Building Community – new persectives is a compilation of my articles published by Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1995
A Spiritual Mission
Present societal change is causing both reflection and reorganization of the fundamentals of our society, institutions, and approach to government. Theses shifts have been evident for the past number of decades but now the limits of sustainability of our present social and economic structures are being reached……..
This shifting scene is causing people to challenge even the fundamental values of society as they search for identity and security. We must come to an understanding that change is constant and that security is within ourselves………..
The key to development will be the unlocking of this spirit of individuality. The determinant of community will be an understanding of how we fit with each other and how real human resources complement one another. Only then will we be able to share a sense of security and, ultimately, well-being.
Foreword by Dr. J. Colin Dodds, V.P. Academic and Research, Saint Mary’s University
I have had the pleasure of working with Bill Pardy over a number of years and I am pleased to be writing this Forward to this collection of his recent writings on community economic development. Two of the papers, Building the Base: An Exercise in Economic Development” and “Building Bridges”: A Creative Approach” were foundation pieces for the Planning Teams for the Metro Economic summits 1 and 2, in which Bill played an instrumental role. The other papers follow a logical prescription approach for policy decisions.
The nine papers in this collection have arisen from a career dedicated to energizing partnerships among governments, educational institutions and community groups to build and make the most of our hidden assets: people. His own field experience contrasts with the more artificial approaches of many policy makers and administrators. His thoughtful and provocative views and prescriptions, although focused on Atlantic Canada, have applicability beyond. Inevitably he has harsh words for the top down approaches which have characterized development policies. His strategies and approaches are bottom-up and are based not just on gut feel from a community field experience in Canada, but have a proven case study experience drawn from outside of Canada.
Although the Federal Government Initiatives (for example, the fisheries crisis in Atlantic Canada) are still mired in the thesis that more money will solve fundamental structural economic and societal shifts. Thankfully at the Provincial Government levels we are now witnessing a movement towards a focus on a team and partnership approaches to optimize all of the resources that exist. Indeed, if we follow the prescriptions given by Bill, we will not only make more effective use of taxpayers dollars, but provide a competitive lever for Atlantic Canada and Canada as a whole in the increasingly globalized economy. As a result, we will not only survive the current turbulence of the new economy, but have the potential to catapult the Atlantic economy forward to a virtuous cycle of economic and social development.
What makes these readings so compelling in my view is that they are much forward looking and provide an optimist viewpoint for economic development that has an ownership base “not only on Main Street, but by Main Street”p.3) Clearly it is no easy task to change attributes and approaches overnight. However, Bill’s work provides a focus to energize change – as it did in the Metro Economic Summits. I am, therefore, delighted to recommend this collection to you.
 Published as Commerce, Vol.3., No 1, 1992. And Vol. 4, No2, 1993 respectively.
 See, for example, J. Lotz, “Beyond the Bottom Line: Business and Community in Britain.” Commerce. Vol. 1, No.1, May 1990.
 “From the Bottom Up: Community Economic Approach.” Economic Council of Canada, Ottawa, Canadian Government Publishing Centre, 1990.
A Spiritual Mission
Present societal change is causing both reflection and reorganization of the fundamentals of our society, institutions, and approach to government. Theses shifts have been evident for the past number of decades but now the limits of sustainability of our present social and economic structures are being reached.
The collapse of the Soviet system, which it could be argued, was the world’s most structured society, is causing the world map to be redrawn. The Western world is rapidly approaching the same melt-down point in its society. The technology and communications revolution, a major factor is this collapse, is causing artificial geography boundaries to disappear and allowing cross-cultural exchange unlike any other period of history.
There is one human element which is evident throughout these chaotic times: The quest for identity, achievement, and the sense of accomplishment and fulfilment. This is ultimately the real driving force of all humans no matter what their status or level of affluence.
This search is often deflected. The rush to consumerism in the Western World and the quest for retrenchment of ancient geographic borders and “ethnic cleansing” in the former Soviet republics are but two examples. These deflections are caused by fear of confronting real issues, a thrust to avoid the challenges that real self-analysis will require and a desire to somehow short-circuit real human development.
There are many examples of similar avoidance of the real issues of sustainability and the changes which it causes. Yet sustainability is not about constants; it is about the change and evolution we witness each day in nature. A healthy environment is one that is in constant flux and possessed of evolutionary cycles that move the process forward.
Human resistance to the inevitable is one of our greatest impediments to real development. Evidence of this phenomenon is everywhere. Europeans’ unwillingness to move its common market forward, the resistance by French farmers to GATT negotiations are examples on the global scene. The North American context is very similar, with our unwillingness to recognize the economic shifts that are rapidly bringing Mexico and Central American countries into our mainstream trading activities. Likewise, in Canada, there is our resistance to recognizing that our structures are evolving and that our provincial system and government organizations no longer address the needs of a re-designed world. The reality is that these events are unfolding, will continue to unfold. Our resistance may impede the flow but will not stop the process.
Even on the local level we find fear and uncertainty due to the changing employment scene. Education and training programs no longer fit and conventional community structures and institutions are deteriorating. The results can be traced to our desire to resist evolutionary change and normal restructuring.
This shifting scene is causing people to challenge even the fundamental values of society as they search for identity and security. We must come to an understanding that change is constant and that security is within ourselves. The challenge for development in this cycle of change must be a refocussing on who we are. We have to break down the barriers to real fulfilment and achievement. We must unwrap ourselves from where we live and what we do and learn to appreciate our individual values. Our real resources are our inherent talents, skills and intellect. Our real security is an understanding our own spiritual nature and how it can enhance any area in which we happen to live.
The key to development will be the unlocking of this spirit of individuality. The determinant of community will be an understanding of how we fit with each other and how real human resources complement one another. Only then will we be able to share a sense of security and, ultimately, well-being.
This will require a development process which allows true reflection and communications – a process that establishes our cultural past, identifies the impacts of history and recognizes that these things are forever past. We have to realize that culture is evolutionary; it contains the old, the present and the new. The influence of history, of peers and of other different cultures, which in our modern world is so evident and available, impact our cultural identity.
People must be allowed to identify their inherent and hidden constraints without a fear of deprecation or ridicule. When we understand our impediments and can deal with them in an environment of mutual respect and support, we will unlock our real human value and worth. This is an emotional journey and as such deals with our spirit as well as our intellect. We must begin dealing with the whole person rather than separate, compartmentalized aspects. Education must become a process to draw out a person’s real abilities rather than an instrument to sharpen the intellect; it must deal with reaffirming human value and encouraging self-fulfilment. Jobs must become mechanisms that allow achievement and accomplishment and provide an enhancement of the common good of society. We must begin the journey back to recapture the real values of life and recognize the artificial values that we so readily adopted only provided short-term satisfaction and gratification.
There is much discussion taking place relative to development issues in Canada and, in particular, the rural areas. If we continue our existing development thrusts, we are facing the imminent annihilation of our rural lifestyle and its role in ensuring an environment for creativity and reflection . Policy makers have the mistaken belief that development is something that can be delivered rather than something to be encouraged and evolved by understanding and self-confident individuals working in collaboration.
The Davis Inlet dilemma has arisen because we wished to deliver development to these people. We listen to politicians and bureaucrats as they discuss building a community and relocating people. We hear them speak about unemployment in the community. Yet all these issues are foreign to a people who did not live in what we consider community or have conventional jobs. (In fact, before they were herded together in our concept of a community, unemployment would probably have been 100 percent.) Indeed, we can learn much from traditional societies, such as the Innu, who had their own communities which, prior to our interference, were based on much more spiritual values. Our sense of intellectual superiority shrouded their spiritual advancement and allowed us to destroy their real communities.
The collapse of the Newfoundland fishery has precipitated the largest influx of fiscal resources that has ever been inflicted upon any race. This approach is predicated on the fact that if people have enough money, they can buy the things that will bring contentment. There is the belief that if we provide “training” people will find jobs and then we won’t have to continue the fiscal transfers. The real hope is that maybe these people will move away and the resulting problem will be solved. The evidence is that many of those that move are ill-equipped to survive elsewhere and, hence, become greater drains on the social net.
Cape Breton has witnessed huge sums of cash being distributed to a variety of industrialists in efforts to create jobs and to build industry. The jobs were to provide incomes so that people could buy the things that provide satisfaction. The reality was that the businesses failed and the incomes did not ensure fulfilment even though people could maintain a modern lifestyle. The jobs were foreign, the industrialists were suspect and people felt cheated and diminished. Somehow they were made to feel that they did not measure up to other areas where such industry had evolved and people prospered.
