Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Big Ideas, and Fogbuster

We’re on location today from the local coffee shop. I’m listening to quiet music, coffee steaming invitingly next to me, and I am full of creative verve. I only have an hour to indulge it because I have stuff to do at home to get ready to leave for the Matriarch’s, but I’m looking forward to putting some of the big ideas that have been marinating in my brain down on paper. A quick sampling of some of these:

The institution of marriage has the properties of both a contract and a covenant. Is this part of why it’s so hard to talk about it? Some of us are talking about one thing and some of us another? Is common ground to be found in compartmentalizing the two parts, and exploring them separately? Should marriage have a fundamental purpose in society? It certainly used to, but does the state have a vested interest in continuing to sponsor the institution as it does? I have partial answers to all these questions, but not enough yet to share. If you have commentary you’d like to offer in advance of the discussion, by all means feel free to put it out there.

How does this concept of “chosen family” fit within our society? We all have something like it in our worlds, but no one seems to be talking about how it’s developing into something as formal and functional as traditional family. This concept is one I feel is at the core of how to effectively serve foster children (and others, like Karla, who never get put into the system, but who very much need support their traditional families simply cannot provide). I’m having some trouble putting my finger on how chosen family is actually viewed outside my world. Do other people have something that equates to my idea of chosen family, even if it’s not called that? What does it look like? How might a populace largely unaware of the importance of such a concept come to support such institutions? How can we refer to chosen family members in a way that is respectful, but not demeaning to traditional family? I’ll post more on this in time, but I’d love to get your feedback on this idea when/if you’re willing to share.

My school is wrestling with issues of identity, and I’ve been asked by students to take a leading role in helping everyone work this out. How to do that? What’s at the heart of the problem? I’ve had a number of discussions in the last year with faculty and students about this, and I think I’ve figured out that we need to do two things:

The first is to review how we as a community resolve our problems. We actually have a framework already in place to assist with this. The school community collaborated in its early days to establish a Code of Conduct, which all members are expected follow. It’s a small document. It’s purpose wasn’t to create a list of rules that everyone had to follow; rather, it allows everyone freedom to do view responsible membership in the community as they feel best and sets in stone a procedure for approaching conflict when it arises. The Code of Conduct is reviewed every year, but many of us have noticed how it lacks a certain vitality of late. New members of the school simply don’t recognize what it’s there to do, and many of the administration and board members don’t let it guide their work with the students. How can we revive this very valuable and timely document, so that we can encourage the members of the community to work together to solve problems and make decisions?

The second is to make a habit of getting to know people as people in our world. This is something our institution states it values, and we do a remarkable job of it, but much has changed in the last few years and we’ve lost touch with ourselves as individuals. We have certain traditions that promote this habit in our school, but how do we connect these special, but isolated moments to create an atmosphere of attachment and unity among the individuals in our school? I may have hit upon part of a solution in hearing about the National Day of Listening on NPR this morning. This project is an offshoot of StoryCorps, and I think it would serve to promote the kind of connections we need to make among each other that allow us to feel safe and valued as we have hard discussions about things like racism and equality in the classroom.

Many of you know that Wifeness and I are working to start a community and a school. I’ve allowed my brain to shift away from this for a couple of months so I could work on my speaking gig in Charlotte, and so I could focus on soccer. These things being done now, I’m back to thinking about how to actually make progress on some of the fundamentals:

One of my beliefs about this project is that, if it is to succeed, it will be because real people, with real problems, varied skills and limited means, are each involved according to their abilities, working together, to create it. Wifeness and I cannot do this by ourselves. We don’t want to do it by ourselves; it’s not about us. It’s about creating something others can run with. So, how do we do that? Accepting that what I’m contemplating is way outside the box even for a community, how do we take that concept and make an effective, successful school that serves foster children? This puzzle is, as you can imagine, really complex, and I regularly feel like I’m putting it together without the box top and the cat keeps taking the pieces. Thoughts?

Somewhere in all this, there’s also a desire to keep GMing the fantasy adventure that our house has been running for several years. We’re nearing the climactic moment of this current chapter, but there’s a lot going on. I want to be able to see the end (with the characters safe) but I also want the players to determine their own fates. I wonder if George RR Martin has this same tension playing in his head?


Mrs. Chili said...

You touched one of my buttons with this:

"How can we refer to chosen family members in a way that is respectful, but not demeaning to traditional family?"

My mother-in-law is ENTIRELY dismissive of my family because they are not the family of my birth. I suspect that a lot of that comes from a place of fear and a lack of understanding about how someone can so totally reject the family of one's birth, but the point is that she refuses to accept that my family are just that - FAMILY - and that really bothers me.

I guess we have to come down to questions of biology and intention. Simply because I share DNA with someone doesn't mean that we're going to be able to have a relationship. Just because I DON'T share DNA with someone doesn't mean that I cannot have the single most important relationship of my life with them.

There's a lot here, but that's what sparked my thinking first...

Suzanne said...

The one item in particular that touched my particular area of interest is the idea of using StoryCorps as a community building project. I would be very interested in this as a project. I'm not sure where on my plate I would fit it in, but it really speaks to many of my interests and beliefs. We should add this to our next agenda.

Mary Fagan said...

You touched LOTS of buttons with your insightful commentary. Chosen families are a must for most of us, scattered as we are from our tribal roots. The fact that they make up our nurturing core should make fostering children the most natural thing in the world. It certainly was for my sister in California, and my mother and aunt in Indiana.

I have observed that those in our actual gene pool tend to bring out the absolute worst in us. Perhaps there's such a thing as too much history - we cling to our neurotic expectations of, and long-standing irritations with, each other. We're not as accepting as we are of non-family to whom we extend a cultured civility.

Chosen families are a fact of life for another reason: modern lifestyles. Marriage, among other social institutions, are no longer mainstream. My son, for instance, not only did not marry the mother of his children but showed up with a new girl this Thanksgiving. Of course, under this new system, I can elect to keep my grands and their mother as MY chosen family!

On another point, I am fascinated by this Code of Conduct you mentioned. You probably have been more detailed in previous blogs, but I only discovered you today. I wonder if you are familiar with Koininia Farms in Georgia. I believe Habitat for Humanity was spawned there. They've existed since 1942 as a multi-racial community self-supported by a pecan products enterprise. They may tend to be more of a commune than your vision of community, but I'm sure it is the same concepts of individual dignity and worth successfully in practice there.

I'm so glad I stumbled upon The Wayfarer Journal. You are good people!