I’ve drawn on depth psychology for a renewed understanding of my work on community development. Basically, the layer adds this insight: a certain degree of inner balance and peaceful centeredness are demanded of the participant in community development. The same is true of what is demanded of the citizen in participatory democracy. And even closer to home for me, it’s true as well of the “productive parent” in family-generated community building. The inner dynamics impacting the person’s outer performance as citizen and loving parent matter greatly to the success of community building.
The insight into this inner dynamic evolved from one-shot workshops as well as full-term seminars that I’ve attended over the last three years at the Jung Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. In my study at the latter institute, I also received a year of supervised field experience, working with kids individually at a public school in Chicago’s south side. I learned a lot about their real lives and the families with whom they alive.
Inner discernment and its effects on one’s outer life has long been an interest of mine. I’ve kept a journal for the last 45 years, in which I’ve reflected on all manner of my own feelings, thoughts, dreams, and inner issues. But, the formal training I’ve had recently bridges my personal journaling to my outer work in new and exciting ways. I’ll share these connections in this Blue House Institute blog over the coming weeks.
About twenty-eight years ago, shortly after my daughter, our first child was born, a numinous, leather-jacketed, dark-haired man appeared in a dream and handed me a child, as if to say, “Here you go, she’s in your hands. Take care of her.”
Kathy’s entrance into our outer life and this child’s handing over in my interior began to transform me in ways that I, a tenure track professor of Political Science at Penn State University, could not at first begin to appreciate. But slowly and relentlessly, they did.
Our second and third children, Tim and Dave, were born two years later – identical twins – premature and very sick. With massive amounts of help from extended family members - riding the train in from the Midwest in shifts - Maureen and I were able to get our boys through their precarious first few months, and then established new routines for our work and for taking care of our now, three, kids.
Here’s what I came to understand: Kathy’s birth initiated a new clarity of purpose from within through the dream of the guy in the leather jacket – the one I came to refer to as my “greaser angel”.
The boys’ birth reinforced the call, and I reorganized my life around the mission of building community around children. I shifted the focus of my research to policies and politics as they affected community life around kids. I went on leave from my position at Penn State to direct the new Governor’s Advisory Council on Children, and I shifted more of my working time to the home.
This shift toward family distanced me from the Political Science Department at Penn State, which moved me off the tenure track. In a position at a policy institute, I led the Pennsylvania Family Policy Seminars, and just after Greg was born, I published a book titled, Irony and Hope in the Emerging Family Policies: A Case for Family Empowerment Associations.
I finally left the university entirely to work from home as a consultant and occasional, part-time professor. Maureen became the full-time breadwinner as a law professor at Widener University.
In 1996, we moved to Oak Park, Illinois where we raised the kids. Maureen earned tenure at John Marshall Law School. I consulted, taught, and led projects generally focused on community development, while also teaching part-time at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Now, the kids are adults and by next fall, all will be married.
I’m free and eager, to help all those interested in building better communities and stronger families around children. I’m refreshed from recent studies in depth psychology and the direct counseling I provided to kids. I’m ready to consult with parents. I’m available to guide community development projects and to help policy commissions find common ground. I’m interested in helping agencies to sustain and expand good quality, family-focused programs.
With our political discourse devolving into ever more extreme polarization, the idea of a middle ground seems increasingly idealistic. But, the center, as empty as it seems to be when it comes to issues like education, crime, immigration, and others must be rebuilt if anything hopeful is to get accomplished.
My recent studies and year of supervised practice in psychotherapy demonstrated to me from a different perspective how vitally important a loving, stable family is for children's development. However, I think we've come as a culture to a point where people are much more articulate about how harmful family life can be than they are about how necessary, loving family life is. I'm more convinced than ever that if we are to build good communities for kids, we've got to make the renewal of productive, stable families with at least two, committed and caring adults part of the process.
How desperately our society needs to evolve a new form of loving, productive family life! How urgently our young people need a vision of family life that is dignified and feasible practically. Yet again, I have talked with another young friend about whom I care very much, with her worrying over whether it will even be feasible for her and her male partner to come together in marriage. The traction for marriage has become very weak, very thin, almost to where it's not considered seriously by many adults. I believe that traction has eroded because many young folks barely know what it's like to enjoy enough control of one's immediate life to consider building a family and a decent family habitat. Even phrasing the issue that way sounds out-of-reach, outmoded, or outside their relevant range of choices.