These development approaches were supposed to strengthen communities and provide economic security and sustainability. Instead they created artificial geographic boundaries, community conflicts and negative competition among people – all struggling to attract industries to their community.
The questions which we asked in these cases were flawed. Thus the answers received could not be correct. The result is a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and despair.
We have to understand that community is a sense of spirit and cannot defined only by geography, environment or activity. We have to appreciate that people need to have a sense of achievement and accomplishment. We have to realize that people are more than what they do or where they live. We have to recognize and value our cultural history but accept that culture is evolutionary and enhanced by the present as much as by the past.
We have to recognize that sustainability has less to do with geography, ecology and economics than with a real appreciation of humanity, nature and values which allows people to achieve their true potential. We must understand that this sustainability cannot be legislated or imposed on people. The communist examples of imposed values did not adhere even after seventy-five years. The search for identity has begun again where it stopped so many years before. Unfortunately for these people the world has changed and they will need real development processes to ensure that what evolves is beneficial and sustainable.
The recognition of the above-mentioned values are fundamental to any sustainable community development. Only when we achieve this recognition will we see the evolution of real communities which have a sense of spirit and pride.
We must begin a development process which unlocks the true spirit of accomplishment which is inherent in everyone. We must build a process that develops individuals who value themselves and those around them. We have to recognize that true development begins with communications and collaboration. We must understand that bridging the gap between old and new, outmoded and modern and technology and traditional is a continuous activity requiring everyone’s involvement. We need to address the issue of uncoupling ourselves from our locale and our occupations as a prerequisite to self-direction and self-esteem. We have to develop pride in our individuality, our respective accomplishments and our collective achievements as communities, provinces and as a country. Only then can we become true citizens of the world – a world full of challenge, opportunity and change.
People Without Boundaries
Re-defining Our Identity
Globalization and the global community are words used to address a phenomenon causing the breakdown of geographical boundaries among the nation states of the world. We are slow to recognize that the collapse of local borders in our community-based structures is also occurring.
As the world becomes borderless, ultimately everything we do will become borderless. Physical and geographic boundaries are becoming less important as people align more around issues than physical or geographic dimensions. Thus, conventional approaches to association and organization are redundant and will have to be rethought, redeveloped and restructured.
We are reaching a stage in human societal development where a new order is evolving. New forms of communities, education, economics and religions are appearing that are no longer tied to physical commodities or geographic boundaries. Technology which allows unlimited alliances is causing a shift in the context of community and its components which allowed us orderly functions. Our sense of identity which is tied to these components and categorized by structure or geography is being challenged. Geography and structure no longer delineate our sense of identity.
Our ability to connect or meet people with similar interests is allowing us to form communities of similar interests no matter the location of the participants. Physical structures are becoming hindrances and albatrosses to future development because of the cost of sustaining them and the unwillingness of many to allow their collapse. People’s identity has been intertwined with the physical or geographic entity to which they relate. Nowhere is this more evident than in the farmers and fishermen/women who have wrapped their identity around their occupation which in turn is defined by physical and geographic space. Similarly, academics, clergy, state officials and many other workers and professionals have become what they represent rather than what their talents and abilities might suggest.
There is a need for us to look at the formation of present-day communities and why and how they are structured. In the case of economic communities, it could be argued that they were formed to enable people to combine efforts and support one another. For example, in farming communities people could share equipment and labour and thus become more self-sustaining. Fishing communities were not much different in that they allowed people a support-environment to pool their activities in order to accomplish tasks too demanding for one individual. Manufacturing communities evolved in much the same way: people congregated around the production facility in order to share in the commercial benefits that were derived from whatever commodity was produced.
Social communities evolved from people congregating for moral support, social contact or as a means to maintain ethnic origins or religious beliefs. The diversity of rural communities developed oftentimes because some of these people wanted to remove themselves from their existing social environment.
As society evolved, people recognized the opportunities that were available by combining resources to provide infrastructure and services that made life more comfortable. Communities eventually became the mechanism for the provision of basic municipal services such as common water, sewage disposal and roads. This creation of services created a need for more organized management, local government and subsequently, less direct local input.
As other forms of social communities evolved over the years to share religious beliefs, academic knowledge or more socially related issues, the tendency was always to tie communities to a physical space as a means of identity. Churches, universities, and schools and the myriad of local organizations and clubs are examples of the structures that became the medium of affiliation for identifying people’s relationships with others. These processes served as further catalysts for people to identify and attach themselves to the geographic space that was bound by whatever parameters were agreed upon or officially deemed necessary for future growth and expansion.
Academic communities are now interconnected by sophisticated communications networks. Inter-institutional sharing and learning between colleagues in similar disciplines have become the norm. Delivery by media of religious and spiritual messages has transformed our perception of religions and the role of churches. The internationalization of charitable, service and social organizations allows participation in divergent groups irrespective of where we happen to live. (People in such organizations who travel will often attend club meetings in other provinces or foreign countries to fulfil their membership obligations).
It is becoming evident that the present physical or geographic institutions are not the best mechanisms to impart knowledge, offer spiritual support, create basic infrastructure and municipal services or provide economic security. Yet many refuse to acknowledge that this diversity of information, experiences and knowledge has caused fundamental shifts in our thinking and beliefs. A major consequence is the growing questioning of many institutions and fundamentals in our society. The unwillingness to release ourselves from outmoded concepts and structures is jeopardizing social stabilization and bankrupting our economies. The ensuing result is fear, uncertainty and a real quest for different mechanisms to provide stability. We may have to go back to the beginning and study why these structures were designed and to what purpose.
The ultimate fear of the unknown, inherent self-interest and the desire for comfort – all human traits – are the greatest obstacles to change of any sort. The natural tendency is to protect rather than to risk. This tendency forces us to compound pain rather than deal with it as it occurs. For most of us, only when the pain is unbearable will we risk action, especially if we are unsure of the action or its results. That is why, ultimately, we resist changing our structures, systems and methodologies. This resistance is even more prevalent among those who achieve power over others. Their unwillingness to share what they have becomes an obsession. And those who have little power are unwilling to take control, often out of fear of the responsibility. In both instances, only when the pain of their status becomes unbearable will most people take charge and realize that there are no limits except those they impose on themselves. The unfortunate outcome is that many never take control; some of those that do, participate in activities, often illegal, which are detrimental to the whole of society.
While people strove to become more independent (often from an inherent human desire for freedom), they attempted, albeit unconsciously, to inhibit this drive, largely because people fear freedom and its ultimate responsibility. Perhaps that is why we so often endure oppression.
Physical nature is designed to be balanced, in that every action causes another action. Thus, as we take from nature’s treasures, we must endeavour to contribute something in return. Human society, being a part of this system, is no different. We are all ultimately interdependent on each other and ultimately dependent on nature. That truth does not negate using, changing, developing new means to make life more pleasurable, but it means that we have to recognize how we impact each other and our environment whatever action we take.
The reality is that humans cannot create but only change and mould what already is. Whether these changes are positive or negative is our ultimate decision and our only ability. Any theory of economics predicated on creation of wealth is ultimately flawed. What we are actually doing is establishing artificial criteria for the measure of the commodities that we ultimately value in our society. Economics began as a mechanism to better provide people with stable food supplies. It then evolved into the provision of other useful commodities to make life easier and is now moving into providing information and knowledge. It could be argued that food and shelter in developed societies have such little value that we give it away (e.g. food banks and government supported housing). What we must realize is that people shift their economic values. Currently that shift is to information and knowledge-based commodities. Economic theory, developed around physical commodities, is being usurped by economics based on information and knowledge – commodities which have no physical or geographic parameters.
Most conventional social theories and organizational structures tied to physical things are also flawed. Education, once available only through institutions, is now readily accessible to all and sundry through a multitude of media. Communities are now developing around people’s interests and concerns not necessarily related to geography. Conventional religions with churches as their focal point are being outpaced by self-help groups, mystical gurus and polished professional media moguls.
We have arrived at a point in history where we must revisit basic human values in order to develop methodologies which quantify what those real values now mean. What are the things in today’s society that have true value? It is most obvious that physical commodities and physical infrastructure (e.g. real estate) are becoming less and less a measure of value. People are realizing that such things are only a means for gratification which over the long term lose their appeal and value. Ultimately we will need to revisit history to ascertain true societal values. Hence, our efforts must focus on spiritual (i.e. human) issues rather than physical ones.
