I can’t get through a day anymore without at least one conversation about blurring lines – how different players in the social change arena can work together better, learn from each other, avoid duplication, create new organizational forms that aren’t stuck in the old “business vs. nonprofit” paradigm.
It is becoming clear to me that, while seemingly noble, questions of blurring the lines are the wrong question. Why? Because the question assumes there are, in fact, lines – that there are entities and organizations, corporations and social enterprises and traditional “nonprofits,” and that we need to tear down those walls.
It is the wrong question because, when we study and attempt to answer it, we actually reinforce the notion that we are all separate from each other.
A More Effective Question
What if instead of seeing a community filled with the artificial constructs of entities and organizations and businesses, each behind their own walls, we saw the whole interwoven fabric of the community? What if we saw each of the threads of that fabric not as legally separate entities, but as individual people, bringing together their dreams and aspirations, their talents and gifts, their access to “stuff” – all towards creating the greater whole?
Because of the brilliance of each of the strands in that interwoven fabric, our community knows about health and art and dogs.
Our community dreams of being healthy, vibrant, resilient.
Our community has desks and computers and storefronts and parks and cars.
Not mine. Not my organization’s or my business’s. Our collective whole has all of this.
We are not organizations. We are people. As people, we are all interconnected and interdependent, whether we acknowledge that or not. None of us is independent of the rest of us.
We are a whole with individual parts that constantly affect the whole and each other – cells in a larger body. We may be independently alive, but we are relatively worthless without each other. When small groups of us go off alone together from our own cancerous self interest, our fate is either to be stamped out by radiation – an outside force that is stronger than us – or we kill the very host that keeps us alive.
And like cells in a body, we are powerful only when acting in concert towards what is in ALL of our best interests – making sure the collective whole is healthy, resilient, at peace.
Which leads us to questions that can move us forward, instead of the well-intentioned yet ultimately unproductive question about blurring lines.
- What does it make possible when we stop seeing the labels and the walls, and start seeing our collective ability to live well together?
- What does it make possible when we stop having conversations about what social entrepreneurs and traditional nonprofits and corporations can learn from each other, and we START having conversations about the things we all care about as people who will only thrive when all of us thrive together?
- What is it we can accomplish together that none of us individual cells can accomplish on our own?
- And what favorable conditions can we create in our communities, that would make such coming together an inevitable result?
When we start asking these questions, what we will find is that the walls don’t have to be scaled, the lines don’t have to be blurred – because they don’t really exist.