Self Interest as the Starting Point for Community

In my community development work I am, on occasion, criticised for putting individual self interest right ‘up front and centre’.  I honestly believe that until individuals are clear on what they REALLY want, in which direction progress lies for them they cannot effectively learn to associate and community cannot be built.

Robert M. Pirsig in his classic Zen and the Art of motorcycle Maintenance which I first read 25 years ago and have recently re-read says this:

I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not to talk about relationships of a political nature, which is inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another, or with programs full of things for other people to do.  I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes that the end is the beginning.  Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right.  The social values are right only if the individuals values are right.  The place to improve the world is first on one’s own heart and head and hands and then work outward from there.  Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind.  I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle.  I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.

This then is the focus of my work on working with individuals as the starting point of a process of community development.  Clarifying self interest. Pursuing ‘good work’ with head, heart and hands. Then, and only then working on association and mutuality in pursuit of collectively negotiated self interest.

Good communities are a product of good people.  And good people are a product of their own good work.


  1. johnpopham says:

    Absolutely right, Mike.

    As usual 😉

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