What we may find is that the real shift began as developed countries accumulated more and more wealth – wealth which often was obtained from more disadvantaged areas. Mechanisms had to be developed to distribute this wealth. Initially, jobs were invented to provide a means to share this wealth, as well as a means to control how much would be shared and by whom. As we progressed, we developed social structures to assist those not able to participate in our invented work. People, being creative, ultimately saw these entitlements as a means to share without experiencing the pain of doing work that was often considered demeaning or demoralizing. Eventually, we diminished the role of traditional jobs as a form of wealth distribution. Meaningful activities for those who are aware and educated are what we now consider worthwhile jobs. The result is that the majority of jobs in society have now been created around information, public service, and finance. These are the activities on which people now place value. The dilemma for society today is how to share the wealth with those not educated in the fields on which society has placed value.
Joblessness is becoming a real issue in most developed countries. Anger rages between those who have and those who have not. This real difficulty results from our perception of jobs and their purpose in developed societies. Despite the fact that in recent years what people do, how they live and how they interact socially has gravitated away from physical or geographic parameters, we still envision work as a physical activity, especially, for those in society without sophisticated education. We still believe that only physical work has real value, despite the fact that most people in our world now do less and less physical work than ever before in history. Our training schemes, make-work programs and many of our social programs are all premised on physical, not intellectual or cultural, activities. The result is a diminishing effect on people rather than an advancement of human values, self confidence and innovation.
We must realize that we are only compounding the situation by trying to get more and more wealth from sectors that society has relegated to having the least value – natural resources, commodities and industrial production. In essence, the shift of value from physical activities to those which are service- or information-oriented (many of which are publicly funded) has been happening over an extended period of time. As a result of this shift in values and expectations we have generated a problem. Social welfare, as a tool to distribute, wealth is at best ineffective and at worst creates dependency. The control has shifted from industrial and financial elites to bureaucratic elites who now control the wealth and, hence, much of the perceived power in our society.
An interesting quirk of humanity is that those who attain power are generally unwilling to relinquish it. We have created huge public services that have lost perspective on their role. Public servants too often feel that government is about the business of maintaining their positions and status, not about serving the needs of society as a whole.
The real challenge for the nineties and beyond is the encouragement of people-participation, the provision of forums which link people with disparate interests so that real communications can take place and the legitimacy of those disparate interests can be recognized and understanding achieved. We must provide mechanisms to allow people to understand and legitimize their own talents, skills and beliefs. If we focus on people, their talents, capabilities, needs and ambitions, community relationships will emerge. New methodologies and mechanisms will be required to support this fermenting milieu. In this respect, we can note the growing trend in self-help, support and religious groups which are not tied to any conventional structure.
The challenge is to establish a process to encourage dialogue among the many diverse and disparate groups in society. This dialogue must lead to meaningful communication, an understanding of the fundamental shifts and the need for greater empathy. We must overcome the entrenchment of outmoded thinking, biased special interests and a fear of cultural diversity or we will face chaos, upheaval and a regression from the advances society has already achieved.
The task will be accomplished only with strong leaders who are willing to challenge and to risk and who have compassion for all involved. The process will be the same as before in history, only now the mechanisms and tools will be different. We must realize that communications tools enable us to broaden the discussion beyond any boundaries and to cross any culture or language.
We will have to recognize our intellectual and spiritual progress, appreciating that they are inseparable. We are, indeed, approaching a new phase of consciousness in human society. Obviously not everyone is at the same level, nor likely to ever be. But the key is to develop new mechanisms that allow learning to be shared across society. Education and the resultant wealth will have to be more evenly distributed. We must endeavour to ensure that those less-fortunate are able to evolve to more advanced states of understanding and, subsequently, to be economically more self sufficient.
For this to happen there must be a restructuring of institutions from those that are physical and geographical to ones that are more people-centered. This will be further progression in the historical march of humankind to more individual freedom and, ultimately, more individual responsibility. This approach will allow people a new opportunity to deal with identity – the search of humans since the beginning of time. It will provide an opportunity for people to tie their identities more to themselves than to physical and geographic boundaries which, as we have witnessed, can so easily can change in value. This new emphasis will shift the focus to human development in order to encompass both the spiritual and intellectual; it will provide a new economic foundation based truly on information and knowledge. This true education will possess a wealth-sharing component founded on real needs, with jobs based on meaningful experience. In this way will people be able to contribute to the betterment of society and the enhancement of the environment.
The constant march of people towards a more holistic and meaningful society may be delayed by the misdirection of those who would seek their own individual gains over the those of society as a whole; it cannot be stopped. Far too predominant has been the suspicion (if not the belief) that humankind is motivated by self-service and greed, in effect, prone to evil. It may be instructive for all of us to understand that the inherent goodness of humanity, which is the basis for all spiritual beliefs and religious phenomena, is the value that must be restored to prominence in our search for peace, justice and prosperity.
Challenge and Opportunity
Economic and political changes are culminating in phenomenal challenges to individuals and communities everywhere. This is most evident in underdeveloped rural regions. The economic growth and expansion of the past decades have created expectations and desires that have become unsustainable. As a result, economic shifts of the magnitude that we are experiencing are frightening at best, life-threatening at worst.
While change is inevitable, it is often slow and imperceptible until it accumulates and causes major shifts. Change induces fear because the traditional means of activity and thinking no longer fit. The most common response is to resist the change and spend considerable energy and resources in maintaining the status-quo. We have been conditioned to try and control such shifts, not to take advantage of them. Systems become rigid, reaction is often volatile, and the rhetoric grows. We try and salvage what we have by trimming and cutting programs, approaches and economies rather than by re-evaluating the purpose of these efforts and their real outcomes. This trimming creates unease, further rigidity and ultimately greater fear.
What we must first do is get people’s attention before meaningful discussions about the economy and its evolution can occur. Policy makers have to understand that economies are about people and that development evolves from an aware, confident and involved citizenry. We have to create for all those who can be encouraged a more supportive environment that allays the fears and provides opportunity to participate in a process which facilitates an understanding of our present circumstance.
When one reviews recent employment statistics in Western economies and compares them with similar numbers of even twenty years ago, one observes very interesting findings: The shift from resource and manufacturing activities into more service-oriented employment is phenomenal. This change indicates economic shifts and trends that have been ongoing for an extended period of time.
The figures neither diminish the economic value of such industries nor the beneficial aspects of the lifestyles that we have attained – especially, in our rural areas. What the figures demonstrate is that the way we gain economic benefits as individuals and as communities has dramatically changed. Our thinking and understanding of the economy and its make-up have to be adjusted as well.
Increasingly, the issue becomes the development of more self-reliant people and communities which can sustain them. The challenge is to encourage people to take more responsibility for their own economic well-being. The encouragement of such activities traditionally emanates from a process which in development-language is known as “bottom up.” What it means in reality is an education activity that involves everyone. It is quite evident to anyone attending workshops, conferences and educational sessions in development that the participants tend to talk of “bottom up” but then adopt “top down” approaches. In fact, the participants are rarely comprised of “everyday citizens.” Those involved (usually academics, bureaucrats and activists) gather information, make assumptions and then begin designing approaches to solve the problems that were identified. The difficulty is that approaches are designed that “others” have to use, deliver, accommodate to and endure without being fully aware or involved in the information gathering, assumption-making and the ensuing education process. While we have concluded that education is imperative we have not been able to clarify who are the educators or who is the audience.
Present social support programs have created artificial economies and communities that are dependent on government transfers. And, with less funds available, the ability to sustain such economic inputs will be altered. Economic, industrial and societal structural changes are causing benefits to be distributed to different sectors and less individuals than in the past, thereby eroding tax bases and income distribution systems that have been developed. Education processes need to be designed to create understanding and raise awareness of what is happening in our economy and society. Examining the historical shifts that we have already experienced allows us to develop strategies that are more stable and transitions that are less frightening. For instance, if we were to examine the fishery over the last 50 years we would find that we have gone through several evolutions as great as the one we are witnessing today both in harvesting and processing. (Employment statistics provide the evidence here.) Planning new directions will entail a number of attitudinal changes, including how we approach involving people in communication processes that will lead to alternate methods of development.
This is not to say that people will not be able to live where they choose or create for themselves economic means of survival. In fact, the underground economy points out very clearly that initiative and innovation are alive and well. Yet the thrust of most government policies continues to be the provision of incentives and fiscal support-programs despite historical evidence of their ineffectiveness. In fact, we refuse to examine whether these actions indeed have had any positive impacts. Perhaps we should be looking at the removal of restrictions that would allow economic activity to flourish inside a market system that can be fairly regulated and monitored rather than at an underground market that is unmanaged, unregulated and – except to the individuals involved – not a real contributor to society.
