Who Do We Think We Are?

March 21, 2012 Leave a comment

“Ontology transcends interest.”

-john a. powell


|Photo from fotologic|http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotologic/3108613104|

At last week’s Transforming Race conference, Kirwan Institute founder john a. powell gave a powerful and compelling presentation about some of the false binaries that he says we have embraced in this country, to our own collective detriment.  This includes pitting “whiteness” against “blackness” and “public” vs. “private” spaces in such a way as to lose sight of the larger game that is happening around us.  Specifically he pointed out how powerful interests have helped to construct and prop up these prescribed labels and narratives that result in discontent and disenfranchisement without a clear sense of how other more empowering spaces might exist for us to occupy, or reclaim, and move forward.  All of this impinges upon our own fundamental sense of being, of who we think we are and who we think we are not.  And it constrains our view of who “the other” is, of who resides or does not reside in our circle of compassion.  For example, it’s gotten to the point that somehow we have legally allowed corporations into the realm of personhood and, as brain scans show, often look at people who are homeless as if they were less than human.

Ontology is deep.  It runs deeper than so-called “interests.”  That is why, as powell says, with our advance towards 2042 we are faced with deep-seated resistance in the form of people wondering who they will be in this new demographic reality.  It is why, with all the climatic threats out there, we are faced with deep-seated denial of people who wonder who they will be on this warming planet that will require new ways of being and living in community.  Ontology is not just about being, it is also about becoming, it is about evolution.  Or as powell put it,  it’s an active “spiritual claim.”  And so it is not a naval-gazing flight of fancy to consider the question “Who am I?” or “Who am I becoming?”, “Who are we?” or “Who are we becoming?”  Rather, these questions become central and foundational to the work of social change.

But how can we engage this ontological dilemma in intentional, less heady, and more accessible ways?  Here are a few thoughts, for now and that I certainly hope others will build and rift upon:

  • Name the dilemma – “If you can name it you can tame it.”
  • Bring people together intentionally in new spaces (outdoors, open and welcoming spaces, spaces that honor the fullness of our ways of knowing and being) where they can dialogue across lines of difference.
  • Engage people in storytelling and story receiving to help flesh out larger and more empowering narratives.
  • Practice gratitude, individually and collectively (also consider other practices that can cultivate positivity).
  • Develop the capacity for Whole Thinking . . .

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    • Gibrán says:

      thanks so much for sharing Cynthia – right on! I love powell, and as you know, I’ve longed argued that the quest for liberation is best sought on the ontological plane.

      I also like the idea of reclaiming space, did you see ds4si’s report on “Spatial Justice?” Here it is:


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