interpret it that way, but I can’t help but feel a sorrow – for the bobcat and for [my brother].
She wrote back and mentioned that her dog kills bugs.  I replied:
I think the bug that Buffy kills has intrinsic value.  It demonstrates it with various defensive strategies – it tries to survive.  For Buffy, the bug has extrinsic value – for play, perhaps.  Buffy doesn’t have the capacity to appreciate the bug’s intrinsic value.
It seems that some animals have a capacity to mourn. I doubt if an ant feels sorrow when another ant gets stepped on… but it does seem that elephants become depressed when another elephant in the “family” dies.  Dolphins won’t leave an injured dolphin behind.  I think dogs can mourn.  I guess what I’m saying is that the capacity to feel compassion, although shown by many animals, is found in greatest degree in humans.  The less we are able to feel compassion, as a species, the greater damage we can do to our environment and to one another.  A soldier is trained to ignore his/her feelings of compassion – usually by objectifying the enemy (thus ignoring the fact that the enemy has intrinsic value- hopes, desires, love of family, etc.).
I also believe that the more we experience love, the more we are able to experience compassion.  An abused child is wounded in its psyche as well as its body.  Violent people are wounded people.  Killing for sport can’t happen without a reduced capacity to “feel” the pain in the other.
In her next email, she agreed that hunting for sport required a reduced degree of compassion.  However, she felt that the capacity for compassion was on a scale and that both extremes of the scale were dangerous.  A psychopath would be on one end and at the other; a person with too much compassion wouldn’t be able to survive.  I wrote back:
It’s hard for me to imagine that there can be such a thing as having too much compassion.  I also doubt if we would ever discover what having too much compassion would be like.  I think we always suffer from the scarcity of compassion, not an overabundance.
I agree that there can be danger in having compassion.  Compassion involves having openness to the ‘other’ – an inclusion of the ‘other’ into our ‘self’.
“Care flows naturally if the ‘self’ is widened and deepened so that protection of free Nature is felt and conceived as protection of ourselves … Just as we need no morals to make us breathe … [so] if your ‘self’ in the wide sense embraces another being, you need no moral exhortation to show care … You care for yourself without feeling any moral pressure to do it … If reality is like it is experienced by the ecological self, our behavior naturally and beautifully follows norms of strict environmental ethics.” – Arne Naess
When we experience compassion, we become aware of the internal relationships that already exist.  A lack of compassion is simply an ignorance of those relationships – an ignorance of our connectedness to and interdependence with the ‘other’. The danger comes not from being compassionate, but from the lack of it in others.  History shows us just how dangerous a person who closes off their ‘self’ from others can be, i.e., Hitler.  The biblical story of Jesus, whether historical or not, reveals the potential risk of loving others.  However, there’s kind of a paradox here.  It would seem that if we are really interested in survival, and if we recognize that all relationships involve some degree of risk, we should build very thick walls around ourselves, and not involve ourselves in the lives of others.  However, the most dangerous neighborhoods are where people have taken that tactic, whereas the safest neighborhoods are those where neighbors really know one another and are compassionate toward one another.  Go figure.
I don’t think I’ve said that hunting and being compassionate aren’t mixable.  In fact, I mentioned the Native American’s belief that hunting was a necessary part of (their) life, but they still recognized their connection to and had compassion for the animal that they killed.  Living necessarily involves eating other life forms.  I might even go so far as to say that the ‘meaning of life’ has to do with living sacrificially (offering our life as food) for others.  Every time we take a breath we consume life.  When we exhale, we contribute something to the environment which nourishes it. 
Because the ‘self’ is constructed out of its relations, the most dangerous thing we can do is to attempt to seal our ‘self’ in a fortress isolated from others.

There is a new worldwide movement developing

Community Capacities and Community Necessities
John McKnight Co-Director, Asset Based Community Development Institute
Northwestern University’
Opening remarks, July 8, 2009, at the “From Clients to Citizens Forum”, 
Coady International Institute, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, 
Nova Scotia.