Addressing these issues would entail examining the very roots of our free enterprise system. There is increasing concern that without new employment and income policies our global economy and capitalist system will collapse. Socialist economic systems throughout the world have already expired for want of similar rethinking and more enlightened policies. The question is not which one is better or sustainable but what is the system which we must invent that will allow us to utilize technological advances for the betterment of people and their societies regardless of where they happen to live.
This struggle is more than a community-, provincial- or even a national-issue; it is a global issue. Everyone, from individuals to international bodies, has a role to play in developing a system that provides economies, jobs (meaningful activities) and a quality of life that is conducive to more harmonious living, fairer distribution of wealth and opportunities for active participation by all. The reality is that the bottom cannot come up unless the top opens up. The challenge, as always, is how the top can be opened up. History would suggest that it happens only with great upheaval.
Economies are more than business, money, taxes and social programs. They are about the very fabric of society that we create to ensure social and emotional stability. This stability is first sustained by adequate food, shelter and the amenities that prevail in the society in which people live. A sense of well-being also emanates from the opportunity to share in the activities that the society has deemed meaningful activity – work. Obviously, the ability to provide life’s amenities must also relate to participation in such meaningful activities, thus providing a sense of achievement and satisfaction which contributes to mental well-being and which further contributes to improving the fabric of society. Hence, one can then easily relate the spiritual to the economic and comprehend the very significant influence that economies and their wealth-distribution have on societal harmony.
These phenomenal changes, unprecedented in modern history and occurring in countries throughout the world, are causing a reorganization of economies and political linkages. They are dictating that we must we must investigate, experiment and develop new methodologies which generate wealth and distribute it in a manner that lessens conflicts and disparities. The changes themselves provide the clues to the policy decisions that have to be made. Such evolutions are imminent and they are proceeding relentlessly – much as nature does in continually changing our environment. We are learning the futility of battling nature, but we are slow to recognize that resisting human evolution is just as futile.
Who would have predicted twenty-five years ago the economic shifts and political changes that we see in Europe? Who would have suggested, even five years ago, the political changes that we are now experiencing in Canada? Who can predict what the future will be in another five years?
But we are able to scan the horizons of change, research their causes and implications and then plot courses that at least move us in the general direction of the shifts. We can begin to discard the old methodologies and strategies that have become redundant in our technologically advanced society. We can realize that we are not halfway through a process but at the precipice of an entirely new era. We can develop the coping mechanisms that ensure the well-being of our citizens in enduring the social and economic evolution that is in progress.
The consequences of not preparing are obvious: social stress, increasing levels of violence and suicide, a volatile and angry citizenry. There is an even more subtle implication: the growing number of people who are opting out of society, economies and, ultimately, life itself. These people are “the walking dead.” They are alive yet feel so rejected, discouraged and disenchanted that, indeed, they no longer consider themselves human or even part of society. The danger is that the number will grow as the void between the haves and the have nots expands as joblessness (or what we identify as jobs) and helplessness grow.
These people are no less intelligent or no less physically able than others, but have been spiritually deadened by policy, regulation and societal norms that no longer are relevant in our world. In the Western world we pride ourselves on our policies of human rights; we consider torture a hideous crime; we have almost completely abandoned executions, even for the most horrendous of criminal activity; In Canada, we articulate an almost mythical caring society. Yet we stand idly by and watch as every day people are put to the spiritual guillotine. As a form of compensation we develop programs, we provide fiscal support, we create soup kitchens and food banks where those of us that have, assuage our consciences with the knowledge that we did what we could.
We have only to look at our native communities, our rural communities and our inner cities. The punishment is being doled out to natives, traditional Canadians and new immigrants. Their crime is that they do not fit the mainstream – whatever that is. They are undereducated (or, in the case of many immigrants, overeducated); they are part of redundant industries and over-utilized declining resource industries. Their punishment is obsolescence and redundancy; their sentence is social support, forced relocation or abandonment.
We are continually reminded by those in control and those in charge that finances are no longer available to support these people. We are presented with deficits and government debts that verify these statements. We are witnessing unprecedented curtailment of services and threats to our whole social fabric. We are continually bombarded with messages and prophets of change. Yet the rhetoric and the message are the same: it is everyone else who needs to change; it is everyone else who must accept less; it is never the messengers nor the people in charge.
When we analyze what is being articulated, we find that too many are caught in the trap of outmoded attitudes, ingrained mindsets and rigid traditions that shift only when the change actually engulfs the individual. The example of Eastern Europe is the latest historical example of widespread change that evolved over an extended time frame but changed only with collapse. Even now, there are people in these countries who are clinging tenaciously to old ways, outmoded ideals and beliefs, many of which have been suppressed for seventy-five years. I would argue that all systems are unchangeable and that it is only through cataclysmic events that change really occurs. This is the human experience: only when we face untold pain do we shift our thinking, realize our limits and begin the process of rebuilding. Entrenchment begins each time we orchestrate new systems. We immediately react by becoming rigid in protecting and sustaining the system we have conceived.
Opting out is neither desirable nor an option for everyone. The examples of those who persevere and survive allow us to sustain hope and optimism. The examples are all around us. There are those who have gone through personal trials; those that have endured untold suffering; and those that have overcome personal handicaps of all sorts. There are others who have survived mass annilhation, oppressive governments and repressive economic systems. (One immediate picture that comes to mind is that of Bosnians constructing a tunnel across a runway as a means of gaining access to supplies and survival.) The native peoples in our own country, despite horrendous social dilemmas, are employing new and innovative economic and social models to enhance the well-being of their people and beginning the process of rejuvenation. In our inner cities people are developing small businesses that take advantage of their own ingenuity and the resources around them. In rural and remote communities individuals and groups are undertaking new economic activities that allow them to remain where they live and to maintain their dignity and pride.
Unfortunately these stories are largely hidden, the results often not extensively communicated and their genuine benefits often misunderstood by the policy makers who try to curtail these efforts. Often these policy makers fear success because of the implications it might have for their agendas. It is becoming increasingly evident that we have policy makers, trapped by their own rigid attitudes and traditions, who are out of step with time and out of touch with present realities. One result is the growing underground economy as those people who decide to survive develop methods to allow them the necessities that life requires. Unfortunately, this environment also encourages those that would use and abuse, often resulting in the participation and involvement of the more sinister elements of society.
The solution lies, ultimately, in people – in their abilities, their tenacity and determination. The greatest challenge is in reaching and involving them in awareness programs which create an understanding of the relevant issues and their impacts. It is imperative that we develop strategies that lessen the negative aspects of change and explore opportunities that evolve from economies in transition. It is critical that we create a communications process that allows true reflection and sharing while providing policy-makers proper input. Perhaps in time we will be able to open the top and integrate the bottom without social disorder, increased human dislocation and societal breakdown. History could be really created not just repeated.
Truth or Illusion
Western governments are presently redefining, revamping, and restructuring social programs and economic development activities in order to deal with an issue which is as old as mankind itself. The present crisis has been prompted by the dependence of some on government support programs. A system which is now considered unsustainable. The current strategy of restructuring, changing or reorienting these programs, is flawed, because it only deals with the symptoms, not the root cause.
If dependency is to be dealt with, then its creation has to explored and its causes discovered. Present conventional thinking suggests that dependency on government happens as a result of social support – a mechanism originally designed to provide people with basic needs, when they were unable to provide for themselves. The existing dilemma has arisen because we have attempted to provide for peoples “wants rather than needs”.
Fundamental questions have to be addressed. When do wants become needs? When does the provision for these needs generate dependency? When does dependency lead to resentment? There are increasing levels of resentment and anger, present in our society, towards the very institutions providing the support.
It could be argued that there are several basic human needs. They include air, water, nourishment and shelter. These are easy to identify and delineate. The more spiritual requirements (feelings) are much more difficult to comprehend. There is an inherent human requirement for affirmation. This need often is translated into all kinds of emotions, feelings and behaviours- often misunderstood by even those experiencing them. This compelling desire for affirmation can only partially be fulfilled through our own internal thoughts and spiritual development and must be complimented by external endorsement. That is why people experience a strong desire for inter-connectivity, and a craving for family, friends, and community. Support, which is delivered without interaction, involvement, or the opportunity for contribution creates feelings of diminishment and subsequently resentment and anger.
