29 April 2007

The opposite of violence is participation

“…children regarded the opportunity to participate in various activities as having the opposite effect to violence.”
From SOS Children's Villages Report Januray 2004 “Seeing Beyond Violence: Children as ResearchersPDF version
“[T]he opposite of violence is participation.”
on Frameshopisopen.com April 7, 2007
Denying someone the opportunity to participate meaningfully in decisions that affect their life is to do violence to them. This is the subtle side of violence. This is the kind of violence that we can easily overlook when it is perpetrated by benevolent, but nonetheless despotic leaders who give every impression of having our best interests at heart. This is also the trickiest form of violence to root out because it is so deeply embedded in so many of the habits of thought that we have inherited from enduring this same violence in many forms throughout our lives.
For instance, whenever we make a decision for the good of our children without giving them an opportunity to participate in the process, then we run the risk that we may have done them a disservice. Of course, it is a risk that is easily dismissed when they are very young, but it is one that grows everyday, unless we act to address it.
The fact is that children, when they are young, will never miss the opportunities they never had because they are basically programmed to assume that just about everything that happens to them on a regular basis is by definition normal. This is why abuse is such a difficult cycle to break, each new young victim takes abusive behavior to be the norm. In the same way, when I was young I accepted that the adults telling me what to do, how to do it, and when was simply the normal way things are done and since it is normal then it is, defacto, also the correct way.
When I realized that I have a passion for working with children I naturally assumed that it was my duty and responsibility to provide activities for them all the time and to make all the decisions about what is expected and acceptable. Since my first time in charge of kids was as a Camp Counselor this worked out great. Later, when I was working in child care settings with large groups of young children I began to realize that there were some problems with this way of thinking. It was when I began to seriously reflect on my own schooling and had been out of formal schooling environments for a few years that I began to think differently about what is versus what should be normal, correct, and possible.
As I said the possibility of doing violence against children by excluding them from the decisions that affect their lives is one that can be minimized through action. The action that minimizes our risk of perpetrating the inadvertent violence of excluding children from a decision is to make a regular practice of including them as much as possible in discussing the decisions you make on their behalf. It is inevitable that you will make decisions that they do not like and occasionally that you cannot discuss with them, but the latter should be the exception, not the rule.
In school or group settings the challenge of providing opportunities for participation are very different, but the necessity of preventing violence is even more urgent. The challenge is actually very straightforward, how can we reasonably provide children with the opportunity to influence the creation, administration, and enforcement of the rules and policies of the school or group. Meeting the challenge is not going to be easy, although there are several models to choose from. The Democratic School Movement, exemplified by Sudbury Valley School, for instance, is a direct application of the principle of full participation by virtue of membership in the school community, rather than according to membership in a privileged class of people within the community (such as staff, parents, administration, etc.).
I do not believe that every school needs to abandon the distinctions between different members of their community, but they can root out the ways that their institutional governance condones subtly despotic violence against children by well-meaning and benevolent adults who may not know any better.
Businesses are another area where the benevolent despot model is pervasive. What would our work lives be like if we acknowledged the rights of every stakeholder to have a voice in the policies that determine how the company relates to it’s employees, the environment, and the local community in which it is located?

The ‘C’ Word

In response to Curtis White’s Two-part Article Series The Idols of Environmentalism and The Ecology of Work

I have one basic question for Mr. White, What is capitalism?

In my way of understanding what makes up a human society there are three basic components: consciousness, how we think about ourselves, others, the world and the relations between all of them; power, how we govern our own and other people’s behaviors for the common good; and economics, how we exchange goods with other people to get what we need.

In your article you refer to ‘capitalism’ but I can’t figure out what you really mean by the term except as a generic reference to all the bad things in the world today. We can’t stop exchanging with others to get what we need but you explicitly suggest that ‘capitalism’ is an all pervasive idea that must be eliminated without offering an alternative.

