Thursday was raining, and cold at 50 degrees. I reached the bus stop just in time to see the driver lurch off after discharging a passenger, even though I was but 2 steps from the curb. The wind was also blowing, so standing at an angle with umbrella tilted, I waited for the next bus. Shortly, a group of young women crossed the street to stand at the stop, and a few minutes later, another joined us. Finally, after what seemed an eternity in the cold and wet, the bus appeared at the top of the hill…slowed down…and then kept right on going. We all stood with our mouths agape, and I impulsively shouted toward the disappearing tail lights, “What do 6 people standing at a bus stop mean?”
Generally, the buses run every 5 minutes or so, but perhaps the rain had slowed them, or someone had not shown up to work–which is the usual reason for delays as there are fewer buses on that route than normal. By the time the next bus came, we were a soggy cold mess, and the gay chatter had long stopped. We boarded, and all sat in silence, grateful for at least not having to stand in the wind and rain any longer. My feet were wet, my shoes and pants drenched, and I just felt weary.
There has been a lot of that lately–everything feeling broken. Things just do not seem to work in a helpful way these days. I have half-heartedly begun a post a few times, but cannot move past the headline and the sense of not having a story to tell. That is not to say it is all gloom and doom, because it is not. There are moments of pleasure and joy, and a reminder that we have the capacity to grow and move forward. It is oddly ironic that when I reach those spurts of insight and begin to act on cultivation of change that something seems to upend another relationship. Triangulation in the system–it might not be fatal, but it is always disconcerting and increases the burden. Like trying to walk in a broken shoe, it shifts our rhythm and lessens movement.
This morning I was reading about an upcoming workshop for teachers at Tougaloo College. The purpose is to help teachers in Mississippi learn to develop lesson plans to teach about the Civil Rights Movement, using the SNCC Digital Gateway. While perusing the website, I found a digitized copy of The Student Voice, volume 1, number 1, June 1960. It included this:
To Win Racial Justice
- Use active non-violent resistance to evil.
- Never seek to defeat or humiliate your opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.
- The non-violent resister seeks to defeat the forces of evil, not the persons who happen to be doing evil.
- Avoid external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. (Hating the opponent)
- Accept suffering without retaliation.
- Have confidence that the universe is on the side of justice.
- Recognize that the center of non-violence is the love of God operating in the human heart. Martin Luther King
While reading the news this morning, I kept returning to the second item in the list: win his friendship and understanding. We as a people, whether at a local level or global level, seem unable to seek to understand each other. Perhaps we never have been able to do so. While change may happen on an individual level of transformation,
Transformation of large numbers of individuals does not result in the transformation of communities. If we continue to invest in individuals as the primary target of change, we will spend our primary energy on this and never fully invest in communities. In this way, individual transformation comes at the cost of community. (Block, 2008, p. 5, as cited in Soska & Feikema, 2013, p. 518)
Harry Specht described that phenomenon in 1994: “We will never solve the structural problems of society in the Church of the Individual Repair.” As I concluded the final class of the semester Thursday afternoon, we discussed the essentials functions of community:
- Affirms and reproduces meaning
- Constructs substantive reality
- Develops morality
- Fosters communicative action
- Generates the public sphere (Weil, Reisch, & Ohmer, 2013, The Handbook of Community Practice)
We generated a discussion of those functions, addressing what can happen when the meaning reproduced or affirmed is not one that is beneficial and nurturing to us as humans. What happens when the substantive reality constructed is toxic?
I believe that is what Block meant when he said individual transformation comes at the cost of community transformation, and what Specht meant when he said structural problems cannot be solved at the individual level. It does not mean King’s admonition that we should seek to understand and develop relationship is not relevant, as that “fosters communicative action” so desperately needed amongst us right now. The creation of a nurturing and sustainable environment is essential in building healthy communities and families, and, it is essential for all of us, not just some of us.
Mission: to develop sustainable life enhancing systems. (Nancy Mary, 2008)