This inherent need for corroboration is perhaps the predominate driving force that contributes to dependency and powerlessness. Aloneness, is perhaps peoples greatest fear, and the need for acceptance is what drives people to seek a sense of fulfilment through myriads of associations, activities and actions.
As a society we continually invent mechanisms to provide the illusion of well being and positive affirmation. Families, religions, communities, and social entities of various structures have been created. People rally around geography, flags, languages, cultures and a myriad of activities. Western societies have created a consumer driven society where individuals strive to achieve material wealth. Such devised forms of identification were created to sustain our sense of being and fulfil our inner spiritual needs. There is the increasing realization that few of the existing support mechanisms are either sustainable or able to satisfy society’s hunger for acknowledgment. In fact, these concepts have only led to greater dissatisfaction and societal disruption including breakdowns of family and other hereditary values.
Present social support was created to provide disadvantaged people with food, shelter and medical support but eventually was expanded to the provision of numerous measures of attention and care. The perception grew that this support was being provided without cost, and indeed, ultimately were perceived as rights. Communities demanded modern services, recreational complexes, sophisticated schools and other facilities without much thought for the ability of taxpayers to sustain this infrastructure. Governments at all levels and of all political movements strove to satisfy the people in order to attain re-election. Thus the present conundrum -that of fiscal strangulation with a resentful citizenry, demanding more, but increasingly unwilling to support present expenditures.
As people were provided with basic material needs, the programs were expanded to furnish them with wants (expectations) which subsequently grew and rapidly were translated into needs and as quickly spawned greater expectations. As others saw more support being provided they were enticed to partake of the programs and have their needs met. The systems that were designed to furnish basic support, to those unable through circumstances to sustain themselves, have become as complex as the growing list of societal aspirations. The resulting complexity of the systems has assisted in magnifying the illusion of well being until the present stage was reached. The illusion has become transparent, its non-sustainability recognized, allowing the reality to show through – the impossible task of providing the total security that people crave.
Attempts at resolving this very complex human issue include the changing, redefining and reduction of support programs. Often the new concepts, which are invented, only give further extension to the illusion. The result has been further entrenchment by those receiving benefits and activist groups who now define these support benefits as rights.
Governments, social action groups and others continue to search for ways to provide for people, yet, refuse to recognize that it is contribution that people seek. There is an inherent human desire to contribute, provide, participate, and to be able to take on responsibility in order to achieve affirmation.
Each new program which removes the component of people’s ability to play meaningful roles in their own well being generates further dependency, invigorated anger and often violence against those that provide the support. This has often been manifested in reaction to religious power structures, government bureaucracies and politicians and is demonstrated in the social turmoil, broken homes, damaged cities and countries in despair and destitution. It is evidenced in the social outcasts, the street-kids, the homeless and others who are marginalized. It is obvious in the myriad of social dilemmas that we are experiencing despite our supposedly advanced, modern and prosperous society.
The main mission of those in control and those in power appears to be efforts to sustain our illusions of well being. Yet, these continued efforts contribute and expedite the demise and collapse of the very systems created to provide the props. The more that is contributed in societal support the less efficient and productive, and the more dependent are those who are the beneficiaries. The more that is received the more the resentment towards the givers. Because, by taking away the needs, identities are threatened and the illusions that people have created to affirm themselves are called into question.
The givers (the taxpayers) in our present structures are becoming more unwilling and less able to give; witness the underground economy and efforts by people to avoid further taxation. Taxpayers resentment also continues to increase unabated.
Historically there are many examples of how such resentment grew into anger and ultimately rebellion. Political movements have been decimated, hierarchies disintegrated, business empires collapsed and religious institutions destroyed. There are many current day examples of illusions being exposed and systems being toppled.
Analysis of the inherent human elements of needs, tends always, to be superficial and certainly seldom entertained as a development issue. Obviously, in so doing, those responsible for analysis and those in power would ultimately have to confront their own fears and their own lack of affirmation. In order to create an understanding of the real issue relating to our dependent natures, they would have to expose their own illusions, which have been established around their personal positions and status.
Will only the imminent demise of all that is good and beneficial about our society force us to address the real issues? Is it only then that people will begin to build new realities? More importantly who will begin the process of revisiting the past, in order to, identify the values that were then evident, but, are now lacking? These values are critical to the creation of new mechanisms that will ensure the perception of well being and allow the human path of transition to continue.
It is obvious that each incarnation of this historical process provides us deeper understanding of human limits, and reaffirms our inability to comprehend the ultimate truth that of our identity. Every effort adds comprehension of the inherent need for connectiveness, collaboration and cooperation. These are critical components of the human drive for external assurance and affirmation.
It is all part of the human search for truth, for inclusivity, and for the sense of oneness. It is the drive to be part of something rather than being alone or in any way marginalized. The phenomenon of the “Global Village” with the reduction of economic, political and language barriers is recognition of this pursuit and the progress of human maturation.
It could be argued that there are still many conflicts, social upheavals, and stalled societal progression. But, apparent fundamental changes in most societies are significant evidence that the human quest continues. Despite the apparent reality that if we ever were to achieve oneness, reach the perfection of society and achieve “paradise”, then, there wouldn’t appear to be any further need for struggle, achievement and fulfilment. Inherently, it is this subconscious concern that encourages us to conspire against change, rail against advancement, and resist progress. There is the fear, that should affirmation be achieved, all knowledge and understanding acquired, the ultimate fate would be the demise of human existence. This fear, interestingly, is counter to the messages of all religious and spiritual prophets. They encourage their followers to aspire to the ultimate aim of oneness or wholeness and articulate the aim of a perfect society.
The present process of restructuring must begin with awareness. It must progress with a communication process that builds understanding and knowledge. It must be complemented with an environment of support that allays the fear, anxiety and sense of loss that people experience whenever they feel threatened. It must be understood that so much of our affirmation as humans is wrapped up in our present circumstance, place and status. That is why community, as a sense of place, was so important and why we must start the construction of new communities tied to individual and collective talents and interests. It is critical to a sense of identity and future human progress. Communities provide support, collaboration and cooperation and lead to corroboration for those who belong to them. The structures that are considered communities must evolve as humans progress.
What must be remembered, is that, community is about feelings. Feelings emanate from knowing and knowing comes from awareness. The more we become aware of our environment, our circumstance and those who share the world with us, the more our knowledge grows. Expanded knowledge creates stronger feelings, deeper relationships, an enhanced sense of our inter-connectivity resulting in strong communities. The communication process that allows the sharing and building on individual knowledge is critical to the attainment of mechanisms and structures that will define those communities and lead to a sense of individual identity which will see us through the next evolutionary and development phase of human advancement.
Towards the Light
Hope from Despair
The economic and social restructuring presently being experienced in our society is unparalleled since the movement to mass production during the industrial revolution — to the point where everyone recognizes that our economic structures, social programs, spiritual orders and fundamental philosophies are under duress. Some even proclaim that an impasse in human growth is imminent. Certainly, the models that have become standard mechanisms for employment and wealth distribution no longer relate. Designed for different needs, based on outdated philosophies and rigidly adhered to principles, they are no longer relevant in our technically advanced society.
Meanwhile, debate about social and economic solutions that will solve the present human malaise, has reached critical dimensions. Politicians, academic advisors and bureaucratic administrators all espouse the latest panacea for righting what they believe is incorrect and fixing what they presume is broken; countless research documents articulate what they perceive to be correct approaches but, unfortunately, all these experts have been unable to uncover or devise any approach indicative of a solution to our present social quandaries
What is not understood is that there never was only one problem so there never can be just one solution, but as many as there are people. Present efforts to reform and reinvent our institutions are mainly redundant attempts to redress their ineffectiveness and modify their complex designs. But these efforts are mechanical, structural and as complex as the systems themselves. I believe that our eventual solutions will not be complex as much as they are multiple, individual — and, I insist, fundamentally simple.
The key to resolving our present socio-economic crisis lies in the recognition and utilization of individuals, individuals with their own talents, abilities and developed skills and what they perceive as their limits. The debates over which principles, theories, and structures were the cause of our present dilemma are increasingly a wasteful luxury we do not have either the time — or more importantly — the need for. The answers are here; unrecognized as yet, perhaps, but waiting. Philosophical issues have to be discussed, new principles established, and new theories developed. Experimentation with structures, that allow the development of those that best meet our present needs, will be required.
Unhappily, people have been conditioned to believe that those who would be experts or in positions of authority will provide them with the solutions. They lack the confidence in their own abilities and common sense. People’s expectations are continually being raised with promises that can’t be met. Disappointments ensue and the sense of despair grows. The price for such expectations is high and the cost is increasing in the overall gloom it is creating in society.