As best I can tell in the absence of a more concrete definition of what you mean by capitalism, it sounds like you are saying that “the humans among us” are the only ones who are really going to accomplish anything, and not by boycotting corporations or by being concerned scientists, but by living in some mysterious way that does not involve any of the bad things that capitalism does. I wholeheartedly agree with most of your judgments about the bad things in the world today, but I believe the moral obligation of social criticism is to offer people more than just a very long litany of complaints about the state of the world and a scant few suggestions.

I appreciate your thoughtful reflections on how we play out the organizing principles of our society in modern work, but please help me with the distinction between capitalist forms of exchange from other forms.

My follow-up to this post, The 'C' Word, Part 2.

27 April 2007

Navigating towards peace

Here is a response to Rhonda Hull's post on Visualize Possibilities entitled Semantics? in which she poses the question "Are we against war, or for peace?"

Learning to discern the difference between navigating away from versus navigating towards is an important lesson.

When anywhere is better than here you can simply wander in any direction and achieve the result of not being where you were. If all we focus on is getting out of the war in Iraq, then there is no difference between ending up in a realm of peace and a realm of violence in other places or in other forms because they are both equally "out of the war in Iraq."

On the other hand if we can be more specific about wanting to navigate into a situation where everyone is enthusiaticly engaged in mutually supporting each other to live in a web of relationships where conflicts are simply opportunities for greater insight into achieving deeper levels of compassion and a challenge to broaden our ability to create pratical solutions that align an ever increasing diversity of interests. Navigating towards this kind of outcome gives us more information for discerning whether we are successfully moving away from the path violence and towards the path of peace.

There are three ways to navigate; wander, choose a direction, or choose your destination. It does not serve the cause of peace to wander out of the war in Iraq, we need to, at the very least, discern the difference between the direction of violence and the direction of peacefulness.

The possibility I am living into is...

The possibility that I am living into is having enthusiastic people living passionate lives in a joyful society. The key to making this a global reality is understanding and supporting everyone to have access to optimal states of mind. If you review all of the world’s philosophical and psychological literature you can boil it all down to our fundamental moral obligation. Our fundamental moral obligation is to do no harm and help when we can. All the rest is commentary. I understand both the nature of both harm and help in terms of optimal states of mind.

You cause harm if you prevent someone from having access to optimal states of mind. The obvious case of harm is physical violence. If you attack someone and damage them physically you are creating certain states of mind in them. The most likely states are pain, anger, fear, and many others that are non-optimal. There is a small chance that their mind might enter an optimal state, but that would be unlikely except in a specially trained mind, such as that of a martial artist or other warrior-type. Harm can also take the more subtle forms of severe poverty, an oppressive work environment, or emotional turmoil.

You can help someone by facilitating them to have access to optimal states of mind. The obvious case of help is medical treatment. If you provide someone who is injured with the means to heal their injury, or alleviating severe pain, then you are causing a change in the state of their mind. The most likely states that will result are relief, rest, clarity of mind, and many others that are more optimal than pain and anguish.

It is the less obvious cases that make it more challenging to distinguish help and harm. It may not be so clear with a parent who sets what they believe to be a safety boundary for their teenager and then receives a reaction from their teenager that gives every appearance of pain and anguish at what they believe to be a hindrance to their budding sense of maturity and self-determination. In this case both sides may have legitimate concerns.

The greatest challenge in each life and as a society is figuring out how to meet our fundamental moral obligations to prevent harm and provide help. Resolving the differences of opinion is paramount. The fundamental political and social problem we have today is the conflict of two value systems that disagree on how to prioritize certain values. Both value systems include the value pairs of empathy/ responsibility and strength/obedience but disagree which should be put in a higher position as a means of thinking about making political and social decisions. Another difference between the two value systems is that when strength/obedience is placed as a higher priority responsibility tends to be thought of as simply and directly caused by individuals without significant regard for the emergent effects of group dynamics. On the other hand, placing empathy and responsibility as a higher priority tends to enable a more systemic view of how complex the causes of individual behavior can be.

