Creative Responses to Social
Obligations—A Dialogue Series
is a human reflex; it requires no external stimulation.
All that may be needed is the removal of external obstacles
for the reflex to freely express itself.
of Dr. Jacques Dufresne set the stage for the ‘Who Cares?’
dialogue group to explore the realm of action in its consideration
of creative responses to social obligations.
In addressing the third gathering of the group Dr. Dufresne
introduced a set of principles and actions designed to let
‘natural human sociability’ emerge.
presentation and the ensuing discussion revolved around the idea
that human beings and communities are resilient.
He presented a continuum of human activity that informs the
pacing and levels of our actions and a typology of ‘Hippocratic
Social Intervention’ that guides us to least harmful caring
actions. Dr. Dufresne
used these concepts and models to support his point that before
implementing new social programs we should think of removing the
obstacles to natural caring.
monograph is organized around Dr. Dufresne’s concepts of
resilience, human activity and Hippocratic social intervention.
It also summarizes the group’s responses and explorations
of these concepts. It concludes with a brief comparison and summary of the three
‘Who Cares?’ events to date.
defines resilience as the bouncing back of an ecosystem to its
original form after shock or stress. Dr. Dufresne used the example of the volcanic eruptions of
completely covered three islands.
Nine months after the eruption a French expedition could find
no sign of plant or animal life.
Upon leaving however they found a solitary spider that had
somehow wafted there in a balloon of its silk.
This spider was announcing the future.
Today the islands are once again tropical forests with
hundreds of species of trees, butterflies, birds, rodents and
reptiles. All of this
life has developed without any human intervention.
believes all living systems are resilient.
Individuals, families, communities, societies and even cities
can be viewed as resilient ecosystems. In speaking of human
resilience Dr. Dufresne described the social hero that lives inside
of all human beings. The
1998 ice storm was a situation that released many social heroes in
beings, living in community and caring for one another is natural.
Human survival is dependent on this.
Today, consciousness of our interdependence and the
interconnectedness of all living systems is diminished. Technology
and physical, legal and bureaucratic structures allow human beings
to act as if they exist apart from nature and apart from each other.
Dr. Dufresne believes the challenge is to remove the barriers
to the innate
sociability of people. Before
thinking of implementing new programs we should think of removing
the obstacles that prevent the emergence of our innate capacity to
care and to contribute to the common good.
This approach is the opposite of social engineering.
the obstacles to human sociability and alternatives to social
engineering, the level, timing and pacing of our actions needs to be
Dufresne presented a continuum of activity in civilizations. Stuart Brand (1999), the editor of Co-evolution Quarterly,
developed this continuum. He
describes the six significant levels of the working structure of a
robust and adaptable civilization as:
made the following observations about the continuum.
It is scale of processes.
Each level of activity has its own rhythm.
The higher the activity on the continuum the faster the
processes are. Fashion
for example is frivolous and changes season to season.
The lower the activity on the continuum the slower the
processes are. Culture
for example moves at the pace of language and religion. The pacing of these levels is interdependent.
Today the top
layers, the faster moving and changing processes, are imposing their
rhythm on the lower ones. As
a consequence the lower processes are in danger of being destroyed.
Global markets for example are accelerating commerce.
As a result while commerce can pass on wealth, it needs to
listen to the deeper rhythms of the governance and culture levels.
The lower on
the continuum the more resilience there is. The social sector serves
the larger slower good. If we want to act in ways that reveal and support human and
community resiliency we must be prepared for the results to take
time. Our current
systems of care are the result of social engineering.
Dr. Dufresne noted we have chosen social engineering because
the processes that stimulate natural resilience are not conducive to
political expediency. When
we speed things up however the results may be negligible,
non-sustainable or even harmful.
referred to the current dilemma of lawsuits being brought forward by
individuals who have been harmed by religious institutions. These
lawsuits threaten to destroy the religious institutions.
The dilemma is that while they have caused harm, these
institutions have also contributed to the common good.
To what extent are we as a society prepared to sacrifice
individual rights for the greater good?
Answers to questions of this nature require reflection and
engagement. They require time.
The legal system is usually the stop of last resort when
other processes have failed. Its
structure often forces quick, either/or responses when more complex
answers and solutions are needed.
How then do
we adjust our systems and structures to respond to the timing of the
deeper processes? Dr.
Dufresne stated that human activity at the top of the continuum is
sustained through motivation and will.
Activity at the bottom of the continuum is slow moving and
sustained by inspiration. Dr.
Dufresne describes inspiration as the spiritual unity of the
universe and soul. It
fuels actions based on meaning.
Motivation on the other hand is a material unity and actions
require will. One can
imagine the difference between inspiration and motivation by
thinking of a person that hikes up mountain trails for pleasure
versus one that dutifully exercises because the doctor has
distinction is relevant to the ‘Who Cares?’ group explorations.
