What is Authentic Community?
Authentic: “Being actually and exactly what the thing in question is said, or claims, to be.”
Community: Readings below will stimulate discussion about what community is and has the potential of being. The salient questions that each of can ask are –What should an authentic Ethical Society community be? What should it do? How would its members interact with each other? What do I want from my Ethical Society community? What do we want as fellow members? What do we want to offer from our community to the wider community? What are we already doing that is authentic community? How are we falling short? What unfulfilled potentials do we have? What potentials do we need to begin building in? How can we build our Ethical Society community to be more nearly what we want?
…We see it in acts of compassion and of love, and in genuine self-sacrifice. We see it in the quest for righteousness and justice. It is awakened in ourselves when we are disturbed by human oppression, or inequity, or cruelty. We see a sensitivity to this human dimension in much of art and music, in poetry, the novel and in the theater. And we see it, too, in much of religion, or in what we might say, from our perspective, is the best of religion.
Ethical Culture exists to make that human dimension, that element of human worth more pronounced. It is to make the potential for moral goodness actual; to make what is latent manifest; to make what is all too weak in human affairs all the more strong.
…Ethical culture stands for those fundamental values which make for a decent society: For human dignity, for justice, for equality, for compassion, for reason, for the open mind and for the nobility of the human spirit. By so declaring itself, Ethical Culture stands against some of the prevailing currents of our time. We invite all those who share our vision and our values to stand with us.
Joseph Chuman, “Why the World Needs Ethical Culture”
Edward L. Ericson, The Humanist Way: An Introduction to Ethical Humanist Religion
The kind of religious community the Ethical Culture longs to be can connect us to the deepest sources of our being. It can help guide our moral groping and ground our visions of a shared future.
Lois Kellerman, “8 Commitments of Ethical Culture”
Lois Kellerman, “Pledging at Ethical Societies”
This vision is broadly and deeply religious. The primary strategy of the national Ethical Society umbrella group (the American Ethical Union) has therefore been to develop modern congregational-style groups. These consist of small intergenerational communities where people can engage in life-long learning that sustains and enhances ethical growth. Participants in this plan are encouraged to provide places for themselves where they can genuinely get to know others who have dedicated themselves to this task. Professionals are engaged to work with groups on how to better share their joys and sorrows, and work together to make the world a better place.
Living together is not easy. We bring our personalities, past wounds and private agendas with us. But when we choose to belong to an Ethical Society we are making some very specific commitments that relate to the way we act While all of us realize we are “not there yet” in any full ethical sense, still when we are voted in as members of Ethical Societies we willingly relinquish our anarchistic impulses in order to honor the integrity of community life. This includes our right to say whatever we want to say whenever we want to say it We did this not in the spirit of repression of mindless conformity but rather to assure that the baseline conditions for productive ethical group interactions are met These condition include:
•EVOLVING A CULTURE OF TRUST RATHER THAN PARANOIA SO THAT WE CAN SAFELY EXPLORE WHAT IT MEANS TO BE ETHICAL
•MODELING THE PRINCIPLES WE HAVE DEVELOPED BY THE WAY WE INTERACT.
Some central principles presently include:
-Our choosing to attribute worth to ourselves and others, and the deep mutual respect that flows out of this in word and deed.
-Our exploring continuously what it might mean to elicit the best in others and thereby ourselves.
-Our promise to keep commitments we have freely chosen. Our willingness to self-reflect in non-deprecating ways when we have broken those commitments. Our seeking help when necessary to explore how either to renew those commitments or change them.
-Our trying as best we can to be truthful in ways that are not cruel, but rather, aimed at fostering the reality and wholesomeness of our relatedness.
The first deterrent to destructive patterns of behavior is a firm grasp on the part of members of the tenets of the group they have entered. It is the Ethical Society’s responsibility to offer regular forums for this in which basic assumptions can be explored not just intellectually but experientially. Many people specifically need training in communications and group-life skills. Some carry such deep wounds in their personhood that they may need to seek outside counsel prior to or in conjunction with active entry into community life.
