Revitalizing Our Communities of Practice

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         Today society is in turmoil.  Conflict is everywhere.  Many people in authority are doing what comes naturally – they are operating from their ego.   This serves to increase the differentiations and exasperate the conflict in our communities.  When they have authority, we call these people leaders, yet they are not leading.  If they were leading, their communities would be unified and flourishing.

I tend to focus on positive leadership and the emergence of social excellence.  Social excellence is a conversation, marriage, team, organization, or community that is thriving.  My assumption is that individuals can influence the emergence of social excellence.  This is done by transcending ego.  It is done through the transformation of self.   When we engage in personal transformation, we open the door for others to transform.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk who understands the elusive link between the state of the individual and the state of the community.  He indicates, “Transformational practice relies on the self, but a community and a teacher are also necessary.”

When he uses the word community he means a place in which we find the discipline and the support for personal growth, a place where others are also trying to grow.  I think of it as a place where we can co-create the courage to be more authentic and connected in the pursuit of a higher purpose.  I have spent my life inviting people in organizations to co-create such networks of collective growth and I have come to conclusions similar to those of Thich Nhat Hanh.

In discussing the concept of community, Thich Nhat Hanh notes that not all communities of practice are equally vital.  There is considerable variation in the strength of communities.  He offers an insight:

Any community of practice is better than a non-community of practice.  Without a community of practice, you will be lost.  To have a good community of practice, the members must live in a way that helps them generate more understanding and more love.  If a community of practice is having difficulties, the way to transform it is to begin by transforming yourself, to go back to your island of self and become more refreshed and more understanding.

This is a difficult and counter intuitive concept.  At work we do not expect our communities of practice to continually increase in understanding and love.  It is not natural to believe that the community about which we complain, be it the country, the people at work, or our own family, can be transformed into a network of vitalized relationships and flourishing individuals.   Furthermore, we do not believe that such a transformation can be brought about by choosing to become a better version of self.  Yet across the world, and multiple traditions, we find sages, who grow into this very insight.

Every community is a network of mutual interdependence.  This means that if I consciously change my pattern of behavior others notice and react.  They may react positively or negatively, but they react.  If my choice was conscious, it means I am a proactive force in a reactive community.  I have just reversed the great causal arrow that says the culture determines the individual, which it normally does.

In most social networks culture functions to dampen the individual conscience.  Compliance is the expectation and disengagement is the outcome.  In the choice to practice positive leadership, the individual brings conscience to culture and the first signal is the presentation of a better self.

Because we can choose to self-elevate, to become a more virtuous version of self, we can introduce positive deviance into our community.  The culture always resists.  Nevertheless, doing so over time, brings change.  Hence we have the opportunity to elevate and revitalize a community of declining energy.  What is required is an understanding of how communities function, how social excellence emerges, and what it really means to lead.

Reflection

  • In recent times have you been troubled by the conflict in the country, the people at work, or your own family?
  • Do you believe a conflicted community can be transformed into a network of vitalized relationships and flourishing individuals?
  • Do you believe that the way to transform a community is to bring conscience to culture by continual self-elevation?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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