Summer School For Ethics: Connecting to Ourselves, Each Other and Our Ethical Culture Roots and Values
from Diane Kirschner, Summer 2007The Challenge: How could we respond to the request from Lay Leadership Summer School (LLSS) graduates for continuing opportunities to engage in a learning experience with other Ethical Culture members that would be welcoming to families and also allow time for rest, relaxation and recreation?
Our Reply: The Summer School for Ethics, which premiered Aug 12-18, 2007.
Born also of the vision of the founders and staff of the LLSS, SSII, as it was also called, brought 24 participants from eight different Societies to The Mountain, a retreat center perched at 4200’ elevation atop Little Scaly Mountain in the Nantahala National Forest of North Carolina. Each day participants were free to compose their “perfect day,” selecting from a menu of offerings intended to meet needs for connection, excitement, learning, growth, meaning, rest, fun and intimacy, to name but a few, or chart their own course.
Audrey Kindred, Brooklyn Ethical’s Sunday School Director, came as a student and offered her expertise to open each day with yoga practice at 6:30 am, which attracted a group of enthusiastic and appreciative regulars for the entire week. The day officially began after breakfast, with a gathering, led each day by a different staff person, intended to connect us to our common desire for community and our Ethical Culture ideals. After dinner, gatherings allowing us to share our experiences of the day and reconnect with one another were followed by movies, short story discussions or social time. One night The Mountain Quartet, four very talented employees, treated us to a concert. And Mother Nature presented the Perseids meteor showers and a distant lighting storm that could be viewed from the comfort of rocking chairs on the main lodge’s deck or from the Tower, with its 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains.
Mornings and afternoons offered two workshop choices at each session, meaning you could take four workshops a day, if you were so inclined. Additionally, a communications practice group was offered as an extra late afternoon session. Reflecting on their experiences, the staff offers the following comments:
Joe Chuman, Leader, Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County: “The environment for intellectual discourse could not be more perfect. We were on the deck, the sky was bright and clear, and the morning air ensured that the temperature was just right. It was my pleasure to start each day with an information-packed talk on the history of humanism in the West. The intent was to trace the genealogy of humanism in such a way as to lay the groundwork for the development of Ethical Culture in the mind of Felix Adler. My presentations covered "Humanism in the Thought of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle;" "Renaissance Humanism;" "The European Enlightenment;" "The Intellectual and Social Precursors on Ethical Culture in the Nineteenth Century;" and finally, "An Explication of Adler's Ethical ideal." From my perspective, there was keen interest among the participants who appeared each morning to deepen their knowledge of the intellectual side of our movement. The discussions were lively and inquisitive, and kept this instructor appropriately challenged. It has long been my belief that Ethical Culture needs to center itself on ideas, especially those that make us distinctive as a philosophical and religious movement on the American scene. From the responsiveness of those who took part in our morning explorations, it was clear and confirming to me that that belief is broadly shared. I warmly look forward to repeating this experience with a new "class" in '09.”
Fritz Williams, Leader Emeritus, Baltimore Ethical Society: “My primary contribution was a series of workshops on telling our own stories. At the outset, I made it clear that my interest in storytelling is grounded in my belief that our moral attitudes and reflexes are not shaped primarily by great moral teachings expounded by authority figures, but rather by everyday events and ordinary interactions with other human beings. Yes, storytelling is an entertaining way of sharing our experiences with one another. But it is also a powerful way of exploring our own religious and ethical development. It carries us beyond defining morality in terms of rules and commandments to those deeper qualities of character that have to do with compassion, integrity, openness, gratitude, and an insatiable hunger for knowledge and growth. I told stories at all five sessions, but what made the workshops really exciting were the risks participants took in telling their own stories and the thoughtful, supportive feedback they provided for one another. I took no notes during the workshops, but it’s amazing how many of the stories I still remember. Great stories all around! And the conversations that spilled over into our journeys between buildings and our time together in the dinning hall. It was better than I had any right to expect.”
Jone Johnson Lewis, Leader, N.Virginia Ethical Society: “Using material developed by James Kouzes and Barry Posner from research with tens of thousands of effective leaders in business, not-for-profit, and public sectors, I offered five Leadership sessions focused on five core practices of leadership. The practices are based on a model of leadership as a relationship, and are (surprisingly?) consonant with those of Ethical Culture, and are useful to anyone who would influence an organization and its culture from any position within the organization -- in our case, an Ethical Society. Participants considered together practical ways to apply the ideas in the sessions to their Ethical Society life, from clarifying and communicating values and mission, to finding creative problems to solutions, to celebrating and appreciating.”
Susan Rose, Leader, ESWoW, posted daily to her blog at www.eswow.org. Here is a sampling of one such posting: “We had a workshop session this morning on ESWoW and it was great to have Billy [Dechand, the new ESWoW On-line Administrator] there, [along with Bob Bhaerman, the other ESWoW administrator]. We gave some folks an opportunity to learn more about ESWoW and later in the week we'll be having at least one working session collecting ideas about updating our website. I also presented a workshop on end of life issues and will offer several more throughout the week. You'll be able to get the same information in the coming months when I begin offering classes online (beginning on Sept 30) on Planning Your Own Memorial Service and later, Advance Medical Directives.” You can access the website for additional blog entries and the handouts Susan prepared and distributed to the group.