In my experience resolving differences can only truly happen when we choose to be in communication, in communion, in community with both the person who disagrees and with all the relationships that are at stake when a course of action is taken (and other possible courses are ignored.) Making this assertion about the necessity of communication and accounting for the relationship as a significant party to the decision is a declaration of empathy and responsibility as defining core values along with universally held values such as fairness, freedom, equality, and justice.

I choose to put empathy and responsibility as higher values than strength and obedience because when push comes to shove if strength and obedience take precedence then the relationship will be sacrificed to preserve the relative social and/or political position of the participants in the conflict. This is true because the strength/obedience perspective does not recognize the relationship as a meaningful factor and therefore cannot anticipate the emergence of effects that are totally unpredictable based solely on the known qualities of individuals.

Let me illustrate this with a story from my teaching practice: I remember when one of my first students was about 6 or 7 years old and his parents expressed concern about his reading skills. I’ll call him Keith. His parents had never married nor lived together and his Dad was just becoming a significant part of his life for the first time. With the time he spent as my student he effectively had three different places of significance in his life, two families and a school. When his parents expressed concern for his reading skills I was a little surprised because when I was with him he seemed to have pretty good skills for his age. Under the circumstances I chose to simply accept their concern at face value and inquired further of each parent separately to find out what their expectations and observations were.

I suspect you could not find three situations with more different expectations of the same person. His Mom was single and working with Keith as her only child. She was a supreme nurturer and for her reading was a full-on nurturing opportunity. Keith showed a lot of interest and needed a lot of help. Her concern was that he seemed to be very slow at becoming independent with his skills.

Dad on the other hand was all about showing strength and independence. He expected Keith to not only know how to read but to be able to demonstrate his ability in front of everyone in the family on command. For his Dad, Keith was a complete non-reader. He failed to perform even the most basic reading skills and persistently resisted anything to do with it.

For me Keith was a budding reader who was curious about it when it suited his needs and had a voracious appetite for acquiring the skills necessary to become independently able to fulfill his needs.

To make my point: First of all, there are no individual villains in this story. Every single one of the four characters; Keith, Mom, Dad, and myself are all doing exactly what we believe is going to be most helpful for Keith to be a good, healthy, and wholesome person. The situation is one that is complex not simple.

If you take the normal operating assumptions of the strength/ obedience value system then the cause of Keith’s behavior is simply and directly caused by his choices. If it is true that he was making direct conscious choices then you would have to conclude that he is a malicious manipulator of his parents based on my observations of his behavior with me. However, this particular child is one whom I knew for many years and no one, least of all his parents, would ever believe that of him. The only reasonable explanation I can come up with for his behavior is the emergence of three different group dynamics that affected him and contributed to the apparent disparity in his reading skills.

After investigating the situation I consulted with the parents separately about how to address what they perceived as a problem with his reading skills. I pointed out the disparity in his reading behaviors and explained that they needed to look at their own attitude about reading and also consider how their expectations about reading may be affecting their relationship with their son. With this guidance they were both able to reflect on their priorities and make a positive shift in their relationships with Keith.

In the final analysis I believe that both parents were making the same mistake from different values. They were both looking at Keith’s reading behavior as if it was caused by a set of simple and direct factors. In their view, if I could manipulate Keith in some way, either impart a skill more effectively than they had, or else influence him to make different choices, then he would be O.K. The truth is that his behavior was not the result of simple and direct causes. It was a system of causes that the parents had much more control over than I did and it was much easier and more effective to influence them than it would have been to attempt to influence Keith. In this case the optimizing of Keith’s state of mind around reading was achieved through changing the social systems around him not changing him.

