Article Series Transcending Conventionalism to Transform Communities by Robert J. McKenna (M.O.L.) CEO; Altruesoft & Founder of the  Citizen’s Public Safety Network.

An essential trait of  evolving, non-partisan community leadership is the willingness to take risks, bridge divides and utilize creative solutions for all stakeholders; progressive and conservative alike. In order to do this civic governance must be able to look beyond entrenched political ideologies that mutate community consciousness, have the faith to try new paradigms and be willing to perceive the world outside personal objectification. All too often, the objective mentality separates us from each other and the world of which we are apart.

Objectivism by its very nature separates and analysis-while it understands the intricate specialization of its parts, it fails to grasp the meaning of the whole. Wheatley (1992) maintains that human-beings consistently perceive the world through objective terms:

We manage by separating into parts; we believe that influence occurs as a direct result of force exerted from one person to another, we engage in complex planning for a world that we keep expecting to be predictable, and we search continually for a better methods of objectively perceiving the world. (p. 6)

Objectification separates ourselves from the world; hence we tend to manipulate “objects” in our surrounding world-to fulfill our desires. “To term a phenomenon an ‘object ‘is to ultimately render that phenomenon distinct and separate from the whole” (Frey, 1994, p. 163).  Objectivism is rooted in Cartesian Dualism and, despite Descartes best intentions, the ideology has created an individualistic culture that revolves around self-interest and dominates the natural world in a mind-over-matter fashion. By bringing the world under the dominion of our mind we have isolated ourselves from it. Once more, this objective perception is also a key factor that separates us from each other. Physicists now realize the limits of objectivism (the very objectivism that had been the foundation of the scientific method) when trying to understand subatomic particles.

“Quantum theory has changed the classical view of science considerably by revealing the crucial role of the observers’ consciousness in the process of observation and thus invalidating the idea of an objective description of nature” (Capra, 1982, p. 376).

Municipal leaders must be able to see beyond their objective tendencies, step outside of themselves and embrace the world in a broader context. If they have the capacity to accomplish this, the “I” that they bring to discussion groups can then embody the “We” of the entire group. This form of consciousness is collective and united towards a common goal. Nielson (1991) declares that, ” ‘I am We’ consciousness is different. It is being united in a transcendent, common consciousness of a prior’ We’ “(p. 651).

If communities hold forums where dialogue is held in the “I am We” frame of mind, then the harmful separateness of objectivism can be overcome arid true mutuality of vision can be set into motion. Nielson’s (1991) observations on Lonergan’s theories exclaim how to achieve this subjective frame of mind:

How does one cultivate “I am We” consciousness and dialog as ethics method? Lonergran suggests a four moment process: (1) attention to experience; (2) interpretation of experience; (3) reflective, confirming judgment; and (4) responsible decision and action. (p. 662)

When individuals in group settings unite their conscious experiences, remove personal judgment and share thoughts collectively, isolated persons transcend their objective perception of reality and become open to subjective interpretations. Prior to the scientific age, humanity perceived the world subjectively and some cultures still do today. To do so takes a greater deal of faith in the intangible aspects of community building-Platonic traits such as equality, morality, charity and justice. Traits that are often in short supply in many of today’s’ communities. Parker Palmer (1993), an educator whom has lived amongst several spiritually based communities, i.e.; Monastic, Buddhist and
Quaker, emphasized the life affirming quality of subjective perception:

The untrained mind of pre-modern times did not rely on factual observations and logical analysis but on the subjective faculties’ emotions, intuition, faith. These modes of knowing do not manufacture a world to be held at arm’s length, manipulated and owned. Instead, they receive the world as a given an organic whole, and they make the knower an integral part of it. Such knowledge does not reduce the world to lifeless “things” but fills all
things with vital, pulsing life. (p. 25)

