A Community of Individuals Approach to Education: This is the Dawning of the Me/We Integration

As human beings, we are social animals and as such are simultaneously semi-autonomous individuals capable of functioning on our own, and members of communities somewhat interdependent on each other for survival.

Communities are systems. And as systems they are “greater than the sum of their parts” and can perform beyond the abilities of their members. For example, you can ride a bicycle but you can’t ride any or all of the parts of a bicycle unless they’re put together in a particular way. Like bicycles, communities gain their increased abilities by imposing limits on their members. A bicycle chain can be bent into all kinds of creative shapes and could serve many functions (from door jam to paperweight) but when assembled as a part of a bicycle has its bendability severely limited and can no longer perform many of the functions it could perform alone.

These limits create a tension between individuals and their communities. While these tensions have always existed, the degree to which we have seen ourselves as independent individuals versus interdependent parts of a community seems to have gone, and continues to go, through three distinct phases in terms of people’s story of the world (collectively held beliefs about the world) with humanity currently poised between its second and third stage.

As you will soon see, I wrote this piece from the point of view of the third story.

Community First: The needs of the community are primary.  People sharing this story see themselves as interdependent parts of a community. “We” is such a dominant concept that many cultures sharing this story had no word for me.

Individuals First: The needs of individuals are primary. People sharing this story see themselves primarily as semi-autonomous wholes in and of themselves. This story might be called the “Me” story or the story of separation.

Community of Individuals: When people see themselves as semi-autonomous wholes that are also interdependent parts of communities of individuals their needs and the needs of their communities can be met with kindness and compassion. Some have called this story the story of Interbeing. It is also a holarchical point of view. The focus of this point of view is finding the sweet spots, and managing the sour spots between me and we. The sweet spots are ways in which two or more folk can meet their needs mutually (synergistically). Managing the sour spots includes compromising (negotiating incompatibilities) and agreeing to disagree (which in the extreme case can include separation).

I see co-creation of a learning culture based on this third story as our central goal as learning facilitators. This goal includes two complimentary sub-goals:

  1. Our individual goal is that each of us learns how to create our own paths through life.
  2. Our community goal is that each of us learns how to put our different points of views that result from our unique paths, together to form mutually beneficial relationships.