“...we should better talk about the commons as a verb and not as a noun. As the historian Peter Linebaugh said: 'There is no commons without commoning.' We need to embrace the notion of the commons and the virtues of commoning.” Silke Helfrich
The most important aspect of the School of Commoning is the focus on relationship, and commoning as relationship, whether that be online or offline. What follows are some excerpts taken from our inaugural workshop with Michel Bauwens.
Near the beginning of our meeting Anna said:
“It's up to us to help each other to see the highest potential within each of us, to help develop it. Its a joint responsibility and happens in relationship. And so the most valuable resource that we have in the third sector is each other. From that we can build relationships, and from relationships we can build resilient local communities.”
Specifically in regards to holding the other in their highest potential I followed up on Anna's points by commenting that this is quite a new thing. Michel agreed on its importance and gave a vivid example of an airplane pilot navigating against a twenty miles per hour southerly wind, that in order to fly straight on we must fly twenty miles per hour North. It became clear that just to create effective environments for communication we have to come to our relationships with a serious intention to hold the other in their highest potential. How do we do this? Anna explained:
“It is very important that we learn to communicate with each other, and listen compassionately but more than that that we help each other to generate new ideas and that we make space for it, validating what peoples experiences are. In that way we can then contribute to the collective community intelligence - and find new ideas of what other ways of living together are also possible.”
“What is generative communication? It is not just understanding what you say, taking in information, listening to a talk. Neither is it just compassionate listening where I take in what your saying and have total empathy. In generative listening – I am holding the highest potential of the person that I am listening too. So that I then feel able to then ask powerful generative questions. By practicing to ask what is their highest potential and link into that we can ask questions that allows them to express themselves.”
Throughout the course of the meeting we were co-learning together that 21st century commoning involves a higher order of listening and communication where we stand in the ground of our own inherent unity. In this unity there is an inherent equality of unlimited potential, that each of us when using the right tools, can unleash in the other. One example of a tool at our disposal that I saw as another trend being expressed by commoners in this meeting and the Furtherfield un-conference the previous day was the need to uphold the importance of clear agreed upon language. On reflection in the emergent field of a re-contextualised commons langauge the greater frequency of our collective commoning the faster our language will evolve around this perspective. Another powerful tool I noticed emerging through various points in our workshop was the power of discerning difference for example around cultural conditioning which can include the era in which we were born, our sex, ethnicity among many other characteristics.
Given the new mode of production and way of life that the Commons points toward the whole relationship dynamic is re-opened in potentially the biggest way since the 1960s. As one young female commoner recounted her experience of threatening to sue a previous employer for not paying her on the same terms as men, it reiterated to the group that equality is far from realised in 21st century life. For this reason the recognition of sexual equality and differences is a crucial tool that Anna (who will no doubt speak more about in the future) briefly mentioned:
It was clear that organizations and communities who form as commons will only be commons if they can hold women and men as equally powerful contributors to a commons based society. In recognizing our inherent unity while at the same time deeply appreciating our differences Anna continued that:
“Such recognition also gives space for expressing our creativity in a meaningful way together. Its not about Me and I, its about We and Us. What we can create together, is much more intelligent than if we just add up single intelligences. In this your development is as important to me as my own.”
Although Michel didn't elaborate on P2P relationships in this meeting, his introduction to himself and his work in the workshop reflects the clear commonality in our interconnected projects. Here's what Michel said on this:
“The P2P Foundation is an observatory, a place to exchange views around the growth of what I think is a new alternative to conceive of life and society. Which is based on P2P relationship, the desire to work together as equals, and to create things as equals, and to create things in common and to see how we can make things work and protect them.”
To make explicit and expand on further who we are, we are more than a collection of individuals we are each and every group that can imagine a better world than the one they have now. In this recognition I want to call attention to a mini conversation between Michel and Anna that unfolded during the meeting:
Anna - “Listening to my own intuition we have the opportunity to find a revolution not from a top down perspective but from the people.”
Michel - “Nice image that we are already doing things creating networks, commons. We all have to just flick the switch.”
Anna - “Yes, but I think it is us connecting with each other that is the switch, when people become aware of each other then there is a new culture.”
This intention to become authentic partners as well as retraining ourselves to become effective co-learners (see collective learning, intelligence and emergence) represents the two major next steps in developing our commoning relationships. A major event for both of these aspects in our growing commons society is the Contact 2011 conference later in the year with Dr Rushkoff. The Idea being to bring all the people together working on independent P2P infrastructures.
Here are some more links on the act of commoning: