Here you will find writings that give some insight into Trinity’s programs.

Peer Leadership and the Practice of Community in a Diverse Society

 

Alan lecturing at the Necropolis.

Alan lecturing at the Necropolis.

In our present world when we talk about community in public at all we usually talk about it in terms of deficit, as an artificial entity that has to be fixed or made better, or as a story-line in Public Relations to promote ourselves and attract tourists.

For a Peer Leader these are both superficial understandings, and limited as practices of community.

Communities are extensions of ourselves, and express the ways we understand ourselves and interact with one another.

It would be more insightful, and more useful, if we understood that when you put a person with an innate sense of being attuned to his or her surroundings, and who is also socially ‘wired’, into close proximity with others, the result is the variety of human made versions of community we see in history.

But before we look at communities in history, it is more beneficial for a Peer Leader to look at the actuality of our present idea of community, what it is composed of and how it works.

Looking closely at any gathering of people living together in a defined space we see that any community is made up of:

  1. People
  2. Their Associations
  3. Institutions
  4. ‘Services’ towards the “common good” ie  maintaining some degree of equitable functioning of the whole
  5. Narratives – popular ideas and fictions- news sources local national      global – (all related to the functioning of our ‘Autobiographical Self’)

The primary dynamics, or motivators, for action in a community are:

  1. Meeting Needs – physical, social/emotional, intellectual, spiritual
  2. Expressing Desire, our core passion to live and experience
  3. Searching for and creating Identity

The ways that people meet their needs, express their desire, and search for identity, is then extended to their relationship to their physical surroundings-which would imply that physical communities are ultimately the expression of our prevailing consciousness in a particular era.

Consequently, primary energies in a community flow or manifest – in an order of importance determined by the consciousness of an era- in the following areas of endeavor:

  1. Commerce and technology
  2. Health
  3. Law
  4. Politic/ Advocacy/ Management of Services
  5. Art
  6. Education and Learning
  7. Faith
  8. Recreation and leisure

All these areas of activity in community are extensions of ourselves, and platforms for the exercise of our creativity, while remaining basically reflective of our consciousness of ourselves and our surroundings in a given period.

Consequently, any significant approach to community can not be primarily  conceptual or theoretical or managerial alone, but one that is based in the multiple demands and consequent complexity, or messiness, of real life, and inspired by the hope and intent that our approach will produce useful outcomes for the positive welfare of all its citizens.

Peer Leadership and Community – Part Two

Pawns on a flat surface connected by lines.

 

For me Peer Leadership is the leadership of the future.

For the moment I’m not going to talk about the individual characteristics and skills leaders need to be successful in a diverse society. But the way a leader and their community connect and in the end ‘create’ one another.

It is likely that leaders in the past were as much the product of their own skills as they were of their community. In a race-based society leaders were exemplary of either how their community saw themselves or wanted to see themselves.

Leaders also arose as part of the process of a great cause. And had to develop the means of expression, and the charisma of having ‘lived’ the cause in order to succeed.

The challenge with both of these experiences of leadership is that life in our diverse communities is not so simple anymore. And while race-based leadership and cause-based leadership are still around, the entire picture of our communities is so much more complex than either race or cause-based leadership can address.

A leader now finds him or herself among equals- or if this idea of equality seems like too much of a stretch given the last vestiges of patriarchy and the apparent high status of wealth and celebrity- let’s say the present leader finds him or herself among peers.

We are all peers to one another. Thanks to technology and the media we can find out just about anything we need to know about one another. Thanks to the constant flow of information we are all in communities- or indeed are community makers. We belong to all kinds of groups- based on friendship, beliefs, hobbies, activities, books, music, common experiences to name just a few – and add internet use and the opportunities to find peers and community building is endless.

While fame and wealth may still stratify our communities, most of us believe in some form of equity and justice in human affairs even if we don’t always experience them. Most of us can fend for ourselves- more or less- in terms of meeting our needs in everything from finding places to live to feeling part of significant friendships and associations. And for perhaps the first time in history the plight of those who cannot fend for themselves for whatever reasons is on the agenda of most communities.  So the role and expectation of governance and politics in communities is changing in terms of defining our sense of place or the degree to which they determine our vision of how we organize and run ourselves.

