From the Director’s Chair
The Individual and the Community
"When the term community is used, the first notion that typically comes to mind is a place in which people know and care for one another – the kind of place in which people do not merely ask “How are you?” as a formality but care about the answer...Our focus here...is on another element of community, crucial for the issues at hand: Communities speak to us in moral voices. They lay claims on their members. Indeed, they are the most important sustaining source of moral voices other than the inner self.
— Amitai Etzioni, from The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda
I hope this month’s newsletter finds you well. It is hard to believe that we are already six weeks into this new school year!
I came across the quotation above when looking back through Rushworth Kidder’s book, How Good People Make Tough Choices. Given our theme of community this year, I have been drawn to the work of Kidder, the founder of the Institute for Global Ethics. Woven through much of his work on ethical and moral decision-making is a construct called “right versus right dilemma paradigms.” Kidder contends that the truly tough decisions we face are often not “right versus wrong.” Those types of decisions, while not always easy, are more easily discernable for those with moral footing and ample time to reflect. On the other hand, “right versus right” dilemmas are “genuine dilemmas because each side is firmly rooted in one of our basic, core values.” Kidder identifies four common types of these “right versus right” dilemmas: Truth vs. Loyalty; Short-term vs. Long-term; Justice vs. Mercy; and Individual vs. Community.
At last week’s ninth grade retreat, I had the opportunity to help guide a group of students through several exercises and discussions on the topic and concept of leadership. I was incredibly impressed with their level of discourse and reflection. One of the more interesting parts of our conversation centered on the idea of Individual vs. Community.
One of the foundational beliefs of Quakerism is seeing “that of God” in every individual, what Friends call the “Inner Light.” Every child, every person, every human being possesses this Light and therefore must be treated and cherished accordingly. Simultaneously, however, there is a very intentional focus in Quakerism, and in Friends education, on attending to our collective health as a community. Our communities sustain us, guide us and comfort us. The ninth graders were very quick to point out that we often think of “individual” and “community” as mutually exclusive concepts. To be sure, tension can certainly exist between the two. We asked ourselves: “At what point do the needs of a community trump those of an individual, and vice versa?” and “If both the individual and the group have value and worth, how are we to choose between the two?”
Kidder is very clear to point out that the “right versus right” dilemma paradigms do not lead us directly to choose one side or another. However, the process of determining a paradigm can help us to make tough choices in two distinct ways: (1) It helps cut through confusion and complexity to realize that the choice before us is not necessarily unique; (2) It helps us to get to the heart of the matter to more easily see why we have a conflict; (3) It helps us to distinguish between a “right versus wrong” and a “right versus right” decision. If you read Kidder’s work, you will find that he also has much to say on how to choose which side is “the nearest right for the circumstances.”
As we explore what Community means to us during this school year, I hope that you will join us in reflecting on this tension between the Individual and Community. This tension need not be viewed negatively, as much good can come from wrestling with and discerning between the inherent moral value of both.
News You Can Use
Upper School Parent Forum, Monday, Oct. 24, 8:15 - 9:15 am. Kim Rubenstein, executive director of Be Part of the Conversation, will be our guest at the Upper School Parent Forum. As a reminder, the Upper School recently began a partnership with Be Part of the Conversation, which is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness, educates and provides support and resources around the issues of alcohol, drugs and addiction in adolescents.
From their website, conversation.zone: “We are a collaboration of community leaders, students, school district representatives and families who believe that having meaningful, inclusive conversations will support individuals and their families in their efforts to develop healthy coping skills and access support whenever there is a need.”
Through our partnership with Be Part of the Conversation, our community will have full access to its resources and are always invited to programs hosted by other school partners. Under the resources tab in your parent page on the Hub, you will find a link to their site.
Speaking of community ... the entire Upper School student body and faculty departed campus on Friday for the annual Day of Service. Some of their hard work on behalf of neighborhoods and nonprofits, including this group below at Tree House Books, is captured in these photos on Flickr.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the Run for Peace. Great spirit! Below, enjoy the Flickr set!