On Community: An Anonymous Saying from a Country School

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 6:27am

On Community: An Anonymous Saying from a Country School

"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 cofounder of On Being / KTPP and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. 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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Our communities make us, perhaps? After the most recent school shooting the blogs blew up with, "these kids today" rants. My thought was, these kids are us, a reflection of our culture. This saying seems to be saying something similar.

The implications of 'being made in the image of God' are not only individual but also interdividual.

The following is a quote from the pediatrician/psychoanalyst, D.W. Winnicott: "There is no such thing as a baby ... if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone.'' (Winnicott, 1947). As a psychologist specializing in early childhood mental health, "I am who we are" reminds me of the importance of and centrality of relationships in human development. We human beings learn about ourselves through our effects on others and through how others respond to us. And this learning starts at birth.

My mother died this spring and her brother just this week. Visitors at her wake spoke of her kindness. As I read what friends and relatives remember about my uncle it was his great smile and jokes. Neither of them had easy lives but they managed to make other lives lighter with their welcoming ways. How someone makes you feel contributes to community and lasts forever.

Who we are as individuals is, to a great extent, shaped by our community. It seems as though the Elementary School in Castle Rock is eloquently reminding the citizens of Castle Rock of their responsibility to their youth.

My son and i "just" had this conversation. We become what we surround ourselves with...

This is what we need to do more of...talk to our kids about big questions. Thank you for being brave and talking to your son, so many good things can come of that, especially the growth of his mind and yours as well as forging a powerful bond.

As Thich Nhat Hanh would say, "We Inter-are." We truly belong to one another, whether we acknowledge this truth or not. When we forget -- when we live within the illusion of separation, we suffer and can do great damage to others and ourselves. When we see the truth of our interbeing, we abide in gratitude for the richness of our being and embrace responsibility for our mutual happiness and freedom.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Pogo

This statement is close in spirit to the South African word "Ubuntu", which might be translated as: “I am because we are.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu reflects on ubuntu: “I am, because you are. I need you to be you so that I can be me. A choir is a choir only because its different parts work together harmoniously. Yes, a person truly is a person only through other persons.”

the difference between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft

you wrote exactly my thoughts indeed I am because you are!!

reminds me of "ubuntu"

I recall how we, my fellow classmates and I used to bridle whenever we heard one of our teachers refer to each one of us as WE. She never said "I" but instead she would address us as "We " That was 50 years ago. . It took along time before I understood , what she was saying and why she was saying it. . "I" felt she was being dismissive but now I see she was being inclusive and that her intention was to make us all feel apart of something greater than ourselves. ..

I think about this a lot. I recently (at age 49) began working as a hospital chaplain intern. The work is so rewarding because in critical moments, all of the stuff (age, race, religion, orientation, gender, etc) gets peeled back and you're left with something like "One." We are all heart underneath it all. With the same deep longing to give and take love. It's pretty simple down there underneath the rest.

This speaks to connectedness (may not be a real word), dependence AND accountability that exists between all of us. I love this quote.

As a wildlife biologist I see how dramatically we humans have separated ourselves from other critters and our environment. For me, the quote ' I am who we are' reminds me that the 'we' is more than just people. We are part and parcel of the whole package... the 10,000 things as the Taoists might say.

I am limited by what and who I exclude, but my humanity is limited only by my exclusions. The more able I am to recognize others as my neighbors, the more complex, the more subtle, my humanity becomes.

If I fear, hate or deny my neighbors, then I am constrained by fear and hate and denial. If I welcome and love and accept my neighbors, then my humanity includes the humanity I recognize in them.

I think I love this quote.

Such an eloquent way of phrasing this. Thank you. I too love this quote.

Ubuntu- I am because of you...."we never have it all together, but together we have it all." "I am who we are." These phrases talk about how the performer needs the audience, the teacher needs students, the employer needs the employee, the parent needs the child and ultimately how we need one another to exist. I cannot become who I am without the company of those around me. We influnce one another. How well we care for one another is relected in our setting. If it is done well, our setting is safe, supportive, helpful. When it is done poorly, it becomes hurtful, we shrink away from life, and even the best of us are pulled down. If we think of and act as if caring for one another is the the most paramount, imagine what a great place that would be! Even the one strugfling the most will be lifted up. I think this can be as simple as picking up trash or offering to help someone without prompt and expectation. This is seeing that the way we treat others is ultimately the way we treat ourselves, and to care about ourselves, we must care about others and the setting around us. UBUNTU

It so reminds me of the African proverb that was important to Nelson Mandela: I am what I am because of who we are.

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."

We are all one...all reflections of one another and the world around us. There is no separation.

Each individual represents the community as a whole. If individuals choose not to abide by a moral code of conduct, for example, the community, or the "we," will no longer embody ethics and value.