Friday, June 6, 2008

Principles for a Healthy Commons?

I recently read a brief biography of Alfie Roberts, a native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and a long time resident of Quebec who dedicated his life to the social development of people of African and Caribbean descent across the globe. Alfie Roberts believed that social change was always possible, and that common, ordinary people had the capacity to change their own conditions and bring about the betterment of humankind as a whole. Today in Montreal the Alfie Roberts Institute continues his work and seeks to preserve his legacy. As I read what the Institute believes, I was struck by how much this set of beliefs could describe what is required for the “commons” to be healthy.

All of their principles are insightful and important, and I draw your attention to a few:
  • the solutions to the social problems that exist in this society are to be found within the context of the daily activity and work of people;
  • human beings are social animals and it is through human interaction, dialogue, and action that we draw inspiration and direction;
  • people have the capacity to deal with the challenges and obstacles that impede their development and serve as obstacles to positive social change. However, in order for people to grow and prosper they must have at their disposal the most basic of resources: healthy food, adequate shelter, sufficient clothing, a well-rounded education, etc., as well as a belief in their capacity to change their own lives;
  • as individuals and as an organized body within a community, we have a responsibility to contribute the resources that lie at our disposal for the betterment of the communities in which we live and society as a whole;
I am struck by how different these principles would be if they were framed from the point of view of an individual person. For example, “the solutions to the social problems that exist in this society are to be found within the context of the daily activity and work of each person,” or “each person has the capacity to deal with the challenges and obstacles that impede his or her development….However, in order for a person to grow and prosper, he or she must have the most basic of resources…”

Our view of social change needs to be the view from the commons: requiring the collective effort and thought of people, not the individual effort (however noble) of one person at a time. For those of us raised in the USA, to value individual effort and heroism, individual need and sacrifice, this is a big change, and one worth pondering deeply.

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