Build beloved community
Our goal is to create a beloved community
and this will require a qualitative change in our souls
as well as a quantitative change in our lives.
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Our goal is to create a beloved community
and this will require a qualitative change in our souls
as well as a quantitative change in our lives.
― Martin Luther King Jr.
More and more in today’s culture people are feeling alienated, and afraid, especially in rural America (Green, DelReal & Clement). Political, racial and religious differences are being reinforced through divisive rhetoric on all sides (Johnson). There are few opportunities for real human connection or developing a sense of community and belonging, let alone ones that bridge these cultural gaps (Alexander). This is especially pronounced in sparsely populated, rural Appalachia, where income earning opportunities are limited, and cultural institutions that facilitate connection are struggling to stay open (Carey, MIT Dep Urban Planning). Loneliness and social isolation are such pronounced problems that they might even be considered a public health crisis (Lyons).
In our dominant culture today we have a shared story of separation that is perpetuated by the practice of fostering individualism in our societal systems, particularly through our schooling systems. Because there is an overall lack of support in human development beyond adolescence, leading to a culture that seeks security externally, we feel we are separate from each other, rather than connected. Building a beloved community is needed now more than ever; moving us beyond this story of separation and a cultural ethos of having to “go it alone.”
Shared Story of Separation
When the development of an individual is not supported, we live from a limited foundation and perspective; unable to commit more deeply to taking care of ourselves, each other, and the Earth. Mostly unconsciously, we begin to live a shared story of separation.
This shared story of disconnection has roots that go back for centuries. We have forgotten our connection to Life itself; making it difficult to take care of ourselves, let alone others and this Earth. Imagination, wonder, and reverence fade in this story, and systems thinking becomes non-existent. Complexity is almost impossible to navigate, pathology takes center stage, and it becomes an “every-person-for-themselves” kind of culture. In this story where separation is the foundation of our collective systems, vitality declines, joy is at a minimum, and we wonder what has become of our world. This leads to a culture where loneliness is an epidemic, and other symptoms like suicide and addiction arise. Some begin to wonder what happened, and they long for a more sustainable and connected way of life.
A culture in decline is individualistic and fosters disconnection from community and place. In our dominant culture today, 33% of people globally report feeling lonely. 55% of adolescents report feeling anxious and depressed. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the US for 10-14 year olds. Disconnection is an epidemic, rooted in a shared story of separation perpetuated by a global sense of feeling alone. We have forgotten that we belong not only to ourselves, but to each other, and to this Earth.
One of the primary systems that fosters individualism is the conventional school system. School is where we house “education” and hand down what we deem most important to those who either seek it or are mandated to receive it. Our dominant educational system currently promotes an individualistic culture that primarily orients around personal financial success and competition, in which securing a well-paying job is the goal. This is not to say that countless teachers, school administrators, and parents do not have the best intentions for our youth. It is the educational system that has been designed to promote a degenerative agenda that has become entrenched over generations and, through colonization, has spread throughout the world.
Individuality is different from individualism. Individualism stops at the individual, and this further supports the other degenerative practices and elements in this model.
A vitality-centered educational design cultivates qualities that connect us to Life and respect and take care of the individuality of a person. This empowers a person to build more life-giving systems, better navigate current oppressive ones, and strengthen their ability to adapt to the change that is to be expected when vitality is at the center of a community.
The term beloved community was coined by Josiah Royce and was used often by Martin Luther King, Jr. to describe a vision where agape love, or a deep and rigorous love, is the guiding principle for the community. The King Center defines the beloved community as follows:
Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.
Community reminds us that we are not alone and is a crucible for healing and healthy development to occur. It is the ground from which vitality emerges, and nourishes both the community itself, and the larger culture it is embedded within. Beloved community happens when there is a shared generative purpose that inspires and guides a group of people, and includes guiding values that have been discerned by the community. To maintain vitality in the community, members must engage in rigorous practices that tend to relationship–both within the individual and between community members; particularly fostering the skills needed to navigate difficulty.
This principle recognizes that while we honor individuality by cultivating personhood, we also value the collective. When connection to one's individual life and to the community are fostered, creativity emerges that is not simply a sum of the parts. Dr. Carl Jung would call this “the third thing”; a “transcendent function” emerges. Something new is born when each individual is committed to their own development within the life giving structure of the community.
The beloved community supports each person to become more fully, and vitally, who they are. This strengthens the collective and its connection to place. The German poet Friedrich Ruckert writes: “When the rose beautifies itself, it also beautifies the garden.” When sustainable values are at the center of the community design, cultural practices emerge in the community that strengthen and solidify the life giving values within each person, the community itself, and in connection to place.