There is a new worldwide movement developing, made up of people with a
different vision for their local communities.  They know that movements are not
organizations, institutions or systems.  Movements have no CEO, central office,
or plan.  Instead, they happen when thousands of people discover together new
possibilities for their lives.  They have a calling.  They are called.  And together
they call upon themselves.
In many nations, local people have been  called to come together to pursue a
common calling.  It would be a mistake to label that calling “ABCD” or
“Community Building”.  Those are just names.  They are inadequate words for
groups of local people who have the courage to discover their own way  –  to
create a culture made by their own vision.  It is a handmade, homemade vision.
And, wherever we look, it is a culture that starts the same way:

First, we see what we have  – individually, as neighbours and in this place of
ours. Second, we know that the power of what we have grows from creating new
connections and relationships among and between what we have. Third, we
know that these connections happen when we, individually or collectively, act to
make the connections – they don’t just happen by themselves.
We also know that these three steps leading to our way can often be blocked by
great corporate, governmental, professional and academic institutions.  They
often say to us, “You are inadequate, incompetent, problematic, or broken.  We 2
will fix you.” It is our calling to ignore these voices that create dependency, for we
are called to find our way – not follow their way.
We are striving to live in a democracy.  A democracy is a politics that gives us
the freedom to create our vision and the power to make that vision come true.
We strive to be citizens: people with the vision and the power to create our own
way, a culture of community capacity, connection and care.
Unfortunately, many leaders and even some neighbours think that the idea of a
strong local community is sort of “nice,” a good thing if you have the spare time,
but not really important, vital or necessary.  However, we know strong
communities are vital and productive.  But, above all they are necessary because
of the inherent limits of all institutions.
No matter how hard they try, our very best institutions cannot do many things that
only we can do.  And what only we can do is vital to a decent, good, democratic
People in the new movement know what only we have the power to do as local
neighbours and citizens. First, our neighbourhoods are the primary source of our
health.  How long we live and how often we are sick is determined by our
personal behaviour, our social relationships, our physical environment and our
income.  As neighbours, we are the people who can change these things.
Medical systems and doctors cannot.  This is why scientists agree that medical
care counts for less than 10% of what will allow us to be healthy.  Indeed, most
informed medical leaders advocate for community health initiatives because they
recognize their systems have reached the limits of their health-giving power.

Second, whether we are safe and secure in our neighbourhood is largely within
our domain.  Many studies show that there are two major determinants of our
local safety.  One is how many neighbours we know by name.  The second is 3
how often we are present and associate in the public outside our houses.  Police
activity is a minor protection compared to these two community actions.  This is
why most informed police leaders advocate for block watch and community
policing.  They know their limits and call to our movement.

Third, the future of our earth  – the environment  – is a major local responsibility.
The “energy problem” is our local domain because how we transport ourselves,
how we heat and light our homes and how much waste we create is a major
factor in saving our earth.  That is why our movement is a major force in calling
us and our neighbours to be citizens of the earth and not just consumers of the
natural wealth.

Fourth, in our villages and neighbourhoods, we have the power to build a resilient
economy  – less dependant on the mega-systems of finance and production that
have proven to be so unreliable.  Most enterprises begin locally  – in garages,
basements and dining rooms.  As neighbours, we have the local power to nurture
and support these businesses so that they have a viable market.  And we have
the local power to capture our own savings so that we are not captives of our
notorious  large financial institutions.  We also are the most reliable sources of
jobs. For in many nations, word-of-mouth among neighbours is still the most
important access to employment.  The future of our economic security is now
clearly a responsibility, possibility and necessity for local people.

Fifth, we are coming to see that a part of our domain is the production of the food
we eat.  So we are allied with the local food movement, supporting local
producers and markets.  In this way, we will be doing our part to solve the energy
problem caused by transportation of food from continents away.  We will be
doing our part to solve our economic problems by circulating our dollars locally.
And we will be improving our health by eating food free of poisons and

Sixth, we are local people who must raise our children.  We all say that it takes a
village to raise a child.  And yet, in modernized societies, this is rarely true.
Instead, we pay systems to raise our children  – teachers, counsellors, coaches,
youth workers, nutritionists, doctors, McDonalds and MTV.  We are often
reduced as families to being responsible for paying others to raise our children
and transporting them to their paid child-raisers.  Our villages have often become
useless; our neighbours responsible for neither their children nor ours.  As a
result, everywhere we talk about the local “youth problem”.  There is no “youth
problem.”  There is a village problem of adults who have forgone their
responsibility and capacity to join their neighbours in raising the young.  There is
a remarkable recovery movement that joins neighbours in sharing the wealth of
children.  It is our greatest challenge and our most hopeful possibility.

Seventh, locally we are the site of care.  Our institutions can only offer service –
not care.  We cannot purchase care.  Care is the freely given commitment from
the heart of one to another.  As neighbours, we care for each other.  We care for
our children.  We care for our elders.  And it is this care that is the basic power of
a community of citizens.  Care cannot be provided, managed or purchased from
systems.  Our way is made possible by the power to care.  Democracy is the way
we care for our freedom and responsibility.  So it is the new connections and
relationships we create locally that build community because in joining each
other together, we manifest our care for the children, neighbours and the earth.
Health, safety, economy, environment, food, children and care are the seven
responsibilities of our movement.  They are the necessities that only we can
fulfill.  And when we fail, no institution or government can succeed because we
are the veritable foundation of the society.

