On Community: An Anonymous Saying from a Country School

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 6:27am
On Community: An Anonymous Saying from a Country School

A simple phrase quoted at a rural elementary school has us contemplating its meanings.

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Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Head of Content / Executive Editor for On Being
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An grandmother and her grandson in Baoding, Hebei — a village in northern China known for its tradition of rural community service.

Credit: Thomas F. Peng License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

"I am who we are."


I heard this quoted at my nephews' charming elementary school in Castle Rock, Minnesota yesterday and have been turning the phrase in my mind ever since. Any immediate reflections come to mind as you ponder this saying?

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Trent Gilliss is the driving editorial and creative force behind On Being. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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It so reminds me of the African proverb that was important to Nelson Mandela: I am what I am because of who we are. http://ubafrica.org/about-us/

Mpst beautiful comments, so inspiring to read. As a sociolinguist, I was struck, first, with the statement's relevance to social constructionism. As a reader of this website, I am struck by the wisdom you all share and gratitude for how your 'we' influences my 'I'.

I interpret this two ways: The first being that we are products of the culture in which we are raised, and this is the lens through which we view the world.

The second is that in reality - we ALL share one thing and that is our humanity, and if we can remember, and honor that, our lens begins to become clearer.

I see this as an iteration on E.M. Forster's "Only connect" and I love the way it plays with language to prompt a fresh look at who we are.

Feeling responsible for the people around us. I'm a special educator, and I often see and feel and say "it takes a village," and I mean it. The village is big or small, it's where you live, shop or visit. I think "I am who we are" must be felt in someone who feels so responsible for the folks where he is, where his being is tied to theirs. Dies that make sense?

I was struck by your visiting your nephew's country school - this is an act of generosity and connectedness. I think there are many countries in the world where the collective "we" is stronger than the individual self so prevalent here in the U.S.
The story of the Good Samaritan comes to mind. Who is my neighbor? Who isn't my neighbor is more like it.

The good in our communities shine light on us all; anything less than good is the responsibility of all of us to heal... in that way, we are each a reflection of the whole.

Children and spouse leap to mind. As we go, go I.

This phrase "I am who we are" reminds me of what Lord Krishna said to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita - "I separated myself from myself so I can play with myself" meaning 'I' God have divided myself into all these human beings so I can have fun. So who we are is the one I. The other statement "I am because who we are" also can be read to mean collectively we define the Divine.

There is a quote similar to this from an African country (I am sorry but I can't remember which one.) It is "I am because we are."


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