Building a beloved community begins with a shared generative purpose that is taken care of through cultural ways that are life giving.
Shared Generative PurposeWhen vitality-centered development is supported beginning with a person, and then ripples out into a community, a shared generative purpose that has taking care of life as its purpose, begins to emerge. This shared generative purpose binds and guides a group of people toward their vision of regenerative culture in the form that is unique to the particular people and place. The purpose no matter what the expression is to take care of life and grow vitality.
This shared generative purpose takes care of the most vulnerable; beginning with the places within ourselves. Internationally-known scholar Dr. Brene Brown writes, “The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted story about vulnerability and the most dangerous”. A communal story that denies vulnerability and its power does not take care of life and weakens communities and culture. Dire individual and collective symptoms result. A shared generative purpose that does not marginalize vulnerability, but takes care of it, strengthens communities and cultures as a whole.
This shared lifegiving purpose is what binds the community and motivates them toward a common vision and mission. It is tended to through cultural ways that support the life of the individual and community, in the place they are located.
Cultural WaysBeloved community is sustained through cultural ways that take care of the gift of life in one another. Through ritual, dance, song, shared leadership structures, and more, we build beloved community. Dance is one practice that holds community together in ways that words simply cannot. Dancing and singing strengthens our bonds, to celebrate, and to summon the vitality, courage, and joy it takes to serve a world in need.
We develop best in the context of a community that loves and supports us. A beloved community fosters healthy relationships and teaches us a new way to live into a way of life that acknowledges and responds to a degenerative culture in creative, life-giving ways. At Springhouse, fostering a vital community includes practices like weekly community gatherings, pilgrimages that happen three times a year, restorative practices to transform conflict and a strong adult development program for staff, families, and community members. Opportunities to practice community building happen through intergenerational apprenticeships like supporting food banks, and learning from elders through craft and socially responsible entrepreneurship.
There are many ways to create healthy communities. This design focuses on three essential practices the take care of the life of a community and including:
- Navigating difficulty in relationship
- Reclaiming projections
- Marking development through rites of passage
When pain is owned and honored, transformation becomes possible. Feeling pain is
difficult enough; to face it alone is daunting. In a dominant culture that fears pain, facing it together as a community gives difficulty solid ground to stand upon. The more that we can stand as witness to our own pain, the better equipped we are to stand with others. Community can teach us how to do this.
When a community honors individuality and respects autonomy, it can be a place where turning toward difficulty leads to a deep and sustaining vitality; a light that the Bhakti poet Kabir calls “a lamp with no wick and no oil”. The great mystics of every faith have written for centuries about this love or life or light, deeply embodied in the darkness of our earthly lives. We use our own agency and choice to take this journey, but we cannot do it alone. We are not meant to. Community is a container that can reflect back to us the love we may not feel in difficult times, and celebrate our wholeness as we reclaim who we authentically are.
Turning away from pain is not life giving. With addiction of all kinds on the rise (Johnston, O'Malley & Bachman, 1998), the climate warming due mostly to human overconsumption (in the United States primarily) (McCarthy, 2008), and dangerous emotional reactivity that includes violence in our schools (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2012), we cannot deny that as a collective we are on the run from ourselves. The 13th c. poet Rumi writes, “Don't turn your head. Keep looking at the bandaged place. That's where the light enters you.” How we choose to move in the world with our pain determines greatly how we relate to ourselves, each other, and the planet. Community is a crucible to hold us and to celebrate us.
Living one’s life fully includes facing difficulty, within oneself and in relationship with others. The community can help us grow in this capacity and there are great gifts that come from facing difficulty when it is held with responsibility and care. Projection is very important to be aware of in a community and when approached with skill and care, can lead to individual and collective regeneration.
Projection (defined by Carl Jung) happens when we project our positive and negative qualities onto each other so that we can see and reclaim them. When positive or negative qualities are projected onto others, it is difficult (if not impossible) to respond to the world from a place of wholeness.
Through the rigorous process of self-study, what we project onto others, we reclaim as our own. For a community to be sturdy, rigorous self-reflection and responsibility for oneself are required. There are many scholars today studying the power of creating community and its ability to transform individual and collective narratives of disconnection and isolation (some listed in the resources below.) Relationships with others challenge us to know ourselves better, and in turn strengthens community. Carl Jung writes that there is a “lack of understanding wrought by projection” and encourages the West to “give some thought to the question of human relationship from the psychological point of view, for in this resides its real cohesion and consequently its strength”.
