"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


How to live in community without scaring people or pissing them off?

Since I last wrote a post to this blog, I’ve struggled with the question.

One of my strengths, as a first born, and basic old-fashioned know it all, is my willingness to get involved. I was raised in an environment deeply committed to faith-based action. Add to this fundamental philosophy the fact that I’ve lived in my rather run down, inner-city neighborhood twenty-four years, and have maintained a studio here for ten, and you’ll understand why I have a large emotional investment in the dozen or so blocks around me.

In the early years, it meant feeding stray cats and inviting all of the kids In. Building solidarity with my neighbors. Before I moved into this house, my air conditioning window units were stolen one night. Two years later, I knew my neighbors had my back when they rallied at 3 a.m. - scaring a potential thief away from our pickup truck.

We watched out for each other. I bailed Sylvia out of jail, fed her kids when she had to work late, and kept the homeless pantry at the church stocked. Jeff played the Father card when my daughter and two friends got into mischief during one of my out of town teaching stints.

Now all of those neighborhood children are in their twenties, and have children of their own. The oldest people on my block have died. Renters have moved into most of the homes on the street. It’s the same neighborhood, but it’s different.

Now I am the Old Guard. What a shock. Time to take stock.

So I decided to revisit the Popsicle and Bubbles Strategy. You may not be familiar with this. I’ll explain.

Twenty years ago, it was easy to win the hearts, (and get the attention) of the kids on the block by passing out popsicles and bubble wands on a regular basis. Along with the treats came requirements like using the trashcan and cleaning up after the fun. And it worked. My heart swelled with pride one New Year’s Day morning, when I went to the front window and discovered Manuel, Sabrina, Samantha, Lauren, and Zenna on the sidewalk - picking up the refuse left from our previous night’s fireworks display.

Remembering the joy of this, I decided to befriend the legion of new kids in the neighborhood. I stocked up with a dozen plastic bottles of bubbles and wands, and laid in a supply of orange, grape and cherry Popsicles.

It went pretty well with the little boys next door. Their parents remember Popsicles fondly, so it wasn’t a problem to invite Jonathan, Adam, Mark, and Joshua in for a sweet treat. They stood shyly around the open freezer, scuffling and gently elbowing each other as selections were made. They marched single file toward the front door, as I brought up the rear, encouraging them to use the trashcan on the porch. Later, they loved the bubbles, and even traded a cap gun for a fresh supply of soapy water. Ah, the innocence of a four year old.

But it didn’t go so well with the kids on Michigan Street. In fact, it was a revelation. I know a couple of the dads. We’ve shared champagne on New Year’s Day. But children are quite rightly taught to be cautious in this world, and when I stopped the car to pass containers of bubbles to the four children playing in the yard, they screamed and ran into the house as I approached. Only the oldest of the four turned back, recognized me, and slowed his pace.

“Bubbles!” I shouted, “Here are some Bubbles for you!”

The other three poked their heads around the doorjamb like nervous kittens, followed by a Grandma’s sturdy frame. She eyed me carefully, and recognized me, if only vaguely. “It’s ok.” She said to them. “We know her.”

All four sidled back toward the car, thanking me politely for the gift being offered. Slightly chagrinned, I drove slowly toward my house. Thinking about the Cycle of Life.

How foolish of me to lose track of the fact that good work is never finished. It only feels that way. In fact, we must be vigilant and keep the good works going. It's the commitment to continuing that counts.

As the old Wiccan admonishment goes:

Every day do something that is good only for you. Selfish?
No. Self possessed.
Balance it out by doing something equally good
for the benefit of all...
This will depend on your opportunities.
Only you will know what you can do.
If you are an artist use your power to be original-
to try to heal the wounds you see around you.
Everything we do needs passion to be done well.
Passion is precious. It indicates good mental health.
Use it as an important energy source all day.


  1. I am about half way through "The Abundant Community." As a commentary on hyper-consumerism and dismantling of neighborhoods, I couldn't agree more.
    Growing up in small town, I well remember sitting on Margaret and Tansy's porch next door eating homemade cookies, playing outdoors with the neighborhood kids till dark, Sunday as family day (stores were not open). TV was not really part of our lives until I was a teenager. We knew all our neighbors, visited back and forth, and helped. Today it is unheard of to just drop by to visit. We don't even do that with family!!

    Much, well really most of the political upheaval and problems we now face are due to loss of trusted relationships and personal connections. Returning to the community concept, one practicing sustainability has long been a desire of mine.

    About a year ago, I moved to an older neighborhood in mid sized town. I have met and socialized a bit with my immediate neighbors and now fully intend to step it up. The town's old main street is practically gone due to the intrusion of the strip malls and big box stores. But with the draw from the Farmer's Market, it is starting to revive. I'm going to help with a art fair in the old biz district next summer and do some promotion for the little gallery, locally owned. Feels good to do that and have made some new friends too.

    The power of community is something I have experienced, know it works for the benefit of the people involved and society as a whole. Rebuilding community is not going to be easy and quick. But do it we must. I hope we can all meet again here in a year and tell of our expriences!

  2. I was at the regional 'cluster' meeting of my Lutheran church here in southeast Alaska all weekend. Included in the events of the time together was a seminar with a young woman named Margaret Feinberg whose entire two days of talk could be pretty much boiled down into one potent thought: RELATIONSHIPS are the most important thing. I think that idea is present in this writing, Jane, and wish you well as you continue to build relationships in your neighborhood. Love love love,love is all you need, as the Beatles said.