November 1, 2008

Blessed are I
Freedom am I
I am the infinite
Within my soul

I can find no beginning
I can find no end


This I am

-Richard Marley
Black Bear Commune
circa 1987
(transcript from a group howl)

I just finished watching a wonderful documentary, Commune (article about the documentary), about the Black Bear Commune of the late 1960’s. It still exists, but few of the original members are still living at the commune. I’ve always been keenly interested in the time period surrounding the end of the 60’s and into the 70’s. Around the time of the Vietnam War, there was a lot of activity both in political movements, social experiments, and the arts.

Initially, it was the arts that captured my interest about this era. Theatre, always a forum to show and open discussion in regards to politics, received a bundle of material to work with through the media. Experimental theatre is as old as theatre itself, but the late 60’s brought in some new forms that transformed it from a dialogue of actors on stage to a dialogue with actors and audience. Some of the notable companies that come out of this time period that I’m attracted to are The Performance Group which has transformed into The Wooster Group, and Living Theatre.

The one thing that those theatre groups and the social experiment of Black Bear Commune has in common is the open communication. None of the groups had one leader, nor was it really ruled by majority. They were controlled by circle discussions with free form dialogue passing between members. Communicating amongst the group members in this environment, having open arguments, cultivated the spirit of community for the groups and ultimately was the sole reason they have existed for so long.

Open discussion and debate exists in our societies, but the levels of bureaucracy hinder these discussions from going anywhere. Movements of revolution to change society have been a constant through human history, but there seems to be a lack of courage to make changes in a place of work or small organization. Compounding this problem is the lack of openness in these organizations to try a shift in hierarchy or in the flow of information. I’ve always approached my workplace openly and feel the more people that feed at the pool of knowledge and information, the better the organization will run. Information can breed motivation in people to work harder and smarter, with one eye on the future towards promotion. It certainly has been the case with myself in how I’ve been able to get to where I am within the business.

The leaders of society who have or are evoking change are numerous, but where are the leaders of the workplace to cause that seismic shift and improve our morale when going to work? Where will the winds of change blow from that will enter large corporations and make things better? And what documentaries will be made about these experiments in social structure in the workplace?

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