When we project both our negative and positive qualities onto others, we become disempowered; blaming and disowning our power, and inner or outer conflict can ensue. Transformation becomes almost impossible from this disempowered place. When we bring the focus back to ourselves, we are empowered. It is through the withdrawal of projections that we can begin to know ourselves more deeply, and community is fertile ground for this reclamation.
Marking Development through Rites of PassageRites of passage (i.e. the preparation and marking of one’s transition from one phase of development to the next) are critical for today’s youth and culture at large. Rites of passage have traditionally been supported by the whole community. An individual would leave the village to engage in deep self-exploration in order to return to the village and be of greater service to their community. Our modern culture lacks meaningful and transformative initiation rites. As a result, adolescents initiate each other into what they think is genuine adulthood. They do not have the support or example of committed, engaged adults. The result is usually not good and can include “mindless binge drinking, emotionless friends-with-benefits sex, and a focus on consumerism and economic status”.
Rites of passage programs support young people and their parents, guardians or mentors. In order for teens to transition from childhood to adolescence in a healthy way, parents and other adults in the community must be involved. It is natural and developmentally appropriate that, during adolescence, a young person’s focus shifts away from their families and moves toward their peer relationships and social status. Dr. Bill Plotkin writes in Nature and the Human Soul that “the passage of puberty usually holds a good deal of unavoidable sadness for both the parent and child. Childhood is over.” It is therefore necessary that parents and guardians are supported as they do the rigorous work of letting their child go, knowing that there is a community to receive their son or daughter as they do so. It is the role of the parents to let them go, while it is the responsibility of the community to receive the child and mentor them during this turbulent and creative time. We find that parents often need education on the developmental phase of adolescence in order to best serve their children.
As these shifts occur, teens need support outside of the family structure. They need to be seen by their peers and adults who are not their parents. They also need to be challenged in healthy ways. According to the School of Lost Borders,
When young people are not offered the opportunity to push their edges and challenge themselves through rites of passage, they will seek self-initiation nonetheless, a pattern observable in the modernized world through high rates of suicide, substance abuse, violence, gang activity, and myriad forms of recklessness displayed by teens.
Without a marking of this passage, many teens continue to live like children, even into their adulthood. This work is important because we need a generation that is grounded and empowered, that can be caretakers of themselves, their communities, and the Earth.
Rites of passage are practiced with community members of all ages. We never stop growing. Development is natural and rites of passage honor the growth.
- We Are the Beloved Community | John Lewis - The On Being Project
- The Next Buddha May Be a Sangha, Thich Nhat Hanh
- Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block
- The Power of Collective Wisdom & the Trap of Collective Folly
- Developing Sustainability, Developing the Self: An Integral Approach to International & Community Development, Gail Hochachka
- Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now by Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze
- Living Inquiry: Me, My Self, and Other | Meyer | Journal of Curriculum Theorizing
- Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape our Brains, Lives and Future by Riane Eisler and Douglas Fry
- Walking with the Wind (Prologue), John Lewis
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Dr. Brene Brown
- Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair, Dr. Miriam Greenspan
- Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time, Dr. Meg Wheatley
Rites of Passage
- Animas Institute
- How to Help Young People Transition Into Adulthood, Betty Ray
- The Journey To a Genuine Life, Dr. Len Fleischer
- The Four Fold Path: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary, Dr. Angeles Arrien
- Youth On Fire: Igniting a Generation of Embodied Global Leaders, Dr. Melissa Michaels
- Hawaiian Knowing: Old Ways for Seeing a New World (Ala Kukui), Dr. Manulani Meyer
- Seeing Through Native Eyes: Understanding the Language of Nature, Jon Young
- Shape Note Singing Community Project
- How Our Creativity and Resiliency Can Build Stronger and Wiser Communities
- Springhouse Community School Hosts First Annual Gathering
- Learner Panel on Five Principles
- Learn Life Talk
- What is your relationship to community? Have you received gifts from being part of a community?
- What does “beloved community” mean to you? Have you experienced the beloved community based on The King Center’s description?
- What are the cultural implications of not fostering beloved community? What are the consequences of this in your community?
- What is your relationship with difficulty? Can you articulate examples of ways your community supports members through difficulty?
- How does the concept of projection land for you? How do you understand it, or not?
- Have you had a rite of passage? What happened?
- What are the cultural implications of not having rites of passage?
- What are the cultural practices of your community? What are some of the ways your community practice belovedness? What are ways that your community could grow in this area?
- What developmental frameworks that support holistic human development inspire you?