Fortunately, at the heart of our movement are 3 universal and abundant powers.
The three basics of our calling are:

 The giving of gifts: the gifts of the people in our neighbourhood are
boundless.  Our movement calls forth those gifts.
 The power of association: In association, we join our gifts together and
they become amplified, magnified, productive and celebrated.
 Hospitality: We welcome strangers because we value their gifts and need
to share our own.  Our doors are open.  There are no strangers here.  Just
friends we haven’t met.

Ours is the movement of abundance.  There is no limit to our gifts, our
associations, and our hospitality.
We have a calling.  We are the people who know what we need.  What we need
surrounds us.  What we need is each other.  And when, we act together, we will
find Our Way.  The citizen’s way.  The community way.  The democratic way.
We are called to nothing less.  And it is not so wild a dream.

“This is just the way the world is!”

What is it that keeps us from choosing not to obey those who wish to dominate and control us?  What is it that has kept the citizens of Egypt in slavery to the whims of their rulers for the last 30 years?  And, why have they chosen THIS time to say, “ENOUGH!”, and lay their heads under the tracks of military tanks sold to despots by American bosses – all seeking profit through the subjugation of others?

Fear keeps us under the control of others.  Encouragement allows us to break free – just as the citizens of Tunisia encouraged the citizens of Egypt to have the courage to risk their lives for the sake of freedom.  To en-courage is to put courage into someone.  We can encourage one another by being an example and/or pointing to those who serve as examples, refusing to be ruled by others.

Recently I was offered a choice – obey or suffer the consequences.  Here is what I wrote as an answer to the choice I was given:

Power as domination operates in hierarchical organizational structures.  “Hierarchy” is an ancient Greek term which meant “sacred rule”.  Today, it is generally defined in organizational theory as “any system in which distributions of power, privilege and authority are both systematic and unequal”.  In this definition, power is taken to mean domination, and authority is the acceptance of domination as a legitimate arrangement.  The legitimacy of this mode of power ultimately comes from a dogmatic understanding of reality – that an omnipotent (all-powerful) god rules over the universe.  [] Logically, the ethical theory derived from this dogma is “might makes right”.  This dogma is so much a part of our history and culture, that it has been accepted without question.  It is, for the majority of our world’s population, THE paradigm of reality – in spite, I believe, of overwhelming evidence that it is irrational.  I began questioning this dogma over 20 years ago and my questioning has led me to a place where I can no longer accept “power as domination” as a legitimate “authority”.  

I would like to offer you a choice, just as you offered one to me:  Partner with me to change the world, or continue without me in a system that, if not the root cause, at least contributes to the global crises.  Walter Wink, in his book, The Powers That Be, labels this The Domination System.  Letty M. Russell (one of the first women to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church) labels it as The Household of Caesar.  Affirming that we cannot function without structures of authority, she makes it clear that we have a choice to “seek out those structures that contribute to communal well being and justice.”  But we always have a choice. She writes, “…the way I or anyone else exercises authority and power determines whether it is authority as domination or as partnership.”  It seems that you wish to deny the choice.   I heard you tell me (I think it was your third statement), “That’s just the way the world is!”  I heard you explain to me that the way you have chosen to relate to me is based on your role, your position in the hierarchy, implying that you have no choice.

It does not make sense to me, that in my calling and desire to co-create “Households of Freedom”, that I would choose to be in a position of slavery – held there by the fear of losing a monthly stipend.  Slaves are offered a choice – submit to a domination system or suffer the consequences of refusal.  I believe the term “slavery” can be substituted for any of the second terms in the language of our culture’s common dualisms relating to these kind of power relationships:  Employer/Employee, Boss/Worker, Supervisor/Laborer and others.  A slave exists where ever power is exercised over another.  These power relationships produce fear, violence, poverty, lack of energy and motivation (“laziness”), guilt, shame, depression, sense of worthlessness, etc..  Slaves become free when they refuse to submit to the demonic “Powers That Be”.  I take very seriously and literally the words found in Galatians 5:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  (v.1)You, my brothers [and sisters] were called to be free…. (v.13) 

I am and have been more than willing to contribute to your mission – because of the correlation with what I believe I am called to do.  However, I will be my own master while serving, and contribute, if allowed, voluntarily, rather than work under a threat and constant criticism rather than encouragement.  My motivation will come from a desire to serve for the sake of the common good rather than fear.

