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June 9, 2009

The Shift from "Me" to "We"

Notes from a lively discussion about commons consciousness

The Co-Director of On the Commons, Julie Ristau, led a lively discussion last month about current shifts in consciousness that offer hope for a commons-based society. Here are notes from that discussion with members of the Twin Cities WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom), recorded by Jan Hively.

Shifting to “We”
There is a groundswell of yearning for a commons-based society in the world today, which can help shift the balance from a “me” perspective to a “we” perspective. We can re-imagine how things could be different in society, Ristau noted, if we focus on abundance instead of scarcity.

p(photo-credits). Photo by twenty5pics under a Creative Commons license, with no commercial use or alteration

She then threw out a question to the whole room: What new openings do you see right now for a commons-based society? Here are responses from the group:

• Local food, organic food, community gardens – which brings people closer to the earth and one another.
• Reversing the rampant deregulation of the last 30 years that fueled privatization of public resources.
• Shifting from negative to positive perspectives about aging – focusing on wellness, wisdom and meaningful work.
• A holistic approach to health and support for integrated medicine.
• More women around the world looking for ways to empower other women. More women taking risks in how they carry out the responsibilities of leadership.
• A shift in the direction of personal responsibility for environmental sustainability. We’re moving from “Let the do-gooders do it,” to “What can I do to contribute?”
• Focusing on assets rather than deficits—finding solutions through a positive, can-do attitude that builds upon what’s working in a community as well as fixing what’s not working.
• An opening for more complex thinking, which accepts ambiguity and the simultaneous duality of local/global and personal/public perspective.
• A move to create more alternative institutions within the current economy, such as Time Banks, which circulate people’s knowledge and helpfulness through the economy, not just money.
• People embracing a broader perspective that sees interconnections all around us, leading to a realization that everything affects everything else.
• A new emphasis on the value of informal learning from others rather than viewing education as a wholly professionalized process.
• A growing recognition that health disparities are neither inevitable nor a matter of personal will
• Focusing on integrity and connection in communications rather than public relations.
• An increasing understanding that the commons is a concept that has endured through the ages, and has a particular resonance for our times.

The Commons Movement
People today are hungry to activate new solutions, Ristau explained. Growing numbers of us are part of a movement to protect and promote the commons, even if we don’t use that exact term. This emerging movement involves people networking, spreading ideas, co-creating solutions to the problems we face together. It affects how people see themselves, how they recognize the future, and how they work together to shape a life sustaining future for all of us.

“A commons arises whenever a given community decides that it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with a special regard for equitable access, use, and sustainability,” she said, quoting her OTC colleague David Bollier. This means that cooperative decision-making and engagement with the public are essential elements of the commons movement.

This is exciting to think about, Ristau noted, but also raises the big question: How do we help shift consciousness? Here are more thoughts from the group:

We can focus on sufficiency—on deciding what is enough and what is too much.

We can focus on repairing inequity in our society through reparations to those who have been harmed.

We can focus on consciousness raising – stimulating people to search beyond what they know and make new connections.

We can focus on developing new forms for people to take action– organizing people to invent new forms of governance via the Web, and creating new structures to meet social needs such as Time Banks, co-housing communities, and community schools.

We can focus on reaching across the silos in which people are stuck, to initiate collaboration. We can all look for like-minded people in other disciplines, cultures, and generations to create a new space to dream.

We can focus on connecting with people from all walks of life based on their everyday experiences.

We are working to build a commons-based society, where we will open up new opportunities for leadership, foster more small-scale settings for people to interact, and instill a new sense that our dependency on one another is a point of strength rather than a problem.

Western society has been constructed on a foundation of specialization, Ristau observed. But we are now increasingly aware of the faults of a culture narrowly focused on the belief that solutions come only from the experts in a particular field. Only doctors can heal. Only traffic engineers can decide how our streets work. In reality, we are all experts. We need to see ourselves in that light, looking at the whole and depending on our own common sense.

No one is saying we have to join a ‘60s-style commune or rigid collective. We are who we are as Americans — individuals, each with a dream. But in the future we do need to see how our individual efforts affect the whole.

The essence of the commons is that we need want to connect people in a cooperative effort to shift our society shift from “me” to “we”. This is the moment for this movement.