When the “I” Becomes a “We”: Thoughts about individual and collective ownership in social movements

The issue of individual visibility and ownership in collective movements is a difficult one and it often stays unresolved. In my personal movement history, some close friendships with fellow initiators were ruptured and discontinued because of rivalry on claiming credit and ownership. It is a difficult paradox, which I can also feel in my own soul: the hunger for personal recognition and visibility, and on the other side the fact that it portrays a huge success when a vision gathers momentum and gets a life of its own, when the roles and contributions of the participating individuals disappear into collective ownership. It is exciting and inspiring when an idea really develops into a movement. It is glorious, when the “I” becomes a “We” and there is no concern for individual authorship or individual or group power brokering. I have experienced this in the movements I have been a part of. Unfortunately, however, this usually stayed a phase, often in the beginning. Later on, issues of individual or organisational profiling and authorship and even disappropriation would arise and cause (unresolved) and often bitter conflict. Frequently this happens in connection with the process or stage, when movements become organisations.

This is triggered by a lot of things, both in the structures of our society as well as in our individual psyches. To name some of them:

  • The media doesn’t like collective authorship. They want stars and they often create them.
  • Claiming ownership is a way to leverage fundraising and political negotiating power.
  • Claiming authorship supports careers.
  • Personalities who are good at promoting themselves or their organisations receive reinforcement and acknowledgement in our society
  • Competitiveness is valued highly
  • You can make money out of good ideas in our market society
  • Speaking and writing talents often create more visibility and profile than the practical talents needed to sustain the practice on the ground
  • “Missionary” type personalities, initiators and innovators often tend to over extend themselves in their dedication to a cause. This can cause an imbalance and trigger the need for (more) recognition.
  • Creating and running movements involves a lot of unpaid work, which also can trigger the hunger for recognition as compensation.
  • Leadership can be a complex and non gratifying role which can create feelings of loneliness that also can create craving for compensation. It can involve being ahead of the others and being challenged by their resistance. It can involve taking on invisible roles and work, that go unnoticed and that are only appreciated when no longer provided.

I am sure there are many more factors involved.

This website provides me with the opportunity to process some of my own personal issues in this contradictory field. I like the opportunity it gives to document my version of what happened. I also like the opportunity it gives to portray my own contributions and leave my traces, especially in regard of the fact that I have experienced my share of disappointments with disappropriation and lack of credit. On the other hand, I know that the great things that were accomplished, were accomplished as a “we”. We did it collectively and that those are also the things that will sustain. The part of my soul that is still hungry for recognition, enjoys putting together this website. The part of my soul that rejoices in having experienced true collectivity, is also aroused by the fond memories being stirred up of the “old times”, including the memories of all the fellow activists and colleagues and what we experienced together, and by the realisation that history has been written and will be built on and carried forth by future generations, whether they remember their foremothers or not.

Modern technology and websites create new opportunities. May many personal websites be created, showing the many waves that create the ocean, the exquisite uniqueness of each of us in what we contribute and how we conduct our lives. I have always enjoyed reading autobiographies, much more than history books with so called objective facts and analysis. May we learn to be more aware that we are in this precious life on this precious planet together, that we are interdependent and that we are all connected. We all effect each other, whether we are aware of it or not. We all learn from each other, whether we are aware of it or not. We all need each other, whether we are aware of it or not. And we all give to and receive from each other, whether we are aware of it or not.