We are all peers in this new landscape. And in this landscape where one race cannot actually dominate, nor one cause- even if absolutely necessary like the sustaining of our global environmental commons of atmosphere, oceans, and icecaps- completely motivate, we must all develop the mindset of a Peer Leader.

This mindset will begin with greater attention to one’s personal growth and development combined with more engagement into community process and social development. As we take more responsibility for our personal growth, as well as our surroundings, our practice of community will change.

Peer Leadership and Community – Part One

City Hall + Nathan Phillips Square

 

People have been gathering together in communities for a very long time.

But the way we do this gathering, as well as the dynamics actually at work in communities, have changed over the years.

We can safely guess that certain things were always present as catalysts in the forming of communities – the meeting of human needs (often around security issues) for instance, or the attempt to benefit from available resources.

As well, the members of the new community had to answer, either for themselves or through allegiance to a leader, their own version of the following questions- in our community what do we all more or less agree to as guidelines for conducting our daily lives together? What values and beliefs do we share which will inform the expectations we have of one another and how we settle our differences?

If we were to go back a thousand years in our Western history it would appear communities were in fact primarily expressions of racially alike people’s need for security – in essence what we would call today institutional racism.

Exclusion was a defining feature of all communities at that time – the exclusion of those who did not belong on the basis of race, and who it was necessary to keep out.

As communities developed they came to base belonging on ideologies, often religious, as well as race and exclusion.

In more recent history communities have based belonging- now called citizenship – not solely on race and beliefs but on processes of governance – things like law and the parliamentary system, the existence of human rights, and the idea of democracy etc for example.

And that brings us to where we are today – communities are still being organized by blood, belief and law – with the market and consumerism putting new ‘spins’ on old ideas of inevitability, absolute authority and the experience of mass behaviour.

But the basic questions for any community still remain- how will we live together and establish basic guidelines we can all agree to and which will bring every member of the community the opportunity to pursue a meaningful life?

The expectation of a meaningful life is a relatively new addition to the questions and actually makes answering now very difficult – difficult because pursuing a meaningful life is about more than meeting our needs or spending all your time with like-minded people – difficult because very few societies are one race anymore- and difficult because of our experience in history with great causes and different religions that lead to much bloodshed and/or ongoing acts of terrorism.

The issue in creating a functional community is made even more difficult because of the erosion of the political dimension to life with the constant discrediting of politicians and the political process that is happening in many societies.

Little more than 50% of people in our society usually vote. Many citizens, especially the young, think politics is corrupt, irrelevant, or boring. And this makes the difficulties I spoke of previously, and the lack of a coherent answer to how and why we organize into communities not just difficult but dangerous – since many are more than willing to fill the vacuum the lack of an answer leaves for personal or corporate gain.

So it is with this brief history and set of situations in mind that I will talk about the idea of Peer Leadership in a community in the next blog.

Peer Leadership and Sense of Person

Puzzle

Recognizing our interconnectedness.

We are born human, but it is our great work (or destiny) to become a Person.

A sense of what it means to be a Person is innate in every individual.

As a Person I understand myself as an individual intertwined in a field of connections so thoroughly that I both create and co-create myself

Consequently, each era in the development of being human will interpret this sense of Person according to the degree of consciousness the society of the era has been able to achieve

Both our individuality, (or awareness of being separate), and our connection to other people, places, nature, and events, are so thoroughly intertwined they are of equal significance and impact in our development.

We are as much ourselves in our bodies and brains, as we are in our ideas, our actions, and our interactions with others.

This intertwining is experienced primarily in our sensory experience of life, and reflected in our constant making of narratives of Self. We consequently experience growth both as a physical act and a psychological deepening in awareness.

This intertwining of “I/We” in our natures is also expressed in our capacity to extend our being into creations beyond ourselves- tools and technologies for example as well as all the arts.