Diane Kirschner for the Communications Team of Bill Lewis, Jone Johnson Lewis and Joy McConnell: “Each of us has been studying nonviolent communication, a language and consciousness developed by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., to improve the quality of ones relationships. We have found it to be transformational in our own lives and in our interactions with others. As a team, we were very excited to share this tool for living our Ethical Culture values with fellow members, an effort that began at this year’s Assembly and culminated at a growth and development workshop in Baltimore this September. While the practice is simple, it is not easy. We tried to design our sessions to give participants hands-on experience in communicating in nonjudgmental ways that allow for deep listening, reflection, empathy, compassion and a more profound understanding of one another. We worked with experiences from participants’ personal as well as Society lives, while also encouraging self-empathy and self-exploration to gain more awareness of how our own thoughts, feelings and needs influence our behaviors. We are grateful for the openness that participants brought to the sessions, allowing us to learn from each other and to grow in our capacity to live our values.”
Bill Lewis, our recreational director, ably assisted by Law’nence Miller, AEU Office Administrator, scheduled a variety of options for physical activity, including white water rafting, hikes to nearby waterfalls, trips to town and to the lake for swimming. Many of us took hikes before lunch, enjoying the various trail options at the Mountain.
We celebrated four birthdays: on opening day, Susan Rose and Philip Segal, on closing day, Gabriel Stanley, and on August 13th, it was Happy Birthday Felix. Susan Rose describes that celebration: “Last night at our gathering we were joined by Felix Adler to celebrate his 156th birthday. He was in great shape, although he looked remarkably like Joe Chuman, Leader of the Bergen Society. Herr Doktor Adler answered questions from the audience, explaining many of his important concepts. He was dismayed to learn of the prevalence of women Leaders in Ethical Culture, but pleased to know that the concepts he first presented in the end of the 19th century have inspired people in the 21st century to come together to live more ethical lives.”
So, was the week a success? Did it answer the challenge? Here’s what some participants have to say: “I have platform material for years thanks to the wonderful presentations, and I have the energy to write them thanks to the camaraderie and the beautiful setting. Highly recommended for one and all!” - Kate Lovelady, Leader, Ethical Society of St. Louis.
“It turned out to be a great family vacation and we are all so happy we attended. It’s so important to us that Gabriel knows that we are not alone in our ethical religion. I was once again reminded that it is always fun when we can meet other people from Ethical Culture. I know that some of these connections will continue to grow. – Sharon Stanley, graduate, 2004 AEU Lay Leadership Summer School, who attended with husband Chris Stanley, 2006 SS grad, and son, Gabriel.
”Summer School II was an exquisite balance between learning, sharing and fun. The teachers were first-rate in their spheres [and] the amazing part was that all of them shared their knowledge and understanding from a relaxed joyous stance. Woven into the program was hiking, swimming, white water rafting, trips to town and short story discussions to make sure that we had lots of fun and more interaction. The food was great and the price was the best it could be given the quality of the programs and location. We can't fully appreciate the close interaction that grows from these experiences until we do it. I certainly will do it again and again and again. It was Ethical Culture at its best.” – Martha Gallahue, Brooklyn Society
“It was great to meet a whole bunch of new EC folks. I also had a great time learning new things.” – Billy Dechand, St. Louis Society
“Summer School II included a variety of learning experiences combined with hiking, fellowship, and a beautiful setting. It was also a chance to get to know people from Ethical Societies from around the country." – Hank Gassner, NoVES
“I had a wonderful time at The Mountain. In my 25 years of deep involvement with the AEU (the movement beyond my Ethical Society) this was one of the best experiences I’ve had. The gorgeous scenery, the intellectual challenge, the opportunity to stretch my skills, and the inspiration of people sharing their ethical journeys at a deep level in whole-group settings filled many of my needs. This experience renewed my energy and optimism about the Ethical movement.” – Joy McConnell, Leader
“I can instantly be there, in remembering. I can see vividly that vista, the porch full of rocking chairs -- at times still and empty and profound in their promise of community, and then suddenly later, full of people becoming Community. The camp-nature of things meant everything was choice-ful. Be there if you need to be. No requirements. I needed, like thirst and hunger, the learning of philosophy, the creativity of story, the healing of compassionate communication, the envisioning of a society beyond walls. Minute to minute, I chose school! -- granted, ethical school. At times, over waterfalls for goodness sakes! I was compelled. I was in love with the growing.” – Audrey Kindred, Brooklyn Society.
And from our youngest participant, Gabriel Stanley, age 9, who brought a lot of light and joy to our week together:
We hope you will want to come too. Let the AEU office (email@example.com or 212.873.6500) know that you intend to join the fun. Your enthusiasm will make it happen.
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