Editorial: Esprit Networking Community Practice

By Barbara Dewar

The Esprit Networking Community Practice is engaged at this time in exploring personal stories, reflecting on their meanings, and supporting unknowns for understanding new directions. This process is fostering a sense of moral spirit that is strong enough to bring about personal and collective ethical actions that support renewed growth of community both locally and globally.

We are experiencing the results of Esprit Networking, noticing that its social current supports co-creative, reflective dialogues that spirit us toward ethical actions and moral decisions that are more suitable to the reality of our lives. With Esprit Networking Community Practice we are challenged on an ongoing basis, to change social traditions that, although comfortable, have soured, especially those that isolate us from our relationships with others. In our school, Espritedu Training of Psychotherapists, for example, Joanne and I are reflecting on personal meanings in terms of our challenges to understanding cultural exclusion and we are gaining new knowledge about the larger, complex social underpinnings within the culture of our own psychotherapy histories that sustain discrimination. Because of this we are now moving toward actions to change the inner structures of the Espritedu program. Isabel has been instrumental as a teacher by having ongoing cross-cultural dialogues with us (see Isabel Caceres’ contributions in every Esprit publication at www.espritpublications.ca).

We have learned that if we don’t know how to question some of the established social norms, then by default, we accept the status quo in our communities. We are noticing that this ‘not knowing’ keeps alive a blind acceptance of a set of mechanical traditional moral customs and theoretical principles that more often than not promote the dominance of hierarchies. I am reminded of Judy’s piece when she allowed herself to reflect on her experience of two different communities, one where she was led and the other where she was a mutually active participant (Bridges Farquharson, 2002).

We have learned that we need to participate actively in an experience. We are learning with greater clarity that as individuals we cannot feel like true operative agents in ethical decisions unless we have both a framework for questioning the status quo and an opportunity to participate as change agents. Although many social traditions don’t look broken, they can often only be linked remotely to our everyday experiences and can silence consciously or unconsciously our perceptions of the changes that are needed both personally and in broad-based social structures. By encouraging personal narratives and open questions in Guestbook entries (at www.espritpublications.ca) we notice the development of new understandings of established traditions. For example, discussions on gender have challenged the perception of the ‘traditional family’ as father, mother, and child and advanced that it is not the only model for family and community life. Furthermore, some of the writers are acknowledging their internalized judgements and this is supporting dialogues and open acceptance of many models of family.

As we continue to deconstruct our blind acceptance of the notion of a homogeneous cultural setting, Esprit members are realizing, how difficult it is to grasp the ethical challenges that are necessary for change, especially those that relate to our participation in gender, race, and class bias. In our social reflective model, we are learning how to bear our own pain, and we know that by exposing our personal vulnerabilities we risk the judgement of others. We also know that reflecting on meanings for change is a process that develops organically within unknown timeframes. By holding unknowns in this process, we are learning how to tease out social entanglements for new clarity around ethical decisions.

As we untangle these knots, it continues to slowly dawn on us that the act of relying on abstract predetermined principles foremost as an overall guide to living is hiding a host of unquestioned power relations that work against our intuitive natures. The Esprit Networking Community Practice is experiencing our stories and questions as our first viewing lens for discerning the positive and negative aspects of traditional norms and values. I am reminded here of Sandra’s explorative narrative about the long lasting effects of not being welcomed at birth, including a deep sense of not belonging. In her exploration she came to understand her fears about being an active agent in her personal and community life. She realized that without this inner knowledge she was unknowingly allowing traditional views to guide her because of a need to belong, even though this would often act against the interest of herself and others (Campbell, 2002).

By our reflective practice on personal narratives, we are offered an opportunity to study our lives as dynamic and ever changing, providing opportunities for creating new meanings. Understanding new meanings is not necessarily action, however, and we are discovering that the social framework of the Esprit Networking Community Practice provides the moving current for action. For example, Mary’s personal story about her learning blocks and her pathway of learning discoveries, supports practical knowledge of change and the potential for developing an experiential theory of learning as an ongoing practice (Walton-Ball, 2002).

We are saying to you that we are developing a consciousness that Esprit Networking is a social reflective practice that considers our subjective personal stories as the absolute first lens to engender new knowledge. We then, over time have to embody this knowledge for transformations of meaning by ongoing interchange of dialogue within community. Embedded within this process are our painful vulnerabilities as we reveal our stories and acceptance that an unknown amount of time is needed to transform these feelings into clarity of meaning, and this clarity then propels us into new confidence for becoming active change agents in our communities. Pearls of wisdom are available to us all if our grains of sand are allowed to agitate within the oyster shell with stories and questions, long enough to turn into perfect pearls.