No man or woman is an island, in extreme scenarios one may be a narrow peninsula, but individuals will always need to be connected to the mainland of the entire human community. Furthermore, that human community needs to be connected to the entire mass of organic creation. Or as John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, said with uncommon insight over 100 years ago, “When you pick up anything by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe” (p. 9) All individual entities gather life-sustaining strength through their connectedness to the greater whole. The are no isolated objects, all are subjects of and within another. Subjectification of this kind, embodies the entire system, all phenomena is intrinsically connected and affirms itself through feedback relationships. Thinking along these lines is contrary to our society’s objective inclination because it does not reduce reality to autonomous segments. Wheatley (1992) reflects Capra’s sentiments on the failure of objective thinking [weather in physics or human organizations]:
Second, and much more important, the new physics cogently explains that there is no objective reality out there waiting to reveal its secrets. There are no recipes of formula, no checklists or advice that describes “reality.”
There is only what we create through our engagement with others and with events. We inhabit a world that is always subjective and shaped by our interactions with it. (p. 7, 8).

Animal, vegetable, mineral and spirit form a collective whole-a kinship where human individualism, self-interest and mind-over-matter ideology is incompatible. One identity is not reducible by another. The subjectification perception of reality holds that all matter is unified, and continuously involved in the dynamic interchange of information. All the universe “stuff” is connected, mind is in unison with matter and an entities self-interest is realized through
cooperation within the collective whole.  “There is little room for compartmentalization or for autonomous segments, separate from the whole” (Frey, 1994, p. 170). Community leadership needs to over-ride objective policies with subjective agendas that involve the representation of all community, sects. With the involvement off all community members broader contexts are examined and this can result in greater flexibility and long-term group stability. In order to promote greater participation, our communities need to become less hierarchical.

These hierarchical formations are essentially power structures which classify and divide people as either upper, middle or lower class. This categorical gradation judges people by their differences and the “other” is thought of as either oppressive or inferior. In this arena common-ground is difficult to find and the possibility for overcoming conflicts is scarce to none. If community transformation is to occur it will certainly have to be grounded in more equitable notions of egalitarian philosophy.

“Possible interpretations include equality before the law, equality of political power, equality of opportunity for social and economical advancement, equality of resources, equality of welfare, equality of freedom and equality of respect” (Dworkin, 1985, p. 248).

This notion of mutual equity can’t exist in a rigid hierarchal organization where the upper class is far to elite to deal with the concerns of the less fortunate. In order to conquer this negative gradation, community leaders need to promote a philosophy of equalization.  “Shared values such as interdependence, trust, egalitarianism, subtlety and intimacy as central to effective organizations, and by implication to effective leadership” (Ouchi, 1981, p. 17).

When all community members realize that each person is equal in spirit-regardless of their appearance or esthetic differences, common-ground becomes more accessible. In this environment mutuality becomes more recognizable, group confidence is increased and members share a sense of empowerment. With empowerment community members overcome the myopic viewpoint of power esurient politicians. Block (1993) suggests that,

“Empowerment is embodied in the act of standing on our own ground, discovering our own voice, making our own choices” (p. 36). When power is dispersed, as opposed to being hoarded, people are more able to determine their own direction. “In addition to enabling us to find our own voice; empowerment means that we have the right to define purpose for ourselves” (Block, 1993, p. 36).

Only when the traditional sources of power are challenged, will society’s hierarchies crumble,
and all community members are able to share in the leadership process. When the higher, mutually held needs and values of the population are articulated by leaders, community members become stimulated toward achieving collective ends. James MacGregor Bums (1978) coined this transformational leadership. Morford’s (1987) reflection on this leadership philosophy asserts that: He [Bums] calls for more “transforming” leadership wherein the leader identifies and articulates a vision which, flowing from followers needs and potential motives “seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower.” The result “is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.” This comes about when “the leader takes the initiative in making the leader-led connection” and through the transforming interaction changes “the followers’ motive base.” (p. 43; Bums, 1978, p. 20),

