The Power of Two: Integration of Polarities
It was the presence of unique individuals and the complementary tasks they assumed that made both the Haudenosaunee and American feder-alism possible.Legends and Stories for a Compassionate America re-counts similar complementarity between the major leaders in the women’s movement that was initiated with the 1858 Seneca Falls con-vention and ended with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Deganawidah and Hiawatha worked to promote the redemption of Iroquois culture, and could do so because they could complement each other in many ways What one could not do, the other could; alone, neither could have achieved their goal. Without Hiawatha, De-ganawidah’s word would not have had a form.Without Deganawidah, Hiawatha would not have asked himself the most important questions regarding his people and himself. The message that the prophet spread among the Iroquois would not have been completed without someone willing to live it to its bitter end.That one was Hiawatha, who had to fully acquire the New Mind before his people could unite.The Mes-sage, the New Mind, and a new social form followed a sequence in the process leading to the whole.
Benjamin Franklin had intuited the future of America long be-fore anyone else had started dreaming of it. He saw it as a possibility, as a departure from all forms of the past; as a hope for the future of humanity. He worked in both the New and the Old Worlds to bring the new idea to birth; he helped to originate the idea on American soil, and he promoted it before the world in France. With the Declaration of In-dependence the message started to take on a body, thanks to the con-tributions of Jefferson, Madison, Mason, and many others. But some-thing else was needed, something crucial. The new idea had to find an individual ready to walk a completely new path; an individual who had the ability to do everything that had been done in the past (that is, exert the full measure of his natural strength, assume power, and make him-self a king); and who yet chose to do the contrary. The new social compact needed that lived example in order to create a break with the past. George Washington endured all the hesitations, temptations, de-lays, and weaknesses of his countrymen with the sole purpose of bringing to birth a reality that he intuited with his whole soul. He had to defeat all inner hesitation, all old habits and impulses that ran coun-ter to the need of the time.
The New American Experiential Spirituality: The Birth of Alco-holics Anonymous
Although the American Dream is now very diluted,and drifting in terms of form, hope comes from other quarters; hope that has roots below the surface and prepares future foundations. A slow revolution of values has been made possible since the 1930s and 1940s; it contin-ues to the present.
In the 1930s the pressing social ill of alcoholism seemed to have no solution. Alcoholism had met opposition first from the temperance movement,later from Prohibition; and all to little effect. In 1934 Bill Wilson had his cardinal spiritual experience, which he wanted to somehow replicate for his fellow alcoholics.Reaching to a higher power was certainly a key element in the work of recovery, but anoth-er element was missing until Wilson himself nearly backslid into his personal abyss the following year. Then the encounter occurred that was key to the future of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and is said to mark its birth.Wilson had experienced the vertical element of spiritu-ality; to that, the horizontal dimension of the collaboration between Wilson and Robert Smith offered new grounding. Collaboration with a higher power and collaboration between human beings are the two pil-lars of AA; we encounter them in many of the Twelve Steps.
Robert Smith was born in 1879, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, about a hundred miles from Wilson’s hometown (another of those seemingly fortuitous events of destiny).Smith presented a perfect complement to Wilson in temperament and upbringing. Wilson, the extrovert, basked in the limelight and tended to take center stage. Smith, the introvert, dreaded public exposure as much as he liked per-sonal contact.Wilson, the restless innovator, was willing to try any-thing new; the more conservative Smith kept AA on solid ground.
The contrast between the two men is quite striking in the way they each distanced themselves from alcohol Wilson’s awakening was an extraordinary experience, one given to few. It inevitably led him to feel special. Smith’s unique contribution was the idea of making amends and restitution to all friends and acquaintances he had wronged. This step of tremendous will and courage is another key-stone of AA. Smith did not lose his craving for alcohol all at once; he took what AA calls a path of vigorous action.Spiritual awakening and protracted human effort are the two goals for which AA struggles.Wilson was closer to the first; Smith to the second.
The Twelve-Step Program is the most well-known example of a vast network of independent threads that form a growing avenue to a cul-tural future.Other examples are found in the extensive landscape of social technology and in the example of Nonviolent Communication.These are just landmarks; for each example that is offered here, innu-merable variations could be presented that offer similar threads. Not only is this landscape very wide, but it is also only a vaguely known territory,largely unpublicized and underestimated. No comprehensive review or history of these movements has been attempted, to my knowledge. It may not at first be obvious that all of these are expres-sions, at various levels of reality, of an encompassing whole. Here are some examples and milestones among dozens that could be chosen.
Systems Thinking and Social Technology:
The Institute for Cultural Affairs
In 1954 the World Council of Churches met in Evanston, Illinois, and decided to create a center for the training of lay people in North Amer-ica. Christian businessmen in Chicago founded the Evanston Institute of Ecumenical Studies.2 At the same time a group of Christian students and staff of the University of Texas (the so-called Christian Faith and Life Community) started to research the relationship between faith and contemporary life. Under the direction of Dr. Joseph W. Matthews, the group designed a curriculum for students and laity. It acquired the name of Religious Studies I. In 1962 the Evantson Institute, now called the Ecumenical Institute, appointed Dr. Matthews as its new dean. Moving to Chicago, he brought with him the seven families from Texas who had carried a comprehensive life of Christian worship, study, and service.
At this time the Order: Ecumenical [sic] was begun, formed pri-marily by families of volunteers. It was modeled after known religious family orders, and the seven families played a central role at its incep-tion. The mission of the order was church renewal and community de-velopment. Three directions were followed with consistency from this moment on: education, research, and implementation. The pioneering curriculum emphasized whole-system models. A bold and successful experiment of comprehensive community development was its first step of implementation. It was called Fifth City, of which more will be said below.