These extensions of ourselves, our fictions of Self, technologies and art, can trap us and limit our growth if we do not continue to develop our Sense of Person. To do this it is important to explore three areas of life experience:

  1. The continual process of action/reaction we are born into, and which is mediated by reflection
  2.  Our ability to influence our development through our narratives and extensions.
  3. The brain/mind dichotomy- and the process of sensory data being converted and stored through filters into internal narratives in words, images, feelings, sounds, movement etc

If we are going to learn to live together in diverse communities it will be necessary to develop and extend our Sense of Person

Because diversity will always exist, the pursuit of an object based or objectified idea of commonality will always marginalize someone or something

So only when we understand and accept how profoundly we as individuals are intertwined with our ‘worlds’ ie each other, our objects and ideas, etc will we be able to live creatively in diversity designing life enhancing outcomes for everyone in community and compassion.

Without a developed Sense of Person we are trapped in our individuality, or awareness of being separate from one another, and can then only experience our own versions of reality, and not the actuality of life itself as it exists in our diversity.

Peer Leadership and Sense of Place

 

Peer Leadership

Peer Leadership is a dynamic part of a larger view of Leadership that is free of accumulated social and psychological conventions, and based on leadership as an aspect of personal growth.

Every person is in the process of creating, and co-creating, internal frames of reference based on their experiences which they then use to pursue their life. This self-leadership begins in our infancy and continues throughout our lives.

From this self-leadership all forms of leadership in groups, communities, and societies develop. This public leadership always involves a dynamic made up of an individual and surrounding context, and the interplay between the two. The skills and tools of the successful leader relate to the context in which they find themselves.

Peer Leadership is leadership between individuals in a diverse context (society).

Since individual leadership practice in the past has always been related essentially to either race/ethnicity contexts, or the addressing of a common cause for the betterment of a group/society, it is necessary now to look more closely at the personal skills and tools needed for leadership in a society where the primary context is diversity.

The primary skills necessary to be a Peer Leader in a diverse society are the development of our innate Sense of Place, Sense of Person, and competence in the practices of Community and Compassion.

 

Sense of Place

If we are going to stop viewing nature and ourselves as objects, we will have to change key ideas, or internal frameworks, such as ‘landscape’ for example.

When you look at a tree and see only a two-dimensional object you are imprisoning yourself in a reality system, or mindset called ‘landscape’. But when you “see’ the invisible ie see with insight and imagination the nutrients being absorbed by the roots and rising to the branches and leaves and the act of photosynthesis, you see the whole tree.

An important first step in breaking free of this objectified thinking would be to develop our innate Sense of Place, which means we see with both the head and the heart, with both our eyes and our feelings and imagination.

We are born with a sense of attunement to our surroundings. With the onset of an awareness of separation from our surroundings, our innate Sense of Place is overlaid by our developing rationality and its processes.

To get back in tune with our surroundings we must start to see any place as both a physical act (or geography), and as an idea (or experience). This would mean replacing our present ruling idea of ‘landscape’ with the idea of ecosystem. This means that instead of seeing only an object in a picture separate from us, we see and feel both the visible and invisible processes before us, and of which we are a part.

This is not actually as difficult for the mind to grasp as it first appears because it is well known that we as creatures are made of the self-same elements etc as our apparent ‘surroundings’.

The boundaries between person and place are not as black and white as they appear to the ordinary eye once we give up the framing mindsets of separation and ‘landscape’.

Needless to say the objectifying tendency of the unimaginative eye applies itself equally to people as well, and this will not serve us well in a diverse society.

We, like the tree, are dynamic agents in creating and co-creating our lives, and the profounder challenges we all face now are what guidelines will we create together to live productively and peacefully in our communities, with equity and opportunities for all.

Learning for Life – Part Two

 

Team in the Sunset

There are a few things I would like to say especially to Trinity’s Peer Leaders here in Toronto, in Elliot Lake, in Sault Ste Marie, and Thunder Bay, as well as Peer Leaders in Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver, and Ottawa as you move on at this time in your education either from grade to grade, secondary to post secondary or into the work place or a year off.

The key workshops of the Peer to Peer mentoring process we used to reach out to younger, more vulnerable students in our school communities were all based on different areas of a person’s social/emotional development. The areas were (i) learning the importance of respect in one’s life (ii) stepping up and naming the issues in whatever community you find yourself (iii) learning how to handle conflict and the benefits of assertiveness in relationships (iv) the importance of our gender identities and the personal and community diminishment we experience in all forms of prejudice, as well as the misuse of addictive substances.