The possibility I am living into is enthusiastic people living enthusiastic lives in a joyful society. The key to making this a global reality is understanding and supporting everyone to have access to optimal states of mind. We need to learn to see relationships as a factor in the equation, not just the individuals who are in relationship. The only way we are going to achieve these outcomes is to actively seek to understand the complexity of the world as best we can and to consistently act on and express how the core values of empathy and responsibility are the best way to meet our fundamental moral obligations to prevent harm and help when we can.

[Also posted on VisualizePossibilities.com]

09 April 2007

Guns are dangerous fun, so are cars and drugs

This piece was inspired by this post exploring the issue of guns in society.

The possession and use of firearms is a long established method for protecting life, exercising liberty and pursuing happiness in the United States, regardless of the reasons why and it’s objective effectiveness for these purposes. The only real question is how we are going to create governing institutions that facilitate our participation (directly or indirectly) in this valued activity. Indirect participation is the best we can realistically hope for even if you find guns abhorrent because guns are not going to cease to exist.

I value the freedom of responsible people to enjoy whatever pursuits they choose, so long as they do not recklessly endanger others or inhibit others from equally worthy pursuits. In the case of certain types of activity where the necessary equipment and/or materials can pose serious threats to public safety the long established and perfectly appropriate role of our public servants at every level of government is to ensure that public safety is reasonably assured even as the freedom of responsible people to learn about and participate in these activities is also respected. This role is clearly established in the cases of vehicle drivers licensing and professional licensing in a variety of fields, including medicine and law.

Therefore, I support licensing the possession and use of all firearms in the same way that I support both vehicle drivers licensing and the licensing of medical and pharmaceutical professionals. There are very different categories of both firearms and their uses. There are also very different categories of vehicles, therefore a proper licensing program needs to establish different requirements for different levels of education and appropriate ways to test for the proper use of each category of firearms and their expected uses. I think a similar approach to drug use may be possible, too.

Here's a post that seems to provide a little empirical support to my approach:
Craving and Denial at The Frontal Cortex

He concluded that teenagers should be taught to enjoy wine with family meals, and 25 years later Dr. Vaillant stands by his recommendation. "The theoretical position is: driving a car, shooting a rifle, using alcohol are all dangerous activities," he told me, "and the way you teach responsibility is to let parents teach appropriate use."

04 April 2007

Response to No assignments. No tests. No grades. It's "no problem"

This is an excellent article reported in a manner that suggests the author spent some time at the school and interviewed a number of people involved. Unlike other articles that I recall about this type of school it does not directly raise criticism or off-handedly scorn the differences but takes the more neutral approach of citing a notable critic’s concern. The criticisms represented are reasonable, although from my own experience and research into this type of schooling they only make sense because they miss important features of how this form of educational community works.

I have visited a Sudbury model school in Milwaukee, Oregon, called Cascade Valley School, which I believe is no longer operating. I spent several days at the school and talked with a number of students, staff, and parents. I have also read many books and accounts of Sudbury and other schools with similar philosophies. In my 15 years of working with children in a variety of settings other than the formal classroom I have examined this approach and others like it very carefully.

The criticism that is leveled in the article is from Alfie Kohn, a staunch critic of public education primarily on the grounds of pervasive competitiveness. Kohn’s research into the effects of competition demonstrates that it is detrimental to learning and the kind of positive social skills that most, if not all, parents expect their children to be taught in school. The article says that Kohn “doesn’t think students learn best left entirely on their own.” Then he is directly quoted as saying, “There’s a role for teachers to initiate possible avenues of inquiry, to spark interests that kids might not have had before. To coach and guide and observe. I don’t take the view that the kids have to take the lead all the time. I think we miss a lot that way.”

In my view this criticism is based on an unfounded assumption about what is going on in Sudbury style schools and also on a misunderstanding about the nature of teaching which is an unfortunate by-product of the way our schooling industry restricts the meaning of the term teacher. The unfounded assumption is, as Kohn puts it, children are “left entirely on their own” in these kinds of schools. They are not left alone, they are surrounded by a lively community of people and a lot of resources. There are 62 other kids between the ages of 4 and 19 plus some unstated number of paid staff and, if it is like others of it’s kind, there are usually volunteers, as well. Plus, these types of schools normally have policies that allow children to take advantage of the vast abundance of resources available beyond the school in the local community in age appropriate ways.

