Personal development as primary value

An important idea suddenly struck me.

It happened just last night after a conflict-resolution process, in which I served as mediator… and only weeks after the sudden death of a person very dear to me.

Last night, at the end of one of these meetings, I came to the conclusion that the essence of a healthy community is the open commitment of its members to personal development.

Through the years, I’ve participated in a variety of communities, projects, and organizations, including public schools, rock bands, theatre productions, nonprofits, support groups, various workplace environments, and even local restaurants pubs.   From my experiences in these and many other social contexts, I have been able to observe a wide variety of outcomes.

What I can say with great certainty is this:

If personal development is not a primary value in a community, things always go badly.


A simple axiom for personal development is the willingness to think of ourselves as a work in progress.  To allow ourselves to experience the discomfort of being around someone we don’t like or don’t know.  To allow for ambiguity and the possibility that our position may not be entirely objective or even accurate.

The courage to be with discomfort and ambiguity gives us an opportunity to become more flexible, less rigid, and, thus more emotionally responsive.  This, in turn, increases our value to the community, because our flexibility makes it easier for us to respond more intuitively and more appropriately to situations that come about.

How does this work?

By keeping ourselves and those around us as an open question, we have a much better chance for accuracy in our understanding of what’s going on with us, with others, and with the situation.  And, for a community that has a specific mission, that accuracy matters.

But, it takes a certain amount of courage, because embracing discomfort and ambiguity can be painful and sometimes even scary or embarrassing.  It’s worth the effort, though, because when conflicts arise (and they always will), there is an opportunity for a community to resolve those conflicts, learn important lessons, and evolve.

Without a commitment to personal development, a community’s norms, policies, and legacy will fail.  Systems are a support, but maturity and awareness are the essential fuel. So, this is how I define personal development.

It is late at night, and I am about to get on a bus from New York City to Boston.

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 12.09.26 PM