Inspiration will be a crucial sustaining element in the slow
processes of uncovering community resilience.
Participants noted that motivation is what is moving us
today. Acts of will to
race and achieve are the opposite of the time and reflection needed
for inspiration. The
pursuit of power and growth can move us away from inspiration while
suffering can sometimes lead us to it.
discussion one small group noted that the population explosion
impacts all six levels of Brand’s continuum of activity.
Is this approach to resilience suggesting a romantic return
to the past? Dr. Dufresne responded that our task is not to simply return
to the past. It is to
re-discover the oldest traditions and combine them with the finest
technology. He pointed
to wind surfing as an example of combining the ancient art of
sailing with the high tech of fibreglass and lightweight metals.
The current revival of mid-wifery in North America could be
another example of this sort where the millennia old practice of
home birth is supported by modern medical practice.
these old traditions could be equated to what John Ralston Saul
described as our foundational ideas.
In exploring creative responses to social obligations what do
we need to preserve?
stated that our actions should be informed by the conceptualization
of communities as living entities comprised of social beings.
He suggested that what is needed is a framework of
Hippocratic social intervention.
The first principle of Hippocrates' is ‘do no harm.’
Therefore interventions should as much as possible be
restricted to removing obstacles to the self-healing powers of
people and communities.
five inter-related types of social action that are inspired by
liberating action removes the obstacles that prevent people’s
natural sociability. Some
of these obstacles can be legal, financial, psychological or
systems of caring have often unwittingly created dependency on
individualized funding or direct payments could be an example of a
members noted that times of crisis can sometimes be liberating.
In these times we instinctively reach out to each other
instead of relying on professional services to care for our
actions are about avoiding or stopping certain behaviours.
For example, boycotting a certain product or socially
irresponsible corporation are inhibiting actions. ‘Turn off the TV
Week’ or ‘Buy Nothing Day’ are other examples. Producing
consumer guides and rating systems promote inhibiting actions. In
social services, refraining from using terms like ‘client’ and
‘caseload’ could inhibit the treatment of people as objects
within the system.
member of the group identified the role of law as an inhibitor of
action. Law clearly
inhibits certain undesirable behaviour.
However, Dr. Dufresne noted it also inhibits desirable
behaviour. For example,
people are afraid to help a stranger in need for fear of a lawsuit.
actions could also be considered homeopathic.
They are the small actions of ‘the right dose at the right
time.’ When the
timing and dose are just right, the effect is large.
Such actions may trigger a breakthrough in how people or
communities view themselves. Our
systems of care often override timing or prescribe the same dose for
group member observed that a Block Party could be a catalytic action
that turns a cul-de-sac into a community of people that know and
look out for each other.
actions connect people to meaning.
They remind us that there is something larger than we are.
Viewing art, writing or reading poetry, engaging in dialogue
and walking in a beautiful garden can all be acts of inspiration.
How can our systems of care inspire both those giving and
noted that there are many inspiring examples within the group.
These include individual stories and organizations such as
Farm Folk/City Folk and United We Can.
and communities need daily nourishment to remain intrinsically at
their best. Nourishing
actions consist of planning time and space to make room for the
small miracles of daily life.
members named eating well, friendship and collective celebrations as
examples of nourishing actions.
concluded with a comment about the speeding up of society or
generalised speed. He
used the example that about one third of our time is devoted to
transportation. This is
the time we spend in our cars and the time we work to pay for them.
All of this time is not available to us for love,
inspiration, or nourishment. Nor
is it available to care for one another.
Observations and Remarks
of the three speakers of the ‘Who Cares?’ series to date have
had unique viewpoints. However, some themes or strands have begun to
emerge across the three events.
These strands have been woven through the individual
presentations as well as the comments of the dialogue group
of these initial strands appear to be :
is an innate part of being human.
Human beings and communites have the capacity to care.
Focussing on what unleashes and what inhibits this capacity is
The size and scale of our structures impact caring
capacity. Going to
scale is a challenge.
systems of care have frequently harmed people in need by viewing
them as burdens and creating dependency.
On the other hand, good models and alternative approaches to
caring exist. Meeting
our social obligations will involve abandoning some caring responses
and reinforcing others.
Paying attention to context, timing and different
levels of operation in creating and implementing ideas to facilitate
caring is significant.
All three sectors (public, private and civic) need to
be involved in responding to the question of ‘Who Cares?’
the first three events, collectively identifying themes and
targeting the information and opportunities needed to answer the
questions they pose, are tasks that will be the focus of the next
- Book of interest - referred to by Dr. Jacque Dufresne
The Clock of the Long
Now: Time and Responsibility
The Ideas Behind the World's
Basic Books, New York, 1999.
suggested that a new species of human being is beginning to appear
that is driven by time, technology and productivity.
The species is a cross between humans and cyborgs.
He has revised the list of the seven capital sins for this
The Seven Capital Sins for 2001
I hope there
are no sinners out there among you!
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