Kohn is absolutely correct that teachers are needed to initiate inquiries, spark interests, provide coaching, guidance and make observations. But as a criticism of this type of school it only makes sense if that role is exclusively fulfilled by adults who have coercive authority over the child. I believe it is untenable to insist on this narrow meaning of the term teacher. When the meaning of the term “teacher” is broadened to include anyone or anything that can provide those functions, then it is clear that the children in this school have more than 62 other people teaching them, plus an abundance of other teaching resources. In fact, when mainstream schools insist on making the adult in the classroom the only teacher they “miss a lot” more learning than the kids in a democratic school.

As with other articles on these kinds of schools, the portrayal is framed in terms of limited notions of what constitutes normal learning. The assumption that coerced adult-driven activities are inherently more valuable than child-directed explorations of an actively engaged resource-abundant community is evident in observations that completely miss the larger value of being engaged in democratic participation and minimizes the resources that are available.

“..it’s hard to see what academic learning takes place.” Is it safe to assume that some other kinds of learning were observed? If so, why is academic learning privileged as a form of learning that should be observed and valued more than those other kinds? If learning of other kinds were taking place, then how is that learning supposedly different from the academic kind of learning? This comment suggests that learning is observable. Instruction is observable, behavior is observable but the process of learning is not. This also frames the issue of learning in terms of academic versus other kinds of learning. In my view, it is the author’s clear sense of lots of activity that indicates that valuable learning is happening, not the presence or absence of things academic.

“Many younger students run around outside.” Leaving this sentence without explanation or further insight into the running around suggests to me that the author is implying that young children running around doesn’t involve learning. The author did not take the time to observe the young children to discover what they were doing, besides running around. After 15 years of leading children in a great variety of ways I don’t think I have ever seen a child over the age of 4 simply “run around.” The children always have some purpose, but you may have to be patient to figure it out. In fact, the imaginative play that was undoubtedly accompanying the observed running around was, I bet, very purposeful and could easily be interpreted as very educational if you were to make a careful study of the social skills, communication skills, physical skills, emotional sensitivities, and artistic creations involved.

“They have some resources available when they want them.” As I pointed out above, they do not just have “some” resources available. Because they are not restricted by the dictates of classroom managers to which resources they are allowed to use on an arbitrary schedule then they effectively have a vastly greater abundance of resources available than students in traditionally run schools.

The last section of the article describes the school meeting in terms of the apparently mundane issues of the day and finishes the entire article by emphasizing the participation of a small girl whose contradictory votes on the same request are both counted. My sense of the section about the school meeting is that in spite of previous statements that students “have a significant role in governing the school” and “Students at Clearwater ‘are a lot more mature because a lot more responsibility is placed on you’” the author truly misses the point of having democratic participation. She does not seem to have noticed that this is a direct lesson on the power and significance of real civic engagement. The students at this school effectively hire and fire staff and can change the rules, within the bounds of the policies established by the school Assembly which includes parents and community members. This means that they are taking responsibility not only for their personal decisions about what and how to learn, but they also share responsibility for ensuring that their school is fair in how it supports the learning activities of the other members of the community.

Traditional schooling methods provide abstract descriptions or, at best, create games about civic engagement. The disengagement of the American public from our political process amply demonstrates that the real lesson that is learned is that you don’t make a difference, participation is irrelevant, and you are better off leaving such complicated things to bigger, smarter, and more powerful people.

The article, once again, is very well crafted. It is a good presentation from the perspective of someone who has expectations that have been shaped by the modes of thinking that are prevalent in our industrial schooling system. Unfortunately, that perspective cannot do full justice to the very different assumptions about education that inform non-industrial approaches.

