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Al Etmanski


Philia is the Greek word for friendship between two individuals, as well as for neighbourly love - the bonds of friendship that bind us together in community. Philia is also the name of a group of reflection devoted to the defense of the idea that a society is a living system, as resilient as any other living systems: the person, the body, the ecosystem. (See who we are lower in this page) L'Agora and Plan, two of the the partners in this appartenance-belonging website, were the founders of the Philia Dialogue.

In choosing the concept of Philia, we were deliberately looking for an unfamiliar term. We felt that if we used more common words, people would assume they understood the nature of our intention and bring preconceptions and limitations to the discussion. Our hope was that a new word would inspire curiosity and invite the reader to delve deeper - to reconsider our role as citizens and the nature of our interactions with each other in community.


Images from The Man who Planted Trees, by Frédéric Back.

Core ideas of the Philia Dialogue

More formally, we define philia as "the reserve of human warmth, enthusiasm and generosity that nourishes and stimulates the fellowship at the heart of civic life." By "reserve" we mean that these qualities already exist in our communities; we just need to draw them out. In other words, our communities are inherently resilient.

Core Ideas are the lens or "glasses" through which we look at caring citizenship - the fundamental assumptions or biases that inform our views.

At the heart of our thinking is what we call the "social resilience perspective": the belief that individuals and communities have an innate capacity to return to a state of healthy balance. This perspective has important implications for how we think about the nature of individuals and communities, which in turn has far-reaching implications for social action and policy. For example, a social resilience perspective suggests that we are not passive recipients in need of outside support and intervention, but that we have a built-in capacity to transform, adapt, heal and survive. It also suggests that the healthiest communities are those that are most diverse, for diversity is the key to resilience in all natural systems.

Viewed this way, we come to see that everyone, regardless of origin, background or abilities, has a contribution to make - and that a healthy community is one that welcomes and enables those contributions. Social action and policy reflecting a social resilience perspective would thus shift its focus from interventions based on "needs" to strategies that focus on assets and mobilize people's capacities, skills and gifts.
Another lens through which we view caring citizenship is that of neighbourliness. Neighbourliness - what some call "social capital" - is so fundamental to our thinking that we've taken our name from the Greek word for neighbourly love, philia. Many people believe our society is less neighbourly than it once was and lament the apparent decline of community feeling. Yet neighbourliness is very much alive. It's especially evident during times of crisis - think of the outpourings of neighbourliness unleashed by the ice storm in Quebec, the forest fires in B.C., the recent tsunami in Asia. But neighbourliness also shows up every day, everywhere, in small, unheralded ways: when we send condolences to a friend, when we help a fellow citizen whose car won't start, when we join with our neighbours to host a block party, when we befriend someone who is isolated and lonely.
Looking at the world through the lens of neighbourliness we see a reserve of human warmth, enthusiasm and generosity already existing in our communities, just waiting to be drawn out. This brings us back to the idea of resilience: the idea that our communities have the inherent ability to adapt and heal, given the opportunities and the resources. It also inspires our thinking about such universal values as civility, compassion, reciprocity and trust.

Finally - and intimately linked to resilience and neighbourliness - we view caring citizenship through the lens of abundance. The dictionary defines "abundance" as "a great or plentiful amount; affluence; wealth." And that is exactly what caring citizenship is founded on and leads to: an abundance of caring, compassion, neighbourliness, contribution, belonging and meaning. Looking at citizenship through the lens of abundance leads us to focus on assets and strengths rather than deficits and needs - to rediscover the resources already present in our communities and build on what we have. It also leads to collaboration, based on the principle of multiplying those resources, and on the belief that everyone has something to contribute. And it leads to solutions outside traditional service delivery systems.

The resilience of community depends on how each of its members belong to it. Hence this website on belonging based on this definition of belonging by Jean Vanier, the founder of l'Arche. "The longer we journey on the road to inner healing and wholeness, the more the sense of belonging grows and deepens. The sense is not just one of belonging to others and to a community. It is a sense of belonging to the universe, to the earth, to the air, to the water, to everything that lives, to all humanity. " – Jean Vanier, Community and Growth .



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