Each of these areas continues to grow and broaden in our lives as we grow so it’s about some of these more mature areas of concern I’d like to talk to you about in this brief writing.

Concerning respect: Strive to develop an insight-based approach to life. Be constantly reflecting on experience and making assessments re how you think about a particular event, relationship etc. This self-initiated respect applies both to yourself and others.

Concerning naming issues: Assume diversity in all things. We don’t need illusions like ‘normal’ or ‘universal’, or any other label that hides a lazy mind full of generalities to be able to observe life and name what you see.

Concerning handling conflict and developing assertiveness: Don’t be imprisoned by our person made reality systems. When you look at a tree and see only a two dimensional object you are imprisoning yourself in a reality system called ‘nature’ and ‘landscape’. But when you “see’ the invisible ie see with insight and imagination the nutrients being absorbed by the roots and rising to the branches and leaves and the act of photosynthesis, you see the whole tree. When we conflict with another person the world encourages a simplistic win-lose mentality and ‘truths’ about human nature like the inevitability of conflict in life. Strive to see the bigger picture of the conflict. You can choose to do other than conflict.

Concerning gender and substance use and abuse: You will have to keep learning all your life. And often to learn you will have to unlearn, or relearn something previously known but no longer applicable or useful. Learning who you are gender-wise and growing creatively in that evolution towards fulfilling relationships can often mean being honest and resisting comfortable mindsets which are very similar to the constant invitation of addictive processes in our personal growth concerning both substances and behaviours.

To all Trinity Peer Leaders past and present, live a creative life animated by open mindedness and the capacity to flourish in diversity.

Take a leadership role in your own life. Don’t let fear or any form of censure curtail or limit your life.

Love is our primary process for engagement with the world around us.

Live in love, and be guided by kindness.

Learning for Life – Part One

Learning over schooling.

“We thus are learning all the time if we have a spirit and mind to.”

 

School is ultimately just one of the platforms or stages on which education takes place. Indeed when you think more broadly institutional education is just one of several, but is the one that takes a good deal of our time especially when we are young.

One suspects that our society’s predecessors chose it because ideally they wanted education of their young to be done in groups, thereby insuring some degree of social development while students learn their ‘reading, writing, and arithmetic’.

This social development is still expressed in the mission statement of the TDSB:

“To enable all students to reach high levels of achievement and to acquire the knowledge, skills and values they need to become responsible members of a  democratic society.”

It is sometimes hard to recognize this social/emotional development agenda in the overwhelming amount of academic curriculum outlines, materials, and exams.

So in many ways it’s up to us ourselves to broaden our learning. And perhaps this is a good thing because it’s hard to envision an academic lecture from the front of the classroom in the usual spirit of one size fits all actually inspiring us to pay attention to our social/emotional growth.

For just as institutional education is not the only place we learn, we as persons are not singular and have many aspects to our characters. We thus are learning all the time if we have a spirit and mind to.

We of course learn in all our relationships. We learn from the community narratives around us in news, entertainment, literature and art, and especially in the unspoken norms and expectations of our society.

As well we learn from self-directed reading and study. We learn from work situations, apprenticeships and volunteering. And if we have been balancing our external academic progress with committed self-aware personal growth and resilience we will be in a constant learning process all our lives.

Success in Life and Exams

 

Whether stated officially or assumed in the unspoken culture of a school the ‘truth’ often put forward is that there is a direct link between success in exams and future success in life. This contributes to the intense “hot house” atmosphere in schools around exam time to such a degree that I have several friends who still, thirty years after leaving high school, have nightmares about not being ready for an exam.

At present there is little help offered to students to manage the stress, and mental health implications of the exam ordeal. Thankfully this is slowly changing, but the myth of links between exam success and one’s future persist.

So is success in life directly linked to success in exams? Is it linked any more or less than the acquisition of any other discipline or skill?

Our future is much more likely to be seriously influenced by things like our people skills, or our ability to network, or especially our capacity to continue to learn and personally grow in social/emotional terms. If anything interferes with any these we are much more likely to find a hard road ahead.

Put more to the point, the only thing that assures success in life is a continuing commitment to personal growth, which enlivens the natural learner within us, and engagement with the world around us through the practices of curiosity, love and resilience.