02 April 2007

Innovative vs. Traditional Teaching: A False Opposition

After writing What's Elementary In Education? (formerly titled "Is Teaching Literacy Overrated?") I received a very thoughtful reply from a friend of mine who is both a teacher at a local alternative school and a parent with a child in a local private school that is fairly traditional as far as I know. The response was sympathetic to my point but also cautionary about the possibility of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” in the sense that children need both the traditional 3R’s and my new 3R’s, or as he put it, all 6R’s.

In order to achieve that real goal of a healthy baby we need to take a broader view of the whole process. To take his metaphor into the realm of systems thinking, my point about making optimal states of mind the measure of success is meant to ensure that we have a healthy baby, which means that taking care of her includes making sure that we are not using toilet water for washing and when we discard the dirty wash water we don’t pollute our drinking water. When the goal is not just a clean baby but a healthy baby, then the broader goal requires us to look at broader issues.

The problem with the opposition between traditional and innovative teaching methods is when it requires too narrow a view of what benefits teaching produces for learners and tends to result in each side laying exclusive claim to certain benefits as if the opposing method is incapable of helping the learning process. It only appears to be true when the surface features of the different teaching methods are compared. But, the opposition is false if the primary benefit of all teaching is, as I propose, access to optimal states of mind. It is those who make exclusive claims to learning benefits that are using toilet water in the bath by propagating false information and then polluting the well by rejecting the possibility that other options can provide similar benefits. Of course, throwing the baby out can be a problem, but so is using toilet water for the bath and polluting the drinking water.

I wholeheartedly agree that children need “traditional” skills, as long as they are taught those skills in a manner consistent with achieving optimal states of mind. Unfortunately, many schools that use traditional methods may be using them in a manner that leads children to be bored, stressed, and in many other ways driven to non-optimal states of mind when they are introduced to these skills. The result of repeatedly associating certain skills with negative states of mind is that those associations may become hard-wired in the brain and then that child will have a significant challenge overcoming the unconscious aversion to using those skills created by their early associations.

What I am suggesting is that all teaching methods should be evaluated according to their ability to provide students with reliable access to optimal states of mind regardless of the knowledge, skills, and information that are used to facilitate that access. In my previous post about literacy I was exploring the concept to distinguish a way of framing it to meet this challenge. If literacy is narrowly defined as only the old 3R’s and the old 3R’s are the primary benefit of schooling, then I have grave concerns for how well we are caring for our babies and disposing of bath water. On the other hand, if literacy is given a much broader meaning to include all the different ways that we humans have found to provide reliable access to optimal states of mind plus optimal states of mind are considered the primary benefit of schooling while the knowledge and information used to facilitate that access are secondary, then I am confident about the long term health prospects for both us and our babies.

01 April 2007

Mending The Sacred Hoop

The sacred hoop consists of the few things you do not yet know and the infinity of things you never will. The image of a hoop suggests cycles that are endless and the sacred hoop is a symbol of the endless cycles of life that ultimately give us our existence.

The sacred hoop is broken when we act as if knowing some thing can give us control of it and that we can eventually or in principle know everything. Knowing a literal material thing like a block of wood does give us many kinds of control over it. But beyond literal concrete examples the connection between what it means to “know” and the kinds of “control” that result from that “knowing” become very tenuous and, as a society with the power to inflict grave damage on the whole planet, our pretensions to knowing and controlling are now dangerous because of how they mis-inform our actions.

Can I really “know” another person? Not really. Can I really know them so well that I know better than they do what is right for their life? Clearly, for a newborn infant the answer is yes, but for a teenager it is not so clear.

Mending the sacred hoop is the process of rooting out of our patterns of behavior the myriad ways that, when making crucial decisions that can affect life itself, we act as if this assumption about a causal connection between knowing and controlling were true. We can only know a severely limited amount of information about living systems and the result of that knowledge is influence, at best, and should not be called “control.”

