Adapted from Peter Senge, “Communities of Commitment”

Nothing happens without personal transformation; and the only safe space to allow for this “transformation of the self” is in a learning community.

                                          — J. Edwards Deming

When somebody asks us to talk about ourselves, we talk about family, work, school, sports– all about our affiliations.  In all this talk where is the ‘self’?  The answer is ‘nowhere.’ Consider this: the self is not a ‘thing’, but a point of view that unifies the flow of experience into coherency.

In our culture, the self is a “myself” isolated from other selves.  You turn the self into a thing when you allow personality traits and behaviors to become identified as your ego and reified as yourself.  In this process a primary value is assigned to the ego and a secondary value to community.

When we reify the self, we set ourselves up as objects for use.  We then treat encounters with others as transactions that can add or subtract to the possessions of the ego.  In this process we treat community as nothing more than a network of contractual commitments for symbolic and economic exchanges.  Community is much more than that.  Community supports certain ways of being and constrains others.  Community as context ultimately determines what it is to be a person.

Constitution of the self can only happen in community.  As we remember together that the self is never a thing, and is always being transformed, we create an opening in which others appear as legitimate beings.  Only then can we engage with one another in particular interactions that can open new possibilities for our being.  Said another way by a Native American Elder:

Community.  Somewhere there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats.  Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power.  Community means strength to join, strength to do the work that needs to be done.—Starhawk

Link back to the blog: Becoming the Heart of a Learning Culture, part 1