By Wade Lee Hudson
My hope is to help build a nationwide network of small, local communities based on the strategy outlined here that is large and unified enough to contribute significantly to positive social change. Some groups already do this kind of work. If they affiliated in a loose network, they could more easily compare notes, support one another, and encourage others to adopt this approach. In these ways, they could expand the network.
Others already do this work to a considerable degree. After making some slight modifications in their methods, they could affiliate with such a network.
This essay presents some ideas concerning how this network might coalesce. But I’m not sure what to call it, so I call it the No Name Project. If this community develops, the members could decide later how to describe it.
Words are necessary. They enable individuals to identify with a particular community. But words also tend to exclude. Individuals who don’t relate to the language that a particular community uses to describe itself tend to shy away from that community. Since my hope is to nurture the growth of a community that is broad, diverse, and inclusive, I envision the members finalizing key language, including the community’s mission, its general method, a specific method, and its name.
For the mission, which every member of the community would embrace, I propose: to grow communities dedicated to the common good of the entire human family. That focus seems to address our most essential, deepest need as human beings.
Concerning the general method used to achieve the mission, it seems that if every member utilizes similar methodology, it will provide us with shared experiences that deepen our sense of community and enable us to more easily compare notes in order to improve our work. I propose that our general method be: to provide one another with mutual support for our personal growth, community building, and political action efforts.
Efforts in each of these areas reinforce efforts in the other two areas in a positive upward spiral. In our hyper-specialized modern world, most communities focus on only one of those three areas. But communities whose members engage in all three can ultimately be more effective.
By “personal growth,” I refer to efforts to steadily become a better human being. For some people, this includes spiritual development. For others, it simply involves paying attention, noticing mistakes, and resolving not to repeat them. Regardless, each member would define their own self-development goals.
By “community building,” I refer to efforts to create or improve social institutions, whether formal or informal. It might involve volunteering at a childcare cooperative or a food bank, getting involved in your child’s school, being active in a spiritual community, or forming a small group affiliated with the network envisioned here. In either case, the intent would be to help develop models that could point the way to an improved society.
By “political action,” I mean efforts to impact public policy in the near term, like with lobbying and demonstrations. Many people use the word “political” to refer to other kinds of relationships that involve the exercise of power. These concerns are important. But that’s not the principal definition of the word political, which refers to the government. If an effort is not focused on achievable near terms goals, it is cultural work, not political as defined here. Most people feel a moral obligation to vote. I also feel a moral obligation to do at least my fair share between elections to make my voice heard as much as I can to improve public policies.
But what kind of politics? I suggest a “compassionate populism” focused on taking power away from the “crony capitalism” that dominates our society. This unholy alliance between Big Government and Big Business undermines democracy. We need to develop nationwide mechanisms that will mobilize the kind of unified, popular pressure that is needed to persuade our elected officials to respect the will of the people.
This approach is not a matter of “left” and “right.” As I argued in “Building Compassionate Populism,” I believe the so-called “political spectrum” is a myth that serves to divide and conquer. Most individuals cannot be placed on that spectrum. Neither can every opinion. It is an oversimplification that distorts reality. Increasingly, people on the “left” and those on the “right” are setting aside abstract ideology and finding common ground on specific issues.
If the network avoids labelling itself with those conventional terms, it could more easily attract people who hold a variety of opinions. Individual groups affiliated with the network might well describe themselves with any number of usual categories, like libertarian or progressive. But the network itself could be a “big tent.”
Some groups might consist of members with widely varied political perspectives who would take different positions on specific issues. The common commitment would be to ask: How can we best fulfill our mission to serve “the common good of the entire human family”? When people tap their deep compassion, truly appreciate the various points of view involved, set aside their anger and resentment, and carefully consider what is the best way forward, they can usually achieve an understanding. At the least, they can respect their differences. Regardless, the network could affirm that groups could support individual decisions about their course of action, if the group so defined itself.
Some groups might affirm a long-term goal of “systemic reform,” aiming to restructure our society fundamentally. Others might relate to that goal as a possible outcome, but choose to focus on immediate reforms while hoping those changes would eventually lead to some yet-to-be-determined “evolutionary revolution.” Yet others might refrain from speculating about the long-term future, preferring to focus on the present. Regardless, each type of group could respect the others without trying to “convert” them.
All groups affiliated with the network could also utilize one specific method. The members would gather at least once a month to share a meal, socialize informally, and report to one another on their personal growth, community building, and political action efforts. Those reports might lead to discussion, or they might not. Merely putting such thoughts and feelings into words can be beneficial, especially if others are listening carefully.
How to structure these gatherings could become a focus of experimentation. By sharing the results of these experiments, a consensus about the best approach might emerge. But with newly forming groups, it would probably be best to start small with close, trusted friends and grow slowly. Sharing intimate feelings openly can be a delicate matter. It helps to have a safe haven. Meetings could be held in members’ homes, or a familiar community center. In a future essay, I’ll report on my research into what formats groups are currently using and share some ideas about other possible formats
What to call these groups is open for discussion. Terms that have been suggested so far include club, support group, support circle, and growth ring.
Each group would be free to do more than this monthly gathering. Members of some groups might engage together in social, recreational, cultural, political, or other activities. Network members could also gather occasionally for regional and national gatherings to share information and provide mutual support. But they would all have in common this one specific method: gathering at least monthly to share a meal, socialize informally, and report on their efforts. This shared experience could help build a sense of community across the network.
How to describe this network is a dilemma. The word “holistic” seems most accurate, but it carries New Age connotations that are restrictive. And many groups use “transformation,” both personal and social. But transformation implies to change completely, and it seems to me that we become more who we really are, rather than becoming totally new. We may from time to time feel “like a new person,” but the use of that word “like” implies a metaphor, not the reality. And I believe it’s important to be precise. Moreover, defining transformation as our goal may drive away people who consider that goal to be too utopian. So “evolutionary growth” seems more accurate to me.
But that’s merely my opinion at the moment. I’m open to persuasion. If folks who affirm “transformation” form a national network or organization of the sort proposed here, I’ll likely be more than willing to support it. My bottom line is merely that any such effort clearly foster mutual support for personal growth, community building, and political action. To do that, it seems to me that such an effort needs to be explicit about its intent and offer members one or more specific user-friendly tools that they can easily use (without extensive training) to nurture personal and social change.
Until I discover a project of this sort that I can join, I’ll continue to discuss these ideas with people who are interested and experiment with methods that might help put these ideas into practice.