Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Vision Statement

Last month I had the privilege of attending the Jewcy retreat for the third time. Jewcy is a West-Coast gathering of next-generation tikkun olam activists. Tikkun olam means, more or less, "the repair of the world."

This year we did some amazing leadership development activities, one of which involved writing vision and mission statements for our lives. Since the retreat, I have been reflecting on my vision and mission, and trying to resolve them into something specific and communicable.

Here is my draft vision statement. I am eager for your feedback and responses. I wrote this vision statement in response to the prompt: In the next 2-3 years, what will be different in the world, because of your work?

Communities that I work with will be acting more like communities. They will develop structures and habits for nurturing their members in many ways, including emotionally, socially, and materially.

Many groups that think of themselves as communities – such as congregations, some schools, and neighborhood groups – already have structures for supporting their members socially. Some also do pretty well at supporting members emotionally. Very few such communities (in the U.S.) are in the habit of supporting members materially.

Supporting community members materially would mean sharing resources – i.e. money – such that, at the very least, everyone’s basic needs would be met. Many of us in the U.S. have an ambiguous relationship with the idea of sharing resources. We’re not quite sure it’s our job. It seems vaguely communistic. And, since it’s considered impolite even to talk about money and poverty, communities can comfortably pretend that they don’t know that a member is struggling to pay their bills. But for me, this is part of what community should mean. If a member of a community needs a place to stay or healthy food to eat, there is no reason that need can’t be met, that minute. Many of our communities have the resources to care for members in this way, if only we would decide to do it. There’s no excuse for us not to.

In order for communities to embrace the responsibility of sharing material resources, they need to resolve this ambiguity and decide that it is indeed our job to nurture community members in this way. They need to uncover and challenge the roots of this discomfort by having competent, compassionate conversations about class and across class. They need to engage with questions like, Do I deserve what I have? What does it mean to “deserve” resources in excess of what my neighbors have? How do I communicate about class and money? What aspects of my class or money situation do I consider to be “private,” and why? If I needed help from this community, would I feel comfortable asking for it? Who is responsible for making sure that members of this community have safe places to stay, and healthy food to eat? Who is in the center of this community, and who is on the edges? How do we make the center large enough for everyone?

In order to address these questions in a way that is loving, informed and applicable, communities need practice and they need facilitation. I can help communities engage in these conversations by facilitating workshops, cross-class dialogues, and cost-sharing procedures. Through these facilitated encounters members of the communities will improve their skills at communicating about class and money, and increase their awareness of their own and others’ hang-ups around class. Gradually the community will develop a shared understanding about class, and will create formal and informal norms about sharing resources within the community in order to address members’ needs.

I want to do this work because I want communities I work with to become communities that I want to be a part of. I want to do it because I feel genuine when I’m able to have honest, heartfelt, intellectually rigorous conversations, and because I know that class is one barrier that gets in the way of these conversations. I want to do it because this system is set up to divide us, and we don’t have to let it. I want to do it because I have faith that communities can and must do better.

1 comment:

Harriet the Spy - one of fiction's greatest observers said...

Maybe it's because I'm in Texas and the poets outnumber the degrees on the thermometer, but that vision statement sounds like a poem.