Many social reformers only recognize community improvements through statistical analysis. This quantitative viewpoint defines success as something that is only numerically measurable. Such statistical analyses are the favorite tool of many politicians, corporate accountants and civic administrators. Unfortunately, the temptation to manipulate statistics to serve a particular agenda is commonplace. Aside from this alarming occurrence, the actual relevance that quantitative research has for measuring such intangible phenomenon as leadership effectiveness or community transformation is negligible. Mats Alvesson (1996), critique on the quantitative assessment of social science clarifies this sentiment, “Practitioners [those employing quantitative assessments for the purpose of social research] seem to view the abstractions of quantified material
and statistical correlations as very remote from everyday practice and therefore of little use” (p. 455).

Typically, quantitative assessments measure short-term fluctuations as opposed to long-term transformation. In order to overcome this numerically based dogma, social researchers and the politicians, who employ their findings, need to grasp all of the implications that contribute to a particular societal phenomenon. Like the fore-mentioned systemic thinker, they must consider the whole, not just the cause/effect fluctuations occurring in their particular frame of analysis. “In the new science, the underlying currents are a movement toward holism, toward understanding the system as a system
and giving primary value to the relationships that exist among seemingly discrete parts”
(Wheatley, 1992, p. 9)

Lasting community transformation requires long-term qualitative understanding as opposed to a measured index reflecting “quality of life” indicators. Quality orientated consciousness appreciates the preciousness of life and leadership of this nature seeks to foster a sense of purposefulness in community members. In fact, it seeks new perspectives amongst followers by encouraging creative solutions and that often results in greater degrees of quality. Not only does quality-focused leadership trust in the integrity of followers, it also realizes the intrinsic motivation that striving for excellence provides. “That again is what the whole ‘Quality Movement’ is about, and why the term excellence stirs so many people so deeply nowadays” (Hawley, 1993, p. 140).

A vibrant, evolving  community understands that its greatest resource is the vitality and ingenuity of its members. Consequently, in an effort to promote quality, councils should encourage citizen creativity when formulating policy. One of the world’s foremost psychiatrists, James Masterson (1988) confirms the importance that creativity plays in the process of quality development, “Creativity… is the ability to replace old, familiar patterns of living and problem solving with new and equally or more successful ones.” (p. 44). The quest for
excellence through the employment of creativity motivates people; it also validates their existence and forges the way for community transformation.

Municipal leadership attune to the paradox of quantification vs. qualitation has the ability to balance the two. It recognizes many pathways and has a clear idea of the most choice worthy ends. By sharing its vision of qualitation, it inspires followers to seek the same ideal. This type of thinking is long-term and it allows the community to be healthy, adaptive and responsive. Present day communities need to move beyond the reductionist viewpoint. Like Isaac Newton, the reductionist’s perspective of reality is limited to the material world which is immediately seen and empirically understood. The reductionist regarded as-truth. “The Newtonian model of the world is characterized by materialism and reductionism a focus on things rather than relationships and a search in physics, for the basic building blocks of matter” (Wheatley, 1992, p. 9). Reductionist thinking paved the way for bureaucracy. Once a needed regulator of social conduct, the term bureaucracy now resonates with government inefficiency and red-tape stagnation.

Reductionism lies at the heart of non-adaptive bureaucracies; it kills the creativity of community members and restricts any transformational efforts. When administrators become puppets of myopic bureaucracy, policies become bibles and progressive ideas never see the light of day. Often the conventional notions that bureaucracies regulate becomes an artificial state because they perpetuate their own existence. When this occurs the reason for which the policies were originally conceived are no longer relevant and the regulations only persists because they are unable to change. There are far too many examples of this occurring in any level of government. The competitive nature of business has forced corporate America to acknowledge this crippling malady; in response most firms eliminated several layers of middle management-the primary area of bureaucratic concentration. Social administrators would do welt to follow this example. When governance is streamlined it is more adaptive to changing realities and more able to override outdated policies. Bolmann and Deal (1991) describe the characteristics typical in a stagnate bureaucracy, weather it be a corporation or government agency:

