Deaf and Pointed Ears
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Deaf and Pointed Ears • Posted: Feb 25, 2009 15:00:53Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

It is a curious phenomenon that Obama's message is so appealing to so many, yet so opaque and scary to many others. Why exactly is that?

To begin to understand what is going on, perhaps we should look first at his message. One of Obama's first jobs out of college was as a Community Organizer. That's significant. It's also telling that prominent Republican politicians have mockingly questioned "what exactly is a Community Organizer, anyway?"

The truth is the notion of "community" is not all that familiar to most Americans. It's not really a part of their daily lives. Most have some vague notion of the concept. Some might even refer to the neighborhood in which they live as a community. But I'd venture to say that most Americans would be hard pressed to describe in any detail their membership in any community. Contrast that reality with the notions of "team", "congregation", and "company" which are very much a part of most American's daily lives. Have an American describe their role in the company they work for or in the after work sports team they are on and you might be listening for hours. The same for the religious congregation they belong to.

So what is "community"? And how does it relate to Obama's message?

Various dictionaries describe "community" as a group of people living in close proximity sharing common ownership of something and a common understanding for its shared use. For instance, residents of a village or town may share common ownership of a piece of land they have developed into a park. They may also have established rules for its use. In simpler terms, people working together for a common interest would be a community. The process of planning is shared. The costs are shared. The work is shared. The benefits are shared.

It is necessary to note that the organization of a community is often quite different from what most Americans experience in their places of employment. Businesses usually, but not always, have a top down management structure. Employees have a boss. Employees do what the boss says. Employees usually have little say in the direction the company takes and do not share equally in the benefits of company success. In fact, when employees look at their payroll checks they see huge portions of their pay taken from them for reasons they do not fully understand nor appreciate. And when asked who is taking those big chunks of their pay they do not think "the community". Instead, they think "the government" or "the boss".

Obama's message is one of community. He wants to lead us into better ways of working together for mutual benefit. To those of us who dream of multiplying our individual efforts with the brute force of collective action for a common good, the message is a very welcomed one. But to those who have no experience of working within a community, whose only experience is one of laboring tirelessly for little reward for those who would exploit them, the message is nearly incomprehensible and viewed with suspicion. And to those accustomed to exploitation through a top down management structure, Obama's message is viewed with open hostility as threatening their very existence.

A new kind of war has begun and it will be interesting to see the progress it makes. Hopefully, enlightened discussion and learning will prevail. It will be beyond sad if intractable violence errupts.

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008