In order for any community engagement to be successful, it must be deeply rooted in personal engagement. We have to have lasting connections to the world within us before we can be connected outside ourselves. The 21st century provided many great examples of social change leaders who did this work thoroughly, including Caesar Chavez, Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, and many others around the world.
Gandhi focused on personal engagement by calling on his followers to make their own clothes, as this was the surest way to throw off the shackles of the Empire. This connected people directly to the humongous issue of overthrowing the English Empire by having them focus on something they contact everyday- their clothes. That simply charge- and massive metaphor- was demeaning to Indians who were successfully dressed in rich Western clothes. However, in wearing simple homemade shirts or pants or whatever, Gandhi believed every Indian could play a role in independence. He made meaning of the simple, humble act of making your own clothes. In this way, the Mahatma taught a direct lesson from Heartspace: By developing lasting connections with the issues that matter with you, you can directly affect those who would treat you superficially and ignore you entirely. Personal engagement ensures the deepening of purpose and meaning, securing clear understanding of complex social issues though directly connection with the apparent challenge. Gandhi’s work freed one nation and birthed another, and his connection to Heartspace was obvious from the connections Indians developed within themselves.
When Dr. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he moved the African American community in his city towards personal engagement. He simply asked people to stay off public busing until public busing was integrated. While that came at an expensive cost to working class African Americans throughout the city, the economic crisis nearly crushed the city government in the city. The whites controlling the buses were forced to recognize African Americans as a powerful economic and human force within their community. That human force was realized through Heartspace as the community increasingly succeeded by relying on their neighbors, church mates, and other places people met people. Their personal engagement deepened by necessity, and the human power in the community surged.
|Students cleaning a school in Japan. This
is a process through which participants in the
learning community can become personally
engaged in their buildings.