Each individual comes into this world with particular intellect, talents, and attributes. Each searches for opportunities that allow contribution and sharing, to improve present and future circumstance and to leave a legacy. The fundamental building block of society, of community and of social and economic orders emanates from this inherent human need to contribute. Spiritual needs are constant and enduring – to give; to contribute; to be part of something greater than ourselves. These fundamental drives or desires, are the primary building blocks of personal development – the real keys to solving our individual dilemmas.
It is human nature to crave affirmation. Hope arises from the desire that our contribution will be recognized, be appreciated and lead to personal affirmation. This appreciation when given and if genuine, allows growth and development to occur. It affords opportunity to the recipient also to contribute, for in the appreciation the original contributor is affirmed and the recipient through their response is reinforced. This process builds confidence, enhances self-worth and leads to individual development. It is the individual contribution that engenders the hope.
Difficulties occur, when through perceived lack of opportunity, individual contribution cannot be made, or when the giving is not recognized or the appreciation insincere and expectation replaces hope. The sense of despair is deepened when people are requested to contribute, yet feel that their contribution was not recognized or acknowledged.
A simple example is in present government approaches to consultation. People are asked to participate in consultative processes, yet, outcomes appear to have been decided in advance. Anguish grows because people feel that the leaders listen to their ideas but ignore their suggestions. Their contribution, obviously, has little worth and hope turns into despair. Real consultation is a communication process where individuals come together, express their views, determine the issues and agree on a course of action and compromise in the interest of the majority.
Experiencing life, with all its wonder, while overcoming fear, trusting in faith and the mysterious forces that shape our lives is the only prerequisite for hope. It is a part of the evolution of society – accepting the changes that life affords. Transitional shifts from one generation to the next, as we are facing in the world today, heighten these passages.
Society is currently confronted with a culmination of the consequences of previous transitions. The philosophical, structural and geographic boundary changes of the evolving global community make us unsure of who we are and where we fit. The very make-up of our communities, regions and countries are under restructuring and re-organization. This physical reshaping is evident in the globalization and decentralizing processes in the private and public sectors. Adaptation in governance, policies and services is necessary. Re-definition of our identities, in this context, now becomes critical.
There may be some consolation in recalling that we are not the first generation to have faced predicaments such as this. In recent history, the developed world, experienced several such transitions:
(1) The move to mass production, as part of the Industrial Revolution, at the turn of the last century allowed advances to science and technology unheard of in history. It afforded those who were fortunate to live in the developing world a style and quality of life beyond their wildest dreams. But it was people participation that led to the advent of the trade union movement that assured a fairer distribution of the economic benefits.
(2) Again, the plight of people in the Depression of the thirties jogged a whole generation from their security and led to the creation of many of the economic tools that are still utilized today. However, it wasn’t government policy or business acumen that lead people out of the despair of depression. It was the people movements that brought us new economic models such as cooperatives and credit unions which provided the hope and encouragement.
(3) In the sixties, the exuberance of youth, by challenging the fundamental principles that were influencing society, set in motion a movement that reshaped traditional lifestyles. This was most visible in the United States where the rebellion to the Vietnam war and to poverty shook that country’s society to its foundations. These protests were again people driven processes that fostered the development of a new social order and modern social programs. These programs were instrumental in bettering the conditions and opportunities for many who had been disadvantaged.
These most recent historical examples of the thirties and sixties clearly demonstrate that people came together to address issues, understand their predicament, then collectively and actively challenge the direction of those in authority. They came to understand their own circumstances and eventually took control and forced those in power to make the changes that made life more acceptable and bearable. In so doing, they came to realize their own importance and value, but, not before many had experienced pain and anguish.
The patterns to effect the changes were the same in each of these earlier historical periods and the mechanisms devised were essentially similar. These included people coming together to share, to participate and to help make the world a better place. What emanated was awareness, education and strong human bonds that became the solutions to overwhelming perplexities.
And, for us too, examining the present economic and social imbalances and comparing them to the lessons of the past, can reveal patterns for designing modern, even futuristic “solutions”. But! Before any of this can happen, human values will once again have to be authenticated.
Finally, there is but one mechanism that will ensure better understanding and more comfort with present circumstances – that is a vital combination of communication and reflection. Mechanisms must be designed that allow people to engage in meaningful communication, which will lead to real sharing, understanding and the awareness of hope. Sincere communication will provide the appreciation that people crave and the affirmation and security that is sought. There must be recognition that the dilemmas are individual before resolution can occur.
Those who are leaders, politicians and experts must realize that they really don’t have all the solutions. They must understand that they need not carry the burden of knowing all the answers. A commitment to process, meaningful and participatory, is necessary. Honest and open discussion by both those who consider themselves in control and those who feel controlled has to evolve from this process. People must openly discuss philosophy or beliefs based on common human values, and not just dwell on their wants and needs. Institutions must revisit the basic values that led to their organization, before concentrating on redefining their structures.
It is simple to create the means, the forums, the venues for people to talk, to communicate, to share, and to participate in taking charge of their own lives. Modern telecommunications makes this process less complex today than in the thirties, when kitchen meetings and community forums led to re-education and spawned so many new economic models. Today’s approach to change need not be violent as in the sixties, when mass rallies caused destruction and injury before effecting change.
Individuals must be encouraged to communicate openly, and to share their thoughts and aspirations. Appreciation must be given to all who participate and their achievements recognized. Only then will the process of renewal begin and optimism, creativity, activity and ultimately development occur. For development has little to do with economic or social theories, strategic plans, or experts. Expensive, complex structural developments, programs and projects that must be delivered will not in themselves solve our dilemma.
Societies that are to flourish must begin with an appreciation of the basic values that led to the development of present cultural roots and traditions. Philosophies that allow understanding of these values and their cultural relationship must evolve. Principles that people can respect must be developed. Appropriate structures that facilitate the adherence to these principles will then become apparent. The process of revisiting original values, readdressing philosophies, generating new principles and subsequently developing structures is imperative for the continued survival of any society.
Faith in the individual must be restored. Most of all, each individual will require faith in their own talents and abilities and in a higher spiritual status – the ultimate aim of humanity. This will lead to re-establishing trust in those who are willing and able to lead and those who are the thinkers in society. The reflections of thinkers and leaders of today are as valuable as those of past eras. There must be a realization that there are as creative, innovative and intellectual minds available today as in previous times of transition, in other centuries or in different societies.
Traditional thinking patterns and ensuing habits are the obstacles that stymie hope. Advancement is obscured by the protection offered by those who consider themselves to be in control. Because they believe that they possess more knowledge, they assume responsibilities for others who become their constituents. Subsequently, those they purport to represent consider themselves inferior and are impeded from making a contribution or recognizing and fulfilling their own aspirations. It is the search for the glimmers, the rays of hope, that are intrinsic in each individual -the hope for themselves, their children and those who follow that will lead to a brighter outlook.
Community begins when two people share. The essence of the process of Community Development is about people coming together, communicating, and working for common purposes. This concept appears to have been designated as the panacea to solve our ills. What needs to be remembered from previous times is that Community Development is a simple process that leads to vision, strategies and ultimately culminates in development of individuals and the communities they represent. It begins at the bottom, but has to be encouraged and supported by those that consider themselves to be at the top.
Hope will replace despair when we retreat from the search for the “solution”. It will resurface when we recognize the individual roles that people play within society. Hope will grow stronger with the understanding that everyone has something of value to contribute. Hope will prevail when we again encourage active open communication and devise the mechanisms that allow as many as wish to participate and reap the benefits which everyone seeks. Sustainability of communities, of social order and economics will again become evident.
Dispelling the Myths
Are there, in the flow of human experience, beginnings and endings? Or, is life similar to the ocean shoreline, the seasons or the universe? Do any of these have beginnings and endings or do people choose reference points to give them context and a corresponding illusionary sense of human control? Today, undeniably, there is an aversion to anything perceived as an `ending’ and a resistance to things that might be perceived as new `beginnings’. A perspective seems to be evolving which suggests that `change’ is not a ‘constant’ and further, that change must be avoided at any expense. There is fear of change, of lower living standards, of lifestyle disruptions.
An attitude has developed in parts of western industrial society, a feeling that a ‘destination’ has been reached and that it must be protected. Yet, in other jurisdictions, there is continued striving for accomplishment, achievement and attainment of chosen social or economic goals. Desperate efforts and struggles are being engaged in to arrive at some mythical development level as if there was really some optimum place – the justification being, apparently, that life is about accomplishment rather than ‘being.’
