New Ways of Being-With

September 17, 2013 4 Comments

Last week Curtis wrote an excellent post inviting a developmental perspective on building networks for social change.  It triggered all sort of ideas for me.

Our concept of “self” is not static.  It has evolved over time.  That’s how we end up with concepts like the “me” generation, and the flagrant narcissism that defines our culture (see example – First World Problems).

Professor john powell speaks of the concept of self that was born out of the “European Enlightenment Project,” the isolated self.  I can understand how this was a liberatory effort in its time.  But like every structure that liberates, it has now become a prison.

Loneliness, isolation, alienation, rampant depression, selfishness – these play too big a role in our society.  Even today, in the age of a thousand Facebook friends, too many of us are disconnected from each other.  This lack of connection is what leads to a sense of powerlessness before the greatest challenges that have faced humanity.

A developmental perspective allows us to imagine a different concept of self.  With a developmental perspective we don’t need to feel like we have to go back to some lost past.  We don’t have to bind ourselves to some fundamentalism or other in order to have community.  With a developmental perspective we can seek to evolve how we conceive of our “self.”

Jeremy Rifkin points in this direction when he writes of humanity’s evolution towards greater and greater empathy.  And I think the idea of networks can be connected to this evolution.

The late Jeff Stamps used to say that in networks “the link between the nodes is an ontological equal to the nodes themselves.”  If we take this to be true, then the space between us starts to matter just as much as each of us.  And this is where I think we find an evolved concept of self.

What happens when our concept of self evolves in such a way that it can integrate and include the powerful individual self that we’ve developed over the last 500 years with a collective ideal that does not bind us, but instead makes us more free?

I definitely want to find out, this is why my twitter bio does not say that I’m interested in new ways of being, it says that I’m interested in new ways of being-with.


  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Only resonance here, Gibran. Thank you so much for this extension and deepening. I also appreciate the connection to powell’s work and the reminder of our late friend, Jeff Stamps. There is a poem by Judy Sorum Brown, called “Fire,” that talks about how attention paid to the spaces between logs as much as the logs themselves is what helps a fire burn. It strikes me as being connected to this notion of links being the ontological equal of nodes. And yes, yes, yes, new ways of “being-with.” I will take that into a conference presentation next week on social capital!

  • Beth Tener says:

    How our self concepts can evolve is a rich area of inquiry and leverage point for enabling new futures to come in. A related evolutionary perspective is the deep ecology concept, which I learned about through Joanna Macy & Arne Naess’ work, of the “ecological self” This expands our concept of self beyond our narrow ego to others and to our sense of self including our relatedness with all beings, as part of nature. Or as Mary Oliver says “rediscovering our place in the family of things.”

  • Brenda Salgado says:

    This is the evolution individually and collectively of this time. So grateful for its unfolding.

  • Charles Jones says:

    it is my understanding that newborns are unaware of the “self” as having form and boundaries. they have no concept of where they stop and the rest of the world begins (therefore we swaddle infants until this awareness is formed). i wonder how this might tie in to the conversation?

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