These are usually older organizations controlled by past traditions and turning out obsolete product lines. A predictable and placid environment has lulled the organization to sleep, and top management is heavily
committed to the old ways. Information systems are not sophisticated enough to detect the need for change. Lower-level managers feel ignored and alienated. Many old-line corporations and public bureaucracies have
these characteristics. (p. 80)

Too often, the behavior that such bureaucratic policies control becomes viewed as the only way to do a process. The reducing nature of such procedures becomes as real as that which they regulate and organizations become inflexible, non-adaptive and inert. Reductionism tends to be exclusive, it clings to tradition and lends to organizational stagnation. Transformative social progress, on the other hand, is inclusive because it requires the active participation of all community members. With proper leadership community members, like employees, become motivated by an organization’s vision; the unseen binding force that guides the affiliation which transforms individual desire to group commitment.  “I have come to understand organizational vision as a field-a force of unseen connections that influence employees’ behavior-rather than as an evocative message about some desired future state” (Wheatley, 1992, p. 13).

Participation is manifest when leaders articulate a vision that appeals to a groups core-values. When this occurs the full-person becomes committed and the vision becomes the esprit de corps of all community members. Wise leaders know that when a person is fully engaged towards something that gives them purpose, motivation takes care of its self. When community
policy is not structured through rigid bureaucracy; group vision can prosper to produce the greatest good for all. Gandhi’s Satyagraha or guidance by truth consists of achieving a vision whereby all community members participate, including those with contradicting ideologies.

Gandhi; the man whose philosophy of nonviolence liberated India from Britain, the reigning world power, believed that opposing relationships are necessary for communities to transform to a higher order. In order to create a community that facilitates opposing views all stakeholders must have open minds, patients and the courage to give-up their ethnocentrisms. True inclusive participation is not objective; it does not try to reduce reality to singular dimensions. It is dynamic and concerned with the highest moral ends and means simultaneously. With systems theory or systemic negotiation principles (i.e.; a perpective that relizes the interacting, interrelated and interdependant relationships of all living organizms and organizations), opposing forces can occupy the same side. Gandhi believed that the truth can’t be
know without the presence of the “other” because it takes opposing forces to determine what is the highest good for all concerned. During the oppressive occupation of India by Britain in the early-1900’s, Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha Satya (truth) Agraha (force) proved that politically opposed forces can reach consensus. Boundurant’s (1988) observation on Satyagraha asserted that it consisted of five general principles:

(1) recognize the truthful and untruthful on both sides; (2) put the truthful elements from both sides together; (3) form a new side while struggling with the opponent; (4) revise the new position even as the struggle continues;
and (5) the end comes when both sides agree to occupy the same side. (p. 3) Inclusive participation of this kind realizes that opposing forces provide a catalyst for new
perspectives. Or as ancient Chinese wisdom professed, conflict is opportunity. In either light, this mode of thought envisions a world beyond the reduction of former ingrained

Instead of striving to control, a dynamic  leadership paradigm would fare better by adapting Gandhi’s principles of Satyagraha. By systemically understanding dichotomies and the diametric forces of objectification vs. subjectification, gradation vs. equalization, quantization vs. qualitation, and reduction vs. participation, communities will be able to forge a stable foundation flexible enough to facilitate dynamic equilibrium. “In life, the issue is not control, but dynamic connectedness” (Jantsh, 1980, p. 196). The pendulum of antithetical forces can never be stilled, it will continue to sway forth to the right and back to the left. Any attempt to adjust the pendulum only increases the pitch of its swing. Social leaders must accept this inevitable reality and fashion their guiding parameters to allow communities the necessary metamorphic flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing universe.

