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back in the day, when i worked for a social innovation firm focused on community-centered design, i found it so curious that in order to elevate “community voice” we invited and designated individuals to participate as “community members”. inherent in this practice is the assumption that there is difficulty/impossibility in showing up as whole individuals within systems and therefore, there needed to be a specific “role” for “community member” (as if everyone isn’t a community member!).

one project i recall that really highlighted this tendency (compulsion) to compartmentalize was one with Jobs and Family Services. the organization was in significant transition, compelled by both external and internal forces leaving the workforce weary and burned out and the customers disconnected and dissatisfied. the majority of JFS employees and managers had themselves once been on welfare–many of them still receiving benefits–and yet, despite creativity and connection, elevating these lived experiences within the context of the organization and in the network of relationships as they existed proved challenging, to say the least. it was if the lived experience that had likely inspired their vocation was slowly forgotten once they entered and occupied roles/positions within that system. operating within it, compelled a forgetting.

time and time again, i witnessed this to be the case. as we worked with diverse stakeholders trying to address inequity and injustice, we’d turn our attention “out there” to “those people”, neglecting our own lived experience, our own truths.

lately, i’ve again been struck by how powerful these forces are that compel this dis-memberment and how much intention/resourcing it takes to re-member. these forces are both internal to us and external. the engines of separation are, to use bell hooks’ term: “imperialist, capitalist, white supremacist patriarchy”,

and this shit is deep.

for example, in facilitating groups dedicated to liberation, there is a collective tendency to other “x group” who is doing abc while negating the fact that members of said group are among us—or, better yet–that i am a member of said group! this is a symptom of a sick and dying system where diversity and wholeness is not welcome and where feedback is blocked, the connective tissue decaying.

on the other hand, healthy ecosystems are rich in diversity and rely on constant feedback. for example, the human immune system depends on connectedness and feedback to determine what is healthy and what is not and how to respond accordingly. when the body is not receiving feedback in this way, it cannot support the larger human body system. this is when disease and ultimately death set in.

meg wheatley teaches that “to bring health to a system, connect it to more of itself…in order to change, the system needs to be learn more about itself from itself. the system needs processes to bring it together. “ i’ve always loved this and find it be wise guidance in this time of such significant change and transition in which there are strong tendencies to become more entrenched and disconnected.

today, someone shared this reflection of a recent circle gathering that invited this sort of connecting and re-membering: “I felt that we were becoming a live body of Christ through these interactions..allowed me to work wisely. The sensory nerves were bringing back intelligence to the body where the body is hurt. A living body, a community that can actually work together.”

here’s the kicker: this kind of aliveness and health is true both for the whole of the systems and its parts. because each of the parts are whole in and of themselves. and those parts/wholes contribute to a larger whole. there is reciprocity and mutuality. truly, our liberation is bound up with one another’s because we are one another.

paying attention to what it takes to create and sustain healthy systems, ida b wells comes to mind. she said: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” there is a vigilance, a discipline, an intention in staying healthy and alive. it takes some effort to be “in the system and not of the system”–in other words, to not be determined/defined by it. to remember who we are.

we need one another to become our own unique genius. and our unique genius is exactly what the system is waiting for…what the universe is waiting for.

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