An Ethical Society’s strength and weakness flow out of the same source: Its dedication to a dynamic, open-ended quest; its longing for inclusiveness; and its tolerance for ambiguity. By its nature it therefore entertains a higher degree of creative tension and ambivalence. It relies heavily on the good will, discipline, and assumed basic reasonableness of its members.
Finally, we must not forget that all we have ever to offer ourselves and the wider world is the witness of our relationships and the ethical health of the modest groups we strive to cultivate. Lois Kellerman “Disruptive Behavior: The Challenge to Ethical Societies,” April 1992
We truly believe that people do not become good by fitting into a pattern prescribed for them by others; they become their best selves, we are convinced, as they find out how they can order a life that has never been lived before to meet crises and challenges that have never existed before.
When they do this, they find a new person, one who has a place in our world and our lives that cannot be taken by anyone else. Our founder said, and it is a profound way to put the matter, that when we discover our best self we discover a person who is irreplaceable in the moral universe. That irreplaceability is to be found in the love we have for others who depend utterly upon it, in the imagination and insight that further our common life, in the support that we give to our great common ideals – truth, Justice, brotherhood – that are continually under pressure. Each of us has a part to play in our efforts to create a better world. If, day by day, we make choices that make clear we stand for that better world, our destiny will become apparent to us. The ideal component in our life will increase. The demands upon us will increase, just because our irreplaceability will become greater. But, far from dreading the pressure, we will see the greater sacredness of our acts. We will be fulfilling ourselves.
Finally, we hold to the insight that this person fulfillment is to be achieved in a community of similarly striving moral individuals. Personal fulfillment does not draw us away from others; it binds us to them. As our lives become more spiritual in the pursuit on our great common goals and the discovery of our own specific irreplaceability, we enter into a community among those varied spirits that is of a quality that cannot be achieved in any other way.
Sheldon Ackley, “What We Stand For,” The Ethical Platform June 8, 1986
This concept of authenticity then is central to who we are as proponents of Ethical Culture. Yet, just as this valuable moral ideal has been trivialized within the broader culture, so it has been within our own lives and movement Finding the intricate balance between “being true to oneself and the also necessary value of “interdependency” is a major task for us.
Crucial to our future as an institution, and not as an institution for its own sake, but as a vehicle to a better future for all people, is a clear understanding of what we mean by the virtue of “being authentic” and by carefully guarding against slipping into self-serving patterns of seeing “authenticity” as simply “doing our own thing.” Being for ourselves in a world now so small and so interconnected and vulnerable also means “being for each other.” The uniqueness of our contribution to the world in which we find ourselves will most likely succeed as we earnestly seek to be true to our own best selves and support each other in this same task, a dual task that is yet at the same time our gift to ourselves and to each other, the very source of the Joy of human existence.
Don Robert Johnson, “Authenticity: The Ground of an Ethical Culture,” May 30. 1993
Amitai Etzioni, The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics
Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization
Learning organizations are ones in which each member’s life, goals, and longing for mastery and fulfillment are intrinsically tied to the organization’s vision for its own purpose, goals, and mastery. “People with a high level of personal mastery are able to consistently realize the results that matter most deeply to them – in effect, they approach their life as an artist would approach a work of art They do that by becoming committed to their own lifelong learning.
Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively. As such, it is an essential cornerstone of the learning organization – the learning organization’s spiritual foundation. An organization’s commitment to and capacity for learning can be no greater than that of is members. The roots of this discipline lie in both Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, and in secular traditions as well. (p. 7)
We start by clarifying the things that really matter to us [and] by living our lives in the service of our highest aspirations, (p. 8)
Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization
an adaptation from “The Knowledge-Creating Company” by Ikujiro Nonaka
The following are quoted in Creating Community Anywhere: Finding Support and Connection in a Fragmented World by Carolyn R. Shaffer and Kristin Anundsen (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1993)
William James (p. 15)
Dr. Dean Ornish (p. 23)
community presents the opportunity for the most growth; community provides the means for work of the deepest impact. It is worth it? For me, yes.
Peter Gibb (p.27)
John W. Gardner (p. 31)
Ed Margason (p. 31)