1993’s intentions for “The Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future” did accentuate a promising American virtue, that being a nation’s capacity to volunteer and lend aid to the less fortunate. “Even now, at the end of the beginning of the 21st century, when more women work, more kids are raised by single parents and more families are struggling to maintain middle-class lifestyles, the United States remains one of the most volunteering nations on earth.” (Hall, 1997, p. 2A) This charitable trait tray be attributed, in part, to the fact that America is also one of the worlds most prosperous nations people who feel blessed often share their good fortune.

Unfortunately, we know that volunteerism alone can’t solve the immense calamities’ that besiege our communities. Sociologists are also beginning to understand that the very prosperity that makes America an economic leader, is also responsible for a large portion of the countries social and environmental ills. In the area of biological threats communities have to reevaluate the conventional meaning of prosperity for two primary reasons; First, because self-serving individualism strains social structures to the brink of collapse and Second, the unquenchable greed for profit, or continuous growth, is exhausting the life-supporting resources of our ecosystem. “For the first time we have to face the very real threat of extinction of the human race and of all life on this planet.” (Capra, 1982, p. 21) Fortunately, all visions of the future are not gloom and doom.

Optimistic Vision; A Cosmic Nous As Societal Catalyst

The scientific and systemic theories outlined in this article series represent the optimistic views held by many of today’s leading-edge scientists, academics and business consultants. The implications their theories have for community development is enormous. This is because their ideas do not merely skim the surface of deep-rooted issues & social problems typical of most transactional political leadership-they probe deep into the soil where the seeds of societal ills germinate.

Like the ancient mystics, they too, believe in the omniscient wisdom found in the life & living systems. Today our divining tools consists of the most advanced scientific theories ever presented in our kinds history. The metaphors found in quantum physics, unlike any other scientific phenomenon, engage, challenge and mystify the consciousness of the observer. What is to be understood is to be known relationally; not as object and observer, but as union sharing in life-sustaining information. With closer inspection science discovers that all is interconnected, one system composed of countless relationships, each a system unto themselves.

Quantum physics has aligned the scientists mind with the soul of the poet. In the words of William Blake (1757-1827) “If the doors of perception are cleansed then we would see things as they truly are infinite” Perhaps the scientists are discovering what the poets have always hinted at and what the ancient Greeks referred to as nous. F. E. Peters (1967), defined this concept of Nous: In Greek philosophy the highest form of rationality which is capable of grasping the fundamental principles of reality.

In contrast to perception, which delivers awareness of the changing, accidental properties of things, nous consists in understanding their essential, immutable nature. Moreover, it supersedes belief, which may attain truth but falls short of explaining the why and wherefore of things. For Aristotle, the unmoved mover of the universe was a cosmic Nous. (629)

Since ancient times we have always had a sense that things were not as they should be. If they were then what would be the relevance of Platonic, Aristotelian, Taoist, Buddhist & Judea-Christian ideology. Individuals and their encompassing societies have always struggled with what St. Thomas Aquinas labeled as the seven sins. From this perspective we might surmise that little has changed over the last several millennia. However, one thing has changed, that being the cataclysmic nature of our present-day societal crises. With optimistic vision today’s problems have the capacity to become tomorrow’s solutions. The environmental crises that our planet is hurtling towards can only be solved when individuals, communities, and nations come together with a common purpose. ‘With large scale dilemmas, the false perception that separates one community from another are superseded. The protective good of one ethnocentric group can only realized in a larger collective. When we acknowledge this we see the allusion of polarized views, our perceptions broaden and we gain a system wide understanding of the world.

With a systemic worldview−a perspective that accounts for the interacting, interrelated and inter-dependant relationships of all living organisms and organizations−community leaders will realize that every act, large or small, affects the other. This mindset also allows each of us a greater capacity to comprehend our own inner- beings importance to the other, hence we expand our conscious horizons and gain greater celestial understanding. When an individual undertakes this inner journey, his or her life is transformed to appreciate and serve the essence of the “life” force that both defines us and surround us resulting in a desire to serve the living community. This desire to serve life is, undoubtedly, the crucial ingredient for community transformation. When this consciousness manifests on a grand scale, the triumph of the human spirit will then ensue to guide humanity out of its self-imposed abyss where are mind-over-matter policies have severed our connections from one another, the community and the fullness of life’s meaning.


