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Being Real About Integrity in the Ozarks

Last year I was the organizer/leader of the Ozark Area Community Congress (OACC). It is a volunteer job. This was the eighteenth year for the annual three-day event. OACC attracts pretty much the same crowd from year to year - mostly white, downwardly mobile, middle-class, college-educated, ex-hippies or back-to-the-landers. More children come every year; at this point half as many children as adults attend. In the early years this event was a true congress, with most of the time spent debating and making decisions on OACC resolutions for how the planet/our bioregion could be managed if governed in accordance with natural law. After the first five years or so it turned into something of a reunion and most recently has become a more consumer-oriented event, with lots of presentations and workshops on a great variety of topics.

As organizer, I began by enlisting a crew of Co-Counselors who also regularly attend OACC. I called one of them every week for a short session about OACC, starting about five months before the event, and used these sessions to plan my work, discharge fears and frustrations, and think big about my role, bioregionalism, and this event. I also spent time with former OACC organizers and the founders of the event, listening to their thinking and encouraging them to think big with me. I decided that the personal contacts made at OACC were probably its most valuable aspect and that the greater movement - bioregion-alism, sustainable living, eco-economics - was not moving forward as it could.

A distress carried by many of us in this group is a hesitation to share our ideas outside of our "comfort circle," to make friends with folks who are not at all like ourselves, so I chose the theme of "integrity" for the entire weekend. Regular OACCers who also know RC led support groups (by gender, age, lifestyle, profession, etc.) to talk about integrity in our lives. I led a panel on integrity. These all complemented the "actual" events: workshops on environmental issues and sustainable living, communally-prepared meals, children's programs, an entertainment night, and an evening of square dancing. About ninety adults and forty-one children attended. About forty people participated in the optional morning groups and panel. Another RC teacher in our Area led two RC introductory workshops, attracting fourteen people. Overall, RC had a positive influence on the proceedings.

My short talk on integrity included the following:

"Capitalism discourages integrity. Deceit and competition are the 'name of the game' and are rewarded.

"Everybody is born with integrity. When it looks like we're not acting on it, we're just lost, maybe lacking some information or safety. All we need is a hand to help us figure out a way back.

"Suppose in the next election every public office in this region is filled by one of us. Suppose our ideas become mainstream - generally accepted and implemented by government. How do we ensure that we will do things differently when we are empowered? How can we escape the results of the conditioning we've received in a confused society?

"For me, integrity means being honest, being true to myself. I'm nervous up here. To deny that, or the giggles it brings, would be a lack of integrity, would be pretense - trying to operate on top of what I'm really thinking and feeling. That's the way people in leadership make most decisions and, for me, that explains why they are able to make decisions that so violate the planet and endanger people's health. Our good thinking is affected by the suppression of our inner responses. We end up doing what we think others expect of us, rather than what we know should be done. No pretense means crying when things are sad, shaking when terrified, laughing when embarrassed . . . these processes are natural for humans. They keep us honest. We need to do some hard things, like sharing our ideas with people who don't live like we do, like listening to them long and thoroughly enough to develop genuine relationships with them, like figuring out how to give them a hand with their fears. We can't do that while attempting to stuff our own fears, anger, and judgments out of sight."

The entire event was evaluated as "the best OACC ever" by almost everyone who submitted an evaluation. I was asked to write about my OACC experience for the quarterly newsletter that goes to the OACC mailing list and took that opportunity to "come out" about RC being the source of the event's success. I was nominated to lead it again next year and have accepted. The theme for 1998 will be discharge.

Deb Eisenmann
Drury, Missouri, USA

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00