A lot of people ask us, ‘How are you democratic”? or: “What is the connection between educational and community activities, and the system of government”? It is true that the interpretation of the concept of democracy is broad; there is representative, there is liberal, there is republican and there are yet more to come . . . So what is it that we are referring to? Let’s try to make some sense of it …
The journey towards shaping a democratic society
Over the years we have been shaping the worldview we call democracy, from both inside and out. We asked ourselves what is the composition of values, social habits and personal behaviors that creates a democratic way of life? What is the social behavior that will preserve the values of equality, the rights of individuals and the community, their dignity and their liberty, wherever they may be – and how we will be able to instill them into society?
During our reserach, at the point where the social values of democracy meet up with communal action, four basic elements surfaced which also have behavioral derivatives. As far as we are concerned these are the building blocks of a healthy community and the foundations for our activities (which we call democratic).
Each of us perceives reality differently, and conflict arises when narratives converge. In order to change conflict into productive tension which advances society, we need an infrastructure for an ongoing dialog between the individuals within the community or organization, while constructing mechanisms that enable this to happen. In a parallel process an ongoing dialog should be created between the different communities within society. For example, the establishment of ad hoc steering committees, teams with stakeholder representatives.
But dialog is insufficient – we want a community of involved people who come forward rather than remain passive and undertake responsibility and leadership. Our activities are designed to create a chain reaction in which a climate of dialog encourages involvement, and this then leads to participatory leadership, the functions of which are divided among members of the community. This is flexible and complex leadership which requires support and guidance at the outset.
Reciprocity between the individual and the community means that individuals and the community are at the same both contributors to and recipients of the contribution. In the atmosphere of tolerance and dialog we create, individuals feel free to express themselves, develop and lead. Their activity within the community strengthens them, while at the same time it strengthens the community. In our activities we design and construct organizational and communal mechanisms that will support the growth of individuals and their ability to strengthen the community. Moreover, each community is responsible for growth, and for providing room for expression for those individuals within it.
This is that same vitality and growth that every community requires, and we want to encourage it. This is the “despite everything it is still moving” that every society needs in order to be renewed. Those individuals who take a critical look at reality will be able to discern the gap between what is real and what is ideal, and they take steps to influence the common space. Our activities encourage critical thinking, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, as tools to promote common goals.
So what do we have?
At the end of the day – in order for society, community or an organization to function successfully, one needs to infuse them not with lofty ideas, but with practical mechanisms of action in which these elements are embedded. So, whatever you choose to call it, this is our interpretation of democracy; and this is our way of creating a healthy and growing society.