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.

Post by:
Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer 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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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.”


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