We are meant to throw ourselves into life, not cautiously carve off a piece of it and put our brand on it! And I would apply this statement even to the preparation for an exam.

As you prepare for any exam don’t put your focus totally on the external event of the exam, but use the experience of however you learn to study, manage your time, and prioritize your tasks to be processes for reflection, and personal growth.

You will grow more yourself the more you step up to the life, both within you and in the challenges this world presents you. This dual learning process will bring increased intensity to your life by increasing the intensity of your attention to the work at hand.

And what about success?

It’s a common idea that we are successful if a certain external outcome is achieved. But it enhances our life more if we concentrate as intensely as possible on the process of achieving an objective but detach ourselves from the outcome.

Success in these terms turns our outcomes into offerings, and the pursuit of achievement less a matter of external rewards and more a life enhancing process in our personal growth.

The Hidden Benefits of Exams and Stress

 

As the last weeks of the secondary school year approach I wanted to reach out to the many Trinity peer leaders, both in secondary and high school about the hidden challenges and benefits of stress and exams.

For me the end of the school year always entailed stress but not because of exams but because I was usually cramming at the last minute, trying to make up for my hit and miss self discipline around managing and prioritizing my study for individual courses.

To compound my problem I was told that studying was essential for my future success, as were high marks. This shifted the focus away from the particulars of my personal growth and on to my immediate need to somehow do the best I could for future rewards.

All this obscures the deeper challenges involved in our self-development at this crucial stage of our lives. In our adolescence, for instance, we lay down the basic framework for how we handle the ups and downs of life. And we should be as self-aware of this process as we can.

As human beings we are from our earliest years constantly in the process of stabilizing ourselves as we grow socially/emotionally through various experiences. In fact the process of striving for stability and achieving it in our mindsets and emotions, then having a destabilizing experience and struggling to reintegrate that experience into a new stability is essential to our capacity to grow and learn.

Anything that takes the focus away from this process will impair our innate resilience. The result of this could be that certain areas of our life can remain destabilized for long periods of our lives. Or in plain talk, we don’t get over certain losses or failures, and develop aversions for example to certain issues or avoid activities that threaten to move us out of our comfort zone.

More importantly, this process can be the major contributor to negative self-talk developed in our childhood and adolescence. And exams in particular, which push us into an intense singular external focus, can impede the development of our self-awareness and delay the development of an inner literacy. This in turn leaves us to measure ourselves in black and white terms such as success or failure, win or lose etc. and nothing more.

Ultimately, in the larger context and meaning of our life, the outcome of exams are unimportant. Our real challenge is to make the preparing for exams and exams themselves an entirely conscious, multifaceted experience in which we grow as a person as well as developing the discipline to acquire certain knowledge and skills.

Take back your education from the education system and become a lifelong learner.

Experiencing a pressing demand from an external source- substitute for exams a boss someday for example- is something that will happen all through life in our relationships, our workplaces, and pursuit of a vocation. Best to use the challenge of exams now to be aware of the deeper personal growth processes in your life, and lay down stepping stones for your future in the never ending process of learning, unlearning, and relearning to meet the ups and downs in all facets of our lives.

 

The Here and Now of Life

The Journey Begins

 

One of the unintentional side effects of our long years in school is that we can feel that our own life is on pause, or something is happening some fun place somewhere outside school,

Or that life is something we have to learn, a ‘soon to start’ phenomenon that begins with success at our studies

But the fact is your life has begun

You are here

Now

In body and thought

And that spirit of life that manifests in all your actions and ideas isn’t waiting to start when you think it should, like after you finish high school, or after you get your college or university degree, or after your first job

Or when you start living on your own, or when you find the right relationship, or when you feel better about yourself, or when you and your mother stop fighting, or when you become a better person

You are here

Now

In body and thought

And that spirit of life

So what are you doing with it?

It doesn’t matter if you are timid,

Or less endowed with special talents

As some others in your acquaintance,

Or the overlooked child in a large family,

Or the unfortunate victim of some abuse

Can you ask yourself this question-

What are you doing with your life?

Because the moment you ask

The moment you actually ask

And want an answer

The journey to find yourself begins