I wrote in the Intro page on my NG website:

It’s increasingly becoming clear that our social, economic, political and ecological systems are in trouble—civilization may be heading for a global collapse.  Chaos theory tells us that when stable systems become unstable they can reach a tipping point where the complex factors which produced the instability overwhelm the systems, leading to either a breakdown of order or a breakthrough to a new and different kind of order.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we have reached that tipping point – perhaps we are past it – and all it requires is for us to open our eyes to see the overwhelming evidence that this is so.  I wrote in my log this morning after my time of meditation, “If the world is to be healed, it will require creativity.”  The present system, using power in the mode of domination and control, stifles creativity (instilling fatalism) while causing “laziness”.  I think it would be a tragic loss for the world if we allow this system to destroy the potential of our continued relationship.

The System is Broken

I worked for a period of time as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) in an Assisted Living Facility. As a CNA, I was near the bottom of a hierarchically structured business (a “Non-Profit Business). The only layer of authority below mine was that of the Residents. Above me were the nurses, and above them the Director of Nurses, and then the Administrator who answered to the CEO, and then at the top was the Board.
If you didn’t work at this Facility, and just made a visit (as a State Inspector, perhaps?), you probably wouldn’t see how screwed up the system was. It was the Director of Nurses’s opinion that the majority of CNAs were “lazy” and incompetent. She believed that if they were kept under a constant threat of losing their jobs that she could improve the kind of care that the residents received. She was also concerned that the Facility would be shut down by the State if it received another poor or failing report. She feared that the CNA’s incompetence and “laziness” could cost her job – and if fear served as a motivation for her to perform her role, why wouldn’t it motivate the CNA’s as well?
The Administrator administrated by issuing orders. She would make frequent inspections throughout the Facility, and, with a trained eye able to spot events that occurred contrary to her orders, she would loudly demand that someone who happened to be present at the time, do something to bring her world back into the correct order. The Director of Nurses, knowing the impossibility of always matching orders to reality, would at times do her best to hide any evidence of disobedience from the Administrator, sometimes reinterpreting the rules for the CNAs and sometimes providing tips about how to cover the evidence of rule-breaking. The CNAs, under pressure to perform and in fear of their jobs, did their best to hide the evidence of disobedience or noncompliance also. It was a game that to some degree everyone knew about and participated in. Even the Residents, knowing about the rule that forbad them to remove food from the dining room, would nevertheless take food and hide it in their rooms. It was the CNA’s responsibility to search the rooms and remove the food – and try to come up with something to instill fear in the Resident so they wouldn’t break the rule again.
The whole system depended upon fear of consequences in order to control behavior. At the same time, I saw acts of kindness and compassion occur – sometimes requiring that the rules be broken in order to serve the needs of the Residents and fellow workers. I saw that fear was a very poor motivator and that there was an alternative which wasn’t being utilized. I was somewhat immune to the fear in the environment because I wasn’t particularly concerned about being fired. My primary motivation was to serve as best I could (I felt called to serve) – and so I frequently broke the rules. For instance, one rule required that each CNA change the bed linens in the rooms assigned to them according to a written schedule. It was difficult to do what was required in the time allowed without taking shortcuts on other duties. Often there weren’t enough sheets or pillow cases and so decisions would have to be made concerning which Residents would have to continue to sleep on dirty linens. If a bed had been pooped and/or peed in, the first reaction on the part of the CNA often was to take it personnally – as though the Resident had intentionally soiled the linens to make life harder for the CNA – and so the CNA sometimes found ways to retaliate, usually by scolding, condemning, and humiliating the Resident. Wanting to serve, I began helping the other CNAs change the linens on their scheduled days. The chore was accomplished in half the time, it was fun to work together, and the CNAs were able to find time to wash linens. CNAs and Residents were made happier by the teamwork. We also began to work as a team in the dining room and with other duties and acts of kindness and compassion multiplied.
However, the system was still broken. If it was to be fixed, it would require a change in the way authority and power was understood and used. Working as a team, we CNAs had begun to empower one another by working with one another – as partners. But, rather than excercising power WITH us, the Administrator continued exercising power OVER us. Unless the paradigm of authority changed, fear would continue to be an infection that caused everyone to suffer – especially those who had the least power: the Residents.
I tried to talk to the Director of Nurses and had some good discussions with the Administrator about how things could be done differently – but they would dismiss any idea of changing the system and insist that the only changes that needed to be made were in the behaviors of the CNAs.
One of the Shift Nurses was praising me one afternoon, thankful for the positive changes that she noticed. I explained that the changes occurred simply because relationships were changed – from competition, jealousy and fear to mutual caring. I described how such changes could be made throughout the organization if we simply changed the way we used power, and how much more enjoyable the work environment could be – and most of all, I pointed out that the Residents would receive the most benefit from change. Sadly, she just shook her head and said, “It will never happen. This is just the way it is.”