Notes on the Workshop at Commonground Victoria - 11 to 16 January 2017.

Wednesday 11 January

After the opening meal, the group gathered and the SDN guidelines were read, setting the ground rules for respectful interaction during the workshop. Each person introduced themselves, their range of interests and activities, and connections with SDN. The legacy of Ned Iceton was recalled, and the traditional Aboriginal custodians of the land were recognised.

Thursday 12 January

  • Commonground: Common Ground arose as an intentional community from the Melbourne Health Action Collective, with a focus on self-help. The vision remains, but modes change. The venue is used by a wide diversity of groups.
  • SDN & NED Update: An update on the relationship between SDN and NED since Ned Iceton’s death.
  • Manning Clark: a session inspired by Mark McKenna’s biography of Manning Clark, the well-known Australian historian, who lived from 1915 to 1991. Clark had a passion for telling the stories of Australia’s past, and asking questions about Australia’s identity. His books had a wide appeal because of his lively and imaginative style.
  • Hospicing the death of the old economy and midwifing the birth of the gift economy: Otto Sharman’s concept of ‘generative listening’ – being aware of the hidden depths of conversations. Promoting dialogue, restorative circles, transformative communities, peace building and healing, reducing carbon emissions, and working with others to connect with politicians in the ACT to encourage better governance models (including citizen juries).
  • Post-truth: which has a long history, especially in Hinduism and Buddhism - the duality of truth and not-truth, provisional and ultimate truth. Linear and cyclic time cultures. Goebbels, fascism, Ortega y Gasset,  conspiracy theories, David Irving, authenticity, authoritative institutions, fake news.

Friday 13 January

  • Restorative Practice: Thames Valley police in Britain - how restorative justice was being used to good effect in responding to crime, by getting offenders to accept responsibility for their actions and for taking steps towards their own ‘restoration’ to the community. In the ACT, restorative justice is being extended beyond juvenile offenders to adult offenders, domestic violence and other violent cases.
  • Death phobia: showing part of a video Death Walker in which Stephen Jenkins explores different attitudes to, and practices around, death - ‘the cradle of your love of life’. Death is a community event, denial of death as an ‘anxiety buffer’, dying as a gift to make way for the next generations, the survival instinct and cognitive dissonance, fear of death.
  • Collective/individual relationship: joining an urban collective in Melbourne, the group of the loss of ‘the commons’ in Europe and the resulting dismantling of communities, working in the Congo questioned as colonial imposition on the poor, the personal and the collective balance/tension. Questions about the meaning of social development, interdependence, social justice, and co-creation.
  • Living in community (Murundaka): a co-operative form of governance, one 120 co-operatives linked through a single company structure, cannot already own property and need to be below a certain income, balancing the different needs as people age, an annual retreat at Commonground to review their development and policies.
  • Humanism and the teaching of ethics in schools: Humanism stresses the natural universe, independent of divine intervention, and the need to affirm all human beings and use reasoned enquiry. Recently, the teaching of ethics in schools has been a focus for the Humanists in Victoria and after years of challenging the policy of favouring religious instruction, there has been a breakthrough in official policy. The Victorian curriculum now provides for the teaching of ethics in all schools using the philosophical “Community of Inquiry” method, and also provides separately for the teaching of the 5 main religions plus Humanism. There is now a rush to provide training for teachers and the Humanists are seeking to provide information on humanism to teachers.

Saturday 14 January

  • Voluntary euthanasia: Australian laws do not permit the choosing of an end to life. Overseas experience – Holland, Belgium, Switzerland – has shown that it is possible to have protocols in place that reduce the risk of abuse of the choice, where the key criteria are ‘unending suffering’ and ‘in right mind’. There have been no prosecutions in those countries with such a policy. Need for an open debate in Australia on voluntary euthanasia and assisted dying and palliative care.
  • Global political economy – capitalism and individualism: David Korten’s ‘end of empire’ a feature of today’s world, Carl Sagan’s reminder that we have a humble place in the universe, the US government appointments by incoming president Donald Trump showing the extent of neo-liberal reach at the political level there, the concept of an ‘earth community’ based on co-operation and sharing. He got the group to pair off and speak in turn about experiences of gratitude and compassion.
  • The afternoon was free time, and most went on a trip to a nearby winery to walk around the lake and enjoy the open air.
  • Conflict resolution on Facebook: social media can be helpful in enabling people to keep in touch, especially when isolated through geography or illness, but attempts to reach out through Facebook to explore and discuss issues of concern often elicite little response of an educational or learning kind.

Sunday 15 January

  • Political/economic, institutions, and everyday actions: can we live with integrity in the context of these three levels? Global cultura pressure to conform. Economists are looking for a way to move from the current model which is in crisis - capitalism’s collapse from within.
  • Deep listening: a process, based on Quaker processes, allowing the group to reflect on the SDN experience as a unique event. “Deep silence shared together can give us opportunities to open up collectively to a transcendental way of being. This is not an intellectual approach, rather a creative, imaginal one. From the deep silence we each have the opportunity to share what is presenting itself to us in the way of feelings, images, thoughts, maybe presented through dance or music.”
  • ‘Under the Soles of My Feet’: – the issues of shame and shaming in our culture.
  • ENSPIRAL: an audio-visual and discussion of an emerging NZ/global enterprise which encourages sharing of skills, knowledge and money.