Alvesson, M. (1996). “Leadership studies: From procedure and abstraction to reflexivity and
situation.” Leadership Quarterly. 7(4): 455-81.
Ashkenas, R., D. Ulrich, and T. Jick. (1995) The boundaryless organization. San Francisco: Berret.
Block, P. (1987). The empowered manager. San Francisco: Jossey.
Bolman, L. G. and T. E. Deal (1991). Reframing organizations. San Francisco: Jossey.
Bondurant, J.V. (1988). Conquest of violence: The Gandhian philosophy of conflict. Princeton:
Princeton University Press.
Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper. Capra, F. (1975). The Tao of physics. Boulder:
(1990). – (1982). The turning point: Science, society, and the rising culture. New York: Simon.
Mindwalk. Dir. Bernt Capra. Paramount.
Clark, D. (1977). Basic communities: Towards an Alternative Society. Southampton: Camelot.
Clinton, W. (1997). Address. Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future. Philadelphia. 20 April.
Donne, J. (1611). An anatomy of the world: The first anniversary. lines 205- 8. Dworkin, R. (1985). A
matter of principle. Boston: Cambridge.
Ellmann, R. and R. O’Clair. eds. (1988). The Norton anthology of modem poetry. New York: W.
W. Norton.
Frey, R. (1994). Eye juggling: Seeing the world through a looking glass and a glass pane. Lanham:
Univ. Press.
Graham, A. (1981). Chuang Tzu: The inner chapters. London: Camelot.
Hall, M. (1997). “Volunteerism: How strong is the desire?” USA Today 22 April. A 2
Harris, Z. (1995). “Transformational quality and leadership.” Community College Journal. Apr/May. 32-6.
Hawley, J. (1993). Reawakening the spirit in work. San Francisco: Berret
Harris, Z. (1995). “Transformational quality and leadership.” Community College
Journal. Apr/May. 32-6.
Hawley, J. (1993). Reawakening the spirit in work. San Francisco: Berret
Hawking. S. (1988). A brief history of time. Toronto: Bantam. Heisenberg, W. (1962). Physics and Philosophy. New
York: Harper. “Juvenile crime and punishment” (1997). Frontline PBS, Spokane. 2 Dec. MacIntosh. J. (1987). The
world of physics. Ed. J. Weaver. 3 vols. New York: Paulist. . Masterson, J. F. (1988). The search for the real self. New
York: The Free Press. Merton, T. (1964). Gandhi and the one-eyed giant. Abbey of Gethsemani.
Morford, J. A. (1987). “Effective leadership: Research and theory.” Tournal of
Correctional Education. 38:42-46.
Nanus, B. (1992). Visionary leadership. New York: Paulist Press.
Napier, A. (1978) The family crucible. New York: Harper.
Nielson, R. P. (1991). ‘”1 Am We’ consciousness and dialog as organizational ethics
Method.” Journal of Business Ethics, 10: 649-663.
Ouchi W G (1981). Theory Z. New York: The Free Press.
Palmer, P. (1993). To know as we are known. San Francisco: Harper.
Peter, E. F. (1967). Greek Philosophical Terms. New York: Harper.
Sorokin, P. A. (1942). Man and society in calamity. New York: E. F. Dutton.
Tichy, N. and M. Devanna (1986). The transformational leader. New York: Wiley.
Werbach, Adam. (1997). Interview. The Inlander 3 Dec. 9



Courtesy of Systemic Inc,  Citizen’s Public Safety Network & Citizen’s Bureau of Investigation Community Safety Projects | Spokane; Washington, Sandpoint & Coeur d’alene; Kootenai County, Idaho Elder Abuse Advocates & Grassroots Networks.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.