It has become obvious in present developed society that lifestyle, occupations and possessions have become more important than who people are and how they relate to others. The threat of others having as much or doing similar things, has created fears and resulted in divisions unlike any that the world has ever before experienced. These fears have been exacerbated by modern technology that allows instantaneous witness to atrocities and cruelties occurring even in remote parts of the world. Often such episodes are embellished and enhanced for the “viewing audience”. The result is that present perceptions of reality are skewed and twisted and cynicism and despair have developed. This has generated mistrust, fear and entrenchment. Such perceptions are evidenced in the statistics that get reported, the media coverage that is so anxiously pursued and panic-reactions to any sign of localized instability.
Traditionally, myths were societal attempts to give secure perspectives to life and living. These have, however, in present day institutions and cultural foundations lost their meaning. It appears that people have forgotten why they were created or what is their real intent. Over time these myths have become confused with reality. Dependence on myth appears to have been part of natural human evolution and only through plagues, economic depressions or created wars have people been brought back to life’s realities.
Technical and media tools are shattering the myths that have afforded most of our institutions their `control’. In fact, they are also exposing ‘control’ as its own myth. Examples can be sighted in Eastern Europe and many countries considered less developed than our own. The result in these areas has been a rapid destruction of the myths that have enslaved so many and caused such wanton destruction and human suffering. Because of the perceived “advanced” status of the more developed countries, pursuit of a mythical lifestyle continues unabated. The real failure is that the lifestyle (the protection of which, is the focal point of so much of our human struggle) is not now nor was it ever real. It is the figment of media and advertising campaigns and products of creative spindoctors who control much of our television and movie industry. The fears are therefore futile because what is being protected is something that is unachievable and certainly unsustainable, even for those with fiscal wealth
The lack of sustainability of the lifestyle that has been sought is becoming most evident in the less developed areas of our society – the rural communities, the inner city neighbourhoods and economically crippled regions. These areas were the first to be affected because they are populated by the disadvantaged and the underdeveloped people in society. They are provided a measure of fiscal support and handouts – apparently to contain and quiet them – in the hope that somehow they would be satisfied with a little. But, like all humans of this generation they wanted more and better. The reality is that as they were provided with more the greater was the need to take from those that had accomplished more. The numbers of disadvantaged are growing and now include many of those who considered themselves secure and they are becoming more visible and more vocal. The gaps at the lower end are closing and those between the lower and the upper levels of society are widening. Study of history would suggest that this is a formula for upheaval and precursor of fundamental restructuring.
Current development approaches have become redundant. Development organizations have become bureaucratic and rigid. Standard theories have become outdated and obsolete. Yet, our fear of change and our unwillingness to recognize the reality of the present situation compel us to cling to outmoded myths without meaning or relevance.
Community development theory is but one example. Over the past fifty years the created myth suggests that, somehow, community is about place. Prolific current literature connects ‘community’ to “a sense of place”. As a result, development, in whatever form it is described, be it social, economic or even spiritual, has been focused on buildings, infrastructure, industry and possessions. Because people are enamoured with the idea that ‘having’ is fundamental and ‘being’ doesn’t count, little effort has gone into research or discussion that community is, finally, intimately connected to “a sense of being”.
A juncture has been reached whereby provision of all of peoples’ ‘wants’ is not fiscally affordable and their real ‘needs’ – for their personal contribution and affirmation – have been neglected. Thus, the real essence of community – that of a “sense of belonging” – has been forfeited
Realization is dawning that development for its own sake has little purpose, is destructive and really doesn’t satisfy people’s needs or fill the voids that they are experiencing. This realization has resulted in disillusionment, despair and anguish. The fear of not knowing who they are, where they fit or the direction of society has become a compelling passion for most. This is compounded by the unwillingness of those in leadership roles and those that would be led to be honest with themselves or each other. It appears a sense of humility in the face of nature and the universe has given way to a belief that we do know and that we are in control.
The resolution will only come when a new starting point – is created. This can best be accomplished, as in other such periods of history, with an honest examination of our present circumstance and an analysis of our past leading to new understanding. It will require a thorough evaluation of data about ourselves, our situation and our real needs. This entails real introspection. Present approaches to introspection – called ‘consultation’ – most often leads to deflection, as people refuse to see what is obvious and real. This deflection then leads to the creation of new myths as an avoidance tactic to protect “our way of life”, as if even this aspect of our world, is not constantly in flux.
There are many demonstrative examples in the industrialized world, that can be sited, from the restructuring of the automobile industry through to the demise of resource sectors. One classic example in The Atlantic Region of Canada is the response to the collapse of the fishing industry. People are being supported, preached at, lectured to and trained but not involved in or provided with the frameworks or the honesty to deal with the challenges that they face. In fact, the support has provided them another myth that they are secure and will be supported. This has led many to invest, borrow and ultimately face more dire consequences when the support is no longer possible.
The reality is that the fishery and other natural resources collapsed as key employment entities not just now, but many years ago. Reliable and honest data and statistics would substantiate this. Instead of honest introspection there is still deflection and myths being perpetuated rather than new and innovative development being sought.
Introspection must lead to reflection because circumstance can only be understood when compared to those of other contemporaries and to past history. True reflection requires honesty and courage – especially the courage to share and the honesty to be truthful about current issues and real feelings. Discussing accomplishment or attainment is easy but to share real feelings is much more difficult. This requires humility. Present society has created the belief that humility is a sign of weakness and a demonstration of lack of intelligence. Yet, another myth – that to not be in control suggests frailty and ignorance.
Honest introspection and reflection eventually lead to new perspectives – perspectives that entail empathy and caring. It is only through caring that a true sense of community can be achieved. It is my contention that Community begins when two people share. The sharing is what creates the economy, and subsequently, lifestyle. Development is neither the beginning or the end; it is the process and the measure of the success of our ability to share. It relates to people, their aspirations, their dreams and, fundamentally, their own efforts to bring these to reality. Thus each sharing is a new beginning, new development and a new reality. Each sharing involves a process of introspection, reflection and perspective. It requires understanding, patience and trust – all arduous activities. Activities that are stressful and often encompassing pain – ultimately the real human avoidance issue.
The articulated desire of those in leadership, in industry and in development is for sustainable communities, sustainable industries and sustainable economies. What must be understood is that for these developments to be realized, sustainable people will have to be cultivated. Sustainable people are independent, confident and are comfortable with themselves. They are not overly preoccupied with their possessions, lifestyle or where they live. Real independence evolves from within and from beliefs and values that are shared with others.
An enormous challenge facing those of us who live in the ‘developed’ world – if it is to continue to thrive – is to commit ourselves to aiding a necessary and inevitable ‘attitudinal shift.’ And to do this effectively, we must begin the process of dispelling outmoded myths; recognize that community has little to do with place; accept that development is about people and realize that spiritual growth is more important than social support.
On an individual basis, some of this is already being done, but the process is impeded by our monolithic form of governance; by vested interests and those in positions of social and economic significance, who still continue to profit from the present theories, and by enormous ongoing investment in the present infrastructure.
The need for different and innovative approaches for people to communicate and share is crucial. The tools to facilitate such activities have never been more powerful. Unfortunately, the intransigence caused by this fear of the unknown is creating resistance to approaches that are non-traditional and different. As pressure on people becomes more severe, marginalization is increasing and frustration and intolerance growing.
Removing these mythical walls is the real issue in development. Creating bridges (frameworks) that move people to the next stage of caring and sharing is the real challenge. Bridges will need to encompass new technology and must be flexible and transparent. If they are not, they will become in themselves barriers and impediments – similar to technology itself, which is the present agent of fear, brought about through its misuse and the misrepresentation of its true potential and capabilities.
The first step that has to be taken in development must be the creation of these frameworks – the mechanisms that allow introspection and reflection. Safe spaces must be created which allow people to communicate openly without the fear of diminishment. The spiritual environments, that were once the domain of churches, will have to be regenerated to provide the environments that allows real communications and true reflection. Only through such mechanisms will the mirrors of reflection be converted into windows of perspectives to open historic walls of resistance.
The next development stage will have to be honest assessment of present circumstance based on accurate and credible data. Data that can be meaningfully compared with other sources and put in historic contexts. This data, when shared, will lead to explicit and useful information that can form the basis of shared knowledge. Knowledge always affords new perspectives which eventually leads to wisdom. The alternate is the present situation that leads people to wisdom through the pain of change. Wisdom, no less, but often causing frustration, resentment and disillusionment.
