"A Stem Cord of a Web of Relationships"

This draft treatise is compiled from notes recorded at Ogallala Commons inaugural Commoners University on June 22-23, 2009 held at Casa La Entereza in Nazareth, Texas. (Sources of the notes were the participants: Andy Wilkinson, Father Ken Keller, Erin Hoelting, Darryl Birkenfeld, Julie Boatright, and Kim Barker.)

I. What is the commons?

Still, the commons is concrete and graspable, both personally and collectively, because the commons is a node: a stem cord of a web of relationships. The commons is a province that serves as a locus of our sustenance, and as a matrix of our wealth (our economy) as well as our symbolization of the universe.

The commons is a narrative, a story that we participate in with all creation, as well as with our past and our future that reveals itself in our unfolding present time. The narrative of the commons is ever new, ever recreating us. In the true articulation (the re-telling) of the commons, we see the proper relationship of all things.

The commons is both a gift and a call to create. Our response/ creating is not a solitary action, but a communal chorus. Yet in this polyphony of voices, every voice is vital and unique. Knowing the narrative of the commons and embodying it, is key to the work of commons-building and integral to life as a commoner.

The commons, as the primary focus and matrix of life experience, is personal. Yet, the commons is foremost personal and experiential because it is what we belong to. Equally, the commons belongs to all of us, not to one of us. The personal experience of commons is the entry point to becoming a commoner. Then we can speak of natal landscapes.

II. What does it mean to be a commoner?

A commoner requires an ongoing, lifelong education in the commons. The commons is a classical education in itself— in bringing together all the pieces, in seeing how they fit together, how they fit in. A commons education helps people find their place in the commons, as well as their pathway, their career(s), their vocation.

III. How does a commoner live?

--You have to choose to receive it.

Responsibility is central to membership in the commons and life in the Gift Economy. The commons, like responsibility, is a gift and a call -- a call/response that we are free to accept or ignore. When anyone recognizes or chooses the gift/call as a personal message and makes a response, that person begins a conscious participation in the commons.

“The root of responsibility is an aural/oral metaphor: first one listens, then one answers. Greek philosophy, especially after Plato, was not strong on aural/oral metaphors. As the poets and storytellers were replaced by "thinkers’, metaphors of sight and visual form overwhelmed other possibilities." (Gabriel Moran, A Grammar of Responsibility, p. 37.)

The Creator God is the giver, the actor, the call maker. We are the receivers, the responders, those responsible. The key to living as a commoner is the recognition/ realization (call) and the practice (response) that we are being acted upon by the Gift(s). All our actions are a response to the Gift.

IV. How does the commons grow?

—to take

The commons thrives based on the law of generativity (Can you give away as much as you take?). When people are adequately invited and included in the commons, they can be equipped with and supported with this generative energy. That is the difference in living in the full measure of responsibility as a commoner. This is the key to overcoming the myth of the Tragedy of the Commons.

Ogallala Commons is a dodecahedronic web, with 12 key assets of one commonwealth. This is the economic foundation of the commons.

It is proper and necessary to fashion commodities from the commons wealth. What is disruptive in the short term and unethical in the long term, is an action that commodifies the processes that are the lifeblood of the commons. Put another way, any action or enterprise that depletes the ecological, social, or economic capital of the commons wealth will eventually unravel its vitality and health.

Because the commons requires poetry (poesis) to come into being, the commons has to have ambiguity and paradox. There has to be diversity in the commons, but also a coming together, a harmony, a unity -- or it will become a political construction…an adversarial conflagration like our American two-party political system.

Commoner Questions and Values (inspired by About This Life, by Barry Lopez):

Can you imagine the needs of others? Can you recognize and take on the less glamorous, more onerous tasks? Can you put a young person at ease, then include them and mentor them? (About This Life, p. 165.)

Lopez commoner core values: loyalty, selflessness, respect, generosity (About This Life, p. 157)

Update: Below, Ogallala Commons’ diagram showing the twelve key assets of the Ogallala Commons.

Darryl Birkenfeld:

I agree that meaningful work is essential to life as a commoner and stewarding the commonwealth. However, since meaningful work is manifested through any of the 12 key assets, I am reluctant to consider work as a 13th Key Asset…in the same way that I would not denote breathing, or eating, or conversing as a key asset. In the end, I realize that these definitions are somewhat arbitrary, and that they depend on a person’s and a culture’s perspective. Still, the 12 Key Assets that we have identified in this illustration of the commonwealth has resonated with a wide variety of people, and caused them to acknowledge these crucial assets that truly gifts that belong to everyone…that are somehow the foundations of social, ecological, and economic life.

Originally published by David Bollier at Onthecommons.org under a Creative Commons Attribution license.