Bázis

   A couple weeks ago, a few of us hung out at the Bázis.  This place is sweet.  It is sort of a pub/café with retro communist 1970 furniture, a loft hand-built by my friends Domi and Balázs, and a old wine cellar transformed into a disco and table-ice-hockey game room.  Whoa.Two of our American friends, Dave and Donnie, were in town visiting, and it was really cool to have them there.  We also had an awesome conversation on the topic of community.  A lot of questions were asked which is usually a sign of a good conversation.  Among several great summarizing thoughts, Dave mentioned,

“Reciprocity is essential but there are no guarantees. Choosing how we will live in a competitive, partnered, and unstable world is risky but essential.  Treating everyone as a competitor undermines all partnership and eventually produces isolation.  Partnership produces community, and community produces much of what gives life meaning: identity, value, and purpose.” 

community building

Somewhat related to the previous post, M. Scott Peck identified a typical process people go through as they are transformed into “true community.”  Here’s wikipedia’s summary of this process:

  • Pseudocommunity: This is a stage where the members pretend to have a bon homie with one another, and cover up their differences, by acting as if the differences do not exist. Pseudocommunity can never directly lead to community, and it is the job of the person guiding the community building process to shorten this period as much as possible.
  • Chaos: When pseudocommunity fails to work, the members start falling upon each other, giving vent to their mutual disagreements and differences. This is a period of chaos. It is a time when the people in the community realize that differences cannot simply be ignored. Chaos looks counterproductive but it is the first genuine step towards community building.
  • Emptiness: After chaos comes emptiness. At this stage, the people learn to empty themselves of those ego related factors that are preventing their entry into community. Emptiness is a tough step because it involves the death of a part of the individual. But, Scott Peck argues, this death paves the way for the birth of a new creature, the Community.
  • True community: Having worked through emptiness, the people in community are in complete empathy with one another. There is a great level of tacit understanding. People are able to relate to each other’s feelings. Discussions, even when heated, never get sour, and motives are not questioned.

Community and Organizations

Community does not exist for organizations.  Organizations exist for the sake of the community in which they belong.  Community is about people, and organizations exist to serve those people…not the other way around.  Organizations can often wander through years of trouble and frustration (even economically) when they see their own organization as their end purpose and goal.  And organizations experience tremendous freedom, empowerment, and productivity when they become a bit self-less.

Organization-minded people are concerned with the activities, productivities, responsibilities of the internal and external affairs of the organization.  Community-minded people are concerned with human activities, our sense of mutual well-being, and the truth of our connectedness as members of this global society.  As a result, community-minded people must embrace an element of chaos as they consider not how the community can integrate into their organization but rather how their organization can better integrate into the community.

As organizations re-orient themselves toward community, they will find the golden-rule at work and surprisingly effective.  But this effectiveness might come at the expense of the organization’s previous sense of control and certainty.  This new effectiveness will most likely require adjustments in the DNA of a organizationly-centered organization.

story

“Stories need time (and so do we).” 

“Stories cannot happen in an instant.  They need room–temporal, psychological, metaphysical–to unfold.  Stories relate action “over time.”  Because stories happen over time, there is the chance for change, on the part both of characters and of readers.  This links stories to hope.  Things can be different than they presently are or seem doomed to become.  And we, if we enter into the story and allow it to make its appeal, can be changed too.  And sometimes we wil be changed by the story of a character who refused to change.”

“The power of an imagined end, and it literally can only be imagined, lies in its ability to influence present choices.  Most characters, in life and in fiction, have some notion, however hazy or unarticulated, of what would constitute a successful life for them.  They have an idea of how they would like to “end up.”  That idea, that imagined end, can be as powerful as anything in the given of beginnings in determining the direction of our lives.”

-Daniel Taylor, professor of Literature and Writing at Bethel College, “In Praise of Stories”

suffering and social justice

Witnessing the recent protests, riots, economic troubles, and tremendous political divisions juxtaposed with a deep remembrance and sense of solidarity over the 1956 revolution, I’ve really been impacted by the basic human cries for freedom and justice.  With friends on both sides of the fence here, I’m certainly glad to be an outsider, to claim some level of ignorance, to be allowed a neutral standpoint on these tough issues.  Yet, living in Budapest as “outsiders” we have felt our hearts connecting in progressively deeper ways to the present and historical experiences of our Hungarian friends. 

The truth is that most Hungarians are suffering economically, living paycheck to paycheck, unemployment is rising fast and will continue to rise over the next couple years, and homelessness will become even more prevalent.  In light of all of this, our hearts are aching.  We have a mixture of feelings.  We live in a comfortable flat in northern Budapest where the air is a little cleaner than it is 5 miles to the south.  For this we can occassionally feel guilty.  Guilty because yesterday, while riding the train into the city-center, a homeless man in his 40’s sat down beside me, unshaven, smelling of alcohol and body odor, whereas I was wearing clean clothes, carrying my cool black bag, traveling to my next English lesson.  Is this just?

I’ve been deeply impacted by the remembrance of the 1956 revolution here in Budapest.  It was fifty years ago, yet most Hungarians, young and old, have a tremendous awareness and sense of identity with those freedom fighters who fought and died trying to reclaim their country.  The few weeks of fighting in 1956 were brutal for both Hungarians and Russians, and it is clear that this sort of experience changes a person, a people, and a culture.  Human history is indeed full of atrocity, but from where I stand, the human heart is not made for atrocity or these kinds of injustice.  Within the human heart there remains a hint, or an echo of something good, something that grates against suffering and social injustice, something that cries out for the well-being of others. 

If a 50 year old crushed revolution can have such a deep and lasting impression in the Hungarian soul, what are the effects of the many other injustices occuring around the world today?  Darfur for example (Thanks Tom for the link and helping me think about this).

I’m encouraged though, that one small action can have a meaningful impact, and possibly a ripple effect through a family, a community, or even a culture.  Some of you know of “Nexus” the non-governmental organization we have been developing over the last few months.  You’ll definitely hear more about this as time goes by.  Through Nexus, and with the brain and heart power of a few Hungarian friends, we are beginning to tackle injustice in a couple tangible ways.  I’m looking forward to writing about some hopeful and developing programs at a local orphanage where there are 62 kids, 65% Gypsie, many of whom will not find work and will become homeless when they graduate and leave. 

In spite of the current sharp ideological and political divisions here in Budapest, I sense a common drive for compassion, for social justice and for the common good.  It’s nothing new of course.  I think these are basic human thirsts which call out for a present and continual “revolution” of the heart.

teaching humanity

“The abilities associated with the humanities and the arts are also vital, both to the health of individual nations and to the creation of a decent world culture. These include the ability to think critically, to transcend local loyalties and to approach international problems as a “citizen of the world.” And, perhaps most important, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person.  This essential ability can be called the narrative imagination: it leads us to be intelligent readers of other people’s stories and to understand their emotions and wishes.”

read this article by Martha Nussbaum in Newsweek

society

What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people involved…but the fact that the world between them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them. — Hannah Arendt, 1958