Wisdom will ultimately allow real empathy and caring that will lead to sharing and the beginnings of community – a new form of community that relates to the changed world in which we live. This community will not be constrained by physical boundaries but will provide both a sense of belonging and of sharing. It will allow people to transcend their fears and will again provide a sense of contribution and affirmation.
The sense of despair by those long resident in rural communities is not shared by the growing movement of others into these communities to escape the rush of city living. They bring new skills, different perspectives and the confidence to support themselves through the knowledge and wisdom that came from their experiences elsewhere. The transfer of their experiences is reviving traditional values, exposing outmoded myths and leading to new economies and enhanced social values. Proper frameworks for to expedite this sharing would rapidly change both the economies and the despair being experienced. They would lead to revitalized communities that are necessary for societal advancement and economic sustainability.
In both developed and undeveloped countries, the search for freedom and some semblance of control is endemic. It is an increasingly urgent quest at this end of the twentieth century
because there is growing recognition that the latest development phases of our evolving society and institutions are redundant. Promises of greater freedoms with less obligation and the utopian illusion of security without effort have not been realized. Instead, we have repression, marginalization and despair. Consequently, most social and economic orders are hollow and (if they have not already done so) beginning to implode.
More restrictive orders such as communism and various dictatorships have been first to decline but the so-called `democratic’ models are rapidly following. The only difference is in the perception of the pervasiveness of the control that the various systems exercise.
Communist and many dictatorial leaders alike came to doom when they created closed economic systems and then deluded themselves and their citizens they had discovered a formula that would provide ultimate sharing: it was only necessary to remove private ownership after which governments would be free to distribute the wealth. Barriers were then built to bar outside influence in the hope that people’s ambitions and desires could be reduced; inside this limited community a country or region might be self reliant. Control then shifted to managerial bureaucracies who `decided’ people’s needs and aspirations. The result was neither self reliance or satisfaction but frustration and insurrection.
Western systems of democracy and free enterprise were originally designed to allow the majority-voice to control the sharing, but what have evolved instead are government structures controlled by political parties, wealthy and powerful influences, radical activists and the bureaucracies hired to manage the affairs of state. The authority of the majority has been usurped by the few in control or by others who influence the media – whereby they are able to establish themselves as the principal advocates of societal order. Resultantly, politicians spend more and more of their energy debating issues of blame and responding to the never-ending volleys of media attacks fueled and driven by those that have ‘declared’ themselves advocates for the “common good”. Policy making has been abrogated to the domain of the bureaucrats who ultimately decide people’s needs and aspirations through ill-coordinated policies and programs.
Sharing means that someone gives and another takes. The taking, for most, is easier than giving, especially if you are left with less. Controls, restraint and their management are necessary to avoid conflict. In both these systems of government and development, then, under the guise of retaining order, the primary aim is to contain and control freedom, initiative and any creativity which cannot be easily measured or monitored.
Most interestingly, it is the systems of free enterprise that have the most fully developed socialist support systems and wealth-sharing programs. In contrast, the closed economies appear to operate with a philosophy of the strong surviving on their own with provision of support for only the most needy.
Addressing this present world crisis demands that people take on more responsibility. But, because they sense that what they really need is more freedom – freedom to do what their latent creativity urges- they are reluctant to burden themselves with more responsibilities. Most have not even been able to contemplate, much less formulate what their real ambitions are. Many do not even ponder that to search, to seek, to explore, are natural, inherent and human.
The primary reason why these issues are not at the forefront of our thoughts can be partly explained by history. Modern society has been controlled, contained and restricted by those that were readily allowed to take responsibility. It either has not been realized or is not apparent that each time responsibility, no matter how minuscule, is given up, freedom is also diminished.
There have been many attempts by individuals and groups throughout the world to achieve a semblance of control over their lives. Many have been met with opposition and resistance by those in control. These painful experiences result in compound hurts convincing others that only harm will come from such aspirations. Hurt we may tolerate but harm suggests more permanent suffering.
Human tendency is to avoid the hurts which are intuitively stored in memory. Ultimately, these compounded memories stymie quests for freedom – the very essence of life itself. Witnessing another’s pain most often triggers indigenous recall of previous wounds. That is why memories are created that masquerade the hardships of earlier times. People create mystical and romantic images around these “golden eras” and yearn for the good old days, all the while recognizing they were not actually all that good. Nonetheless, masking the real hardships with the glossy veil of memory allows escape to imaginary happiness and avoidance of real and currently painful issues.
Eventually, the realization comes that lives aren’t being fulfilled, desires not being met and that youthful ambitions have been dashed. Rebellion builds against the very systems that people helped to create. Leaders are cast aside with reckless, sometimes vicious carelessness, institutions are destroyed and governments and systems changed. Cynicism abounds and people move to create new economic and social systems. Underground economies become the norm and social unrest prevails.
Thus, the present circumstance of most of the world’s societies. The communist and more restrictive systems have arrived at various states of collapse with ensuing economic and social upheaval. Economic `wisdom’ is being provided by the democratic countries even though their own systems are no longer viable and are verging on disintegration. There is a growing sense of despair and tension because there is the feeling that human existence has reached its zenith and is rapidly declining
This present development era somehow evolved a belief/philosophy that, if everyone had responsibility then no one would have it. This has been accomplished by rescinding control of people’s lives to the state (government) thus avoiding individual liability. Governments willingly and over time accepted this `obligation’ for the power and elixir it gave politicians and bureaucrats alike.
What really is being experienced is a “system collapse” similar to many others observable in history. When those entrusted with responsibility and those that abrogate it lose perspective, then the framework collapses. There must be an understanding that systems and governments are but enablers of the natural evolution of human freedom.
Maybe this time it will be realized that freedom requires responsibility and that responsibility requires choice and that choice often leads to mistakes. Mistakes ultimately cause pain to someone but, with proper support the hurt can be overcome and lives renewed. Escape from this pain of experience is not possible for life requires endurance and acceptance in order to achieve the fulfillment that true freedom provides.
Yet, through all the despair one can see pockets of hope, the glimmers of light and the radiance of true human spirit. People everywhere are going beyond systems and governments – taking more responsibility for their own lives, striving for greater freedom. This can be seen in the growing concentration of entrepreneurial activity in all countries. It can be witnessed in the greater appreciation of creative talent and energy. It is what drives the growing underground economies that flourish everywhere to avoid excessive control, taxation and exorbitant costs.
We are experiencing a revolution that is unlike any before experienced. Economic weapons and technological tools are providing non-violent means to collapse systems and structures and to usurp control and power of the present day elites.
This is most evident in Eastern Europe where, despite media hype, most of their economic and political transformation has been peaceful. (This is not to mitigate the hardship and pain that people are experiencing). It is happening also in the United States where the majority of people refuse to participate in elections and consistently have forced governments to reduce or freeze taxation. People in Canada witness the growing underground economy, prolific efforts of tax avoidance and government program manipulations that are causing havoc in government budgets and contributing to economic instability.
As people take more responsibility and achieve more control they experience an excitement and exuberance not before experienced. This leads to more risk-taking, new experiences and a new sense of liberty. Freedom once experienced is much harder to contain and control. It is contagious and grows and expands throughout additional circles and spheres of influence.
What has to be recognized is that with freedom comes responsibility not just to oneself but for others as well. Humans are all intrinsically bound just as the other elements of nature and the universe. What also must be learned is that responsibility doesn’t necessitate control. Caring and sharing for others shouldn’t negate their responsibilities for themselves. In fact, oftentimes by taking responsibility for someone else their freedom is impeded and their pain is deepened rather than avoided. Allowing people their own pain and its subsequent wisdom is a necessary component of a developed society. Reciprocal caring and sharing are the foundations of development and contribution its ultimate aim. These must be the lessons of this last era of progress. This understanding is required because of the growing interconnectivity of economies and social structures and the late-realization that preservation of the environment is imperative. Freedom has been the quest of humanity since the beginning. Responsibility is not only the foundation of freedom but, its quintessence. The acceptance of freedom with its ensuant responsibilities is an essential journey for the human spirit, for its growth and fulfilment. Therefore if an essential part of human spirit is a need for freedom, responsibility and the ability to contribute are fundamental to its fulfilment.
The creation of new structures, new orders and new frameworks for contribution is imperative for the next period of human and societal evolution and progress. The alternative is withering and the imminent destruction of human existence.