Do I really have “control” over a child? For an infant the unequivocal answer is yes, for the most part, but it is also important to acknowledge that while I have a lot of control, that control is not based on knowledge of that little person. It is based on a lot of other more practical stuff like being bigger and having a mature point of view. And the fact that I respond to that baby like a puppet on a string every time it cries or coos begs the question of who is controlling whom. And then, when that little person gets to be a teenager then it is abundantly clear that I am not in “control.” A sculptor can know a block of stone so intimately that he can make it into anything he wants it to be. But, no matter how intimately I can know another person, I am never capable of truly controlling them. Of course, we still have influence, but that is a far cry from control.

Honoring the scared hoop means admitting we, both individually and as a society, cannot know everything and acting as if the things we cannot predict are as likely to be extraordinarily powerful as to be insignificant and must be treated with due caution and profound respect. Honoring the scared hoop means we should proceed with increasing our knowledge, but with ever more due diligence and a stronger program for ensuring that our due diligence process is capable of truly informing and involving all the affected stakeholders in the decision to proceed or not. We will continue to take risks but the process of choosing which risks to take should be based on the intelligence distributed throughout society and put less emphasis on imposing the arbitrary decisions of a few centralized authorities and experts. All experts and authorities are human beings just like us and therefore cannot know enough to actually be in total control of another individual person let alone whole organizations or our society.

When we are struggling to deal with how to manage sharing our lives with teenagers it is important that we face that struggle within the loving embrace of a community of support. Parents need enough support to face the fact that they are not in control anymore and teenagers need at least as much support for dealing with the fact that they have had a tremendous amount of control all along, even if they didn’t realize it before. Teenagers are as prone to abusing their newly discovered powers of influence over others as adults are to abusing their diminishing powers of influence over their teenagers.

Mending the sacred hoop means communicating the importance of the sacred in all it’s forms, admitting our on-going complicity in the breaking of the sacred hoop, and working to correct our own actions in coordination with those who can assist us in better understanding the practical and moral implications of the actions we would like to take to repair the sacred hoop.

It is within a loving community of support that we can all face the challenges of living in a world in which we are never in total control and yet we are forced to make decisions that can impact lives around the whole world. We are all caught in the dilemma of being simultaneously both powerless and powerful in the world.

I participate in my local Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious community as a way to support others and be supported in mending the sacred hoop. The long history and traditions of UU, as exemplified by our seven principles, tells the world that we hold Truth to be self-evident in the lives of people who live according to their conscience within a society that provides abundant support for the pursuit of conscience.

Just as our society does not yet fully support each of us in living according to our conscience our church is still figuring out how to fully support families. We provide a variety of innovative as well as traditional programs. But I think the most important program we can build in support of families is mending the sacred hoop in our global society.

Unitarian Universalists are called to use the tools of Social Justice to influence our society towards realizing not only Truth but also Goodness, Beauty, Unity and Joy in and through the everyday lives of conscientious people.

We do Good work together on the journey to meet the real immediate needs of people through Service. We find the Truth to be told by exposing the games that we impose on each other as a society through Witness. We find the Beauty of the world and tell the story of our choices and challenges through Education. And finally we discover our Unity and the Joy of harmonizing the world with our ideals in being bold as we work with other communities, organizations and governments to improve the Journeys, the Games and the Stories through Action.

Our religious community has a strong foundation of Service, Witness, Education, and Action that makes makes our most inspired visions into self-fulfilling prophesies. When we truly tap into the distributed intelligence of our religious community then use these four essential tools of collective conscience we are a powerful influence on the direction of our society. These tools, guided by our seven principles, are moving our society towards providing increasing levels of support for living from individual conscience informed by local democratic communities of common interest.

What you already know gave you existence in the past, but it is what you are learning that gives you existence now. I ask your help in surrendering the audacious claim that we can know it all and dropping the pretense that we are in control of life. I invite you to join me in taking up the tools of social justice in the good work of mending the sacred hoop.