Sunday, July 25, 2010

High Ideals and Community Capacity Building Basics

Reflections on the 10th World Congress of the Theosophical Society.

Not so long ago, I attended an Emergency Relief training seminar for community organisation workers where the participants introduced themselves to others by explaining what sustained them. On the surface it is an easy question and can have a few easy answers such as family, children and partners, compassion and love. On a deeper level it is interesting to further develop a personal understanding of what it is that really makes one’s life worth living; what keeps us doing what we do. This applies especially to people who work in difficult circumstances where they meet others with complex needs and help them to get over difficult phases or life situations on a daily basis. What is it that sustains their ability to cope and give?

My answer to this was and is: an unshakable belief in that there is an underlying goodness in human beings. Later, while searching for definitions of the concept of Philanthropy, this belief emerged as an underlying condition for it (Juusola-Halonen, 2010).

Another way to train and to continue a compassionate life is to attend such congresses, which remind us of the practice of high ideals, where principles are talked about by such individuals who apply them in their daily living. High ideals remind us that there is something worth living and worth striving for in our community and for the humanity. High principles, such as Compassion, Kindness, Unity and Justice are worth thinking about and can be applied to community building, as well as, other more ordinary things. Money might be the deciding force but the guidance of ethics and high ideals can help to bring the priorities to a more manageable focus.

I found a keynote speech by Dr P. Krishna, at the 10th World Congress of the Theosophical Society in Rome titled ‘What Divides Us’ a very enlightening reminder of how to go about building unity in community, especially where small differences are blown out of proportions to create divisions between people, nations and communities. He is the Professor of Physics at the University of Varanasi in India.

In his speech, he reminded the audience that on a deeper level we all function in the same manner, with the same ability to react and experience. On the molecular level, our abilities, our senses, our brain works just the same, with no difference. It is the memories that we store that are the only difference. What divides us is when we ‘put tremendous importance’ in our own memories and consider them more valuable than other people’s experience. “Division comes from the ego process”, Dr Krishna said. We say that our understanding is the true experience, our view right and the other’s point of view wrong. Then we proceed to judge and act on creating a gulf between our ‘superior’ opinions and the other’s ‘wrong’ or less worthy opinions and manipulating them into the same belief patterns we have.

Dr Krishna further reminded us that memories are a rather superficial way of dividing humanity. Stressing the similarities, the unity of everything, would be a more constructive way of building a more inclusive, peaceful and harmonious society. ’’All is connected. It is a scientific fact”, he said.

Community capacity building can be discussed from many angles, from the need analysis to service quality management and operational policies and processes. Sometimes it is good to start from what should be the basics of an ideal community and how to aim for it. This can help to find a way to integrate and look for holistic models in community development.

Another talk in the same congress by Vic Hoe Chin Jr., the President of the Theosophical Order of Service (TOS) in the Philippines, presented a practical example of how to build capacity for the community.

Vic is a long time advocate for youth services in the Philippines. According to him, it is the young people that should be educated. The high ideals should be popularised for them. Unity, Self-transformation and Peace education should be part of curriculum in all schools and youth projects. He is the Chairperson of the Golden Link College in Caloocan City. The school provides education for students, starting from the pre-schoolers and up to the tertiary level Bachelor Degrees in Education and Business. All levels include Theosophy or Perennial Wisdom studies aimed at popularising high ideals such as Unity, Peace and Self-transformation for the youth. One problem Vic has identified is the difficulty of getting skilled volunteers. This is where our views co-inside very well.

There is very little skilling provided for volunteers on the ideals behind community participation. The research shows that to keep volunteers happy to continue volunteering, the volunteer relying organisation need to strive to match the provided volunteer opportunities with the individual volunteer’s motivation to donate their time and effort, be it driven by a social, ideological or feel good need to participate (Halfpenny, 1999; Schmid, 2002). There is not much adequate education or skilling about the ethics of volunteering in relation to community capacity building. Neither is there much discussion about the responsibility and community participation for volunteers. It could be really interesting to develop some international co-operation in volunteer training from the ethical point of view. Self-transformation could be seen as a motivation to volunteer given the right environment. This would provide for more awareness building for aspiring philanthropists.

There are great ideas out there. Attending a World Congress on Theosophical ideas brings the high ideals into focus. From there it is easier to proceed to building a core of Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Humanity without distinction.

I did bring a souvenir from the Congress back to Australia with me. It is a small, knitted bear. One of the international projects of the Theosophical Order of Service is the ‘Heart Babies Project’ where children with a heart condition are brought to India for surgery. It is shown by research that those children who have a little bear along to cuddle recover quicker and easier. The Italian TOS section had knitted hundreds of bears that were destined to be owned by children in hospitals in India and Africa. This is just one example of a project that can bring unity, peace and harmony into community.

Halfpenny, P. (1999) Economic and Sociological Theories of Individual Charitable Giving: Complementary or Contradictory? Volutas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations; 10(3)
Juusola-Halonen, E (2010) Is a Volunteer a Philanthropist? Queensland University of Technology, Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies. (a working paper)
Schmid, A. (2002) Using Motive to Distinguish Social Capital from Its Outputs, Journal of Economic Issues; 36(3), September

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