Reynold Ruslan Feldman, Ph.D. - Author, Editor, Nonprofit Consultant, Wisdom Coach
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Congregating versus Segregating

When I was fifteen, my parents moved from New York City to Chicago. For years my father would take us for Sunday drives along Lake Michigan to Winnetka and back. As we passed the lion gates announcing the upscale suburb of Kenilworth, he would always comment, “No Jew can live here.” Segregation separated us, the uncouth minority, from them, the mainstream. “The Protestant Episcopal Church,” the sign read, “welcomes you.” (It was the only house of worship seen among Kenilworth's stately villas.) We knew better. It didn’t welcome us. Segregation was what Dr. King, celebrated two days ago, denounced in his congregation. Now there’s another word, congregation. Both come from the Latin grex, meaning a herd of animals or company of people. Se means “away from”; con “with.” I welcome the distinction. Right now as I type, my wife and five friends are meeting in their women’s peace group downstairs. Occasionally laughter finds its way through my door. I don’t hear the tears. The members share their ups and downs as they support each other in living wisely and doing something each week for the greater good.  A partner of one of them and I are now starting a parallel men’s group. A male housemate told me flat out he doesn’t believe in any kind of segregation, such groups included. I disagree. While ongoing segregation based on a sense of superiority and the corresponding inferiority of others is evil, temporary congregating based on common interests and needs is something which paradoxically strengthens one for living in a diverse world. What do you think?

11 Comments to Congregating versus Segregating:

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Elisabeth Smith on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 12:32 PM
The BIG kahoona is the intention behind a group. A meeting of like minded people intending to do good in this world is a wonderful thing. I do not consider that segregation.
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Jesse on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 2:06 PM
How about congregating segregated minds?

I always find discussions with those of similar minds and those of different points of view quite interesting. I don't always agree of course, but I learn, and somehow I feel 'richer' for having listened to those that differ from my own thinking.

And by richer...I think that especially applies to matters of spirit...of the soul.

Ruslan, on the Latin grex. I like that word, and its meaning. Thank you.

Now I am off to a herd of people in the company of animals...our local Humane Society.
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pulelehua on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 4:59 PM
I am a firm believer in voluntary segregation, I attended GIrls high school, that allowed us girls to learn to play all roles, I have a women's group, that part the reason is it effective is because we share across our commonality.
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Reynold Ruslan on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 5:20 PM
Thanks, Pu. Obviously, I agree with you and Elisabeth. Of course, Jesse has a point too. Actually, spending time with affinity groups AND with diverse groups is beneficial. Commonalities are good, but then, so are differences, so long as we can disagree without being disagreeable. As with vacations, it's nice to go to new places AND nice to return home. As the saying goes, it's all good. We just need the senses to perceive it that way. Ta, RR
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aforementioned housemate on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 9:54 PM
I actually have mixed feelings on this topic. I recognize the value of a group of people with a shared experience. I have felt the security and openness that comes from knowing everyone present understands from personal experience something that is important to me. I am also wary of the practice of excluding people from a space or an opportunity because of some non-voluntary characteristic. My concerns come from many directions, including: -reinforcing the difference between groups: I don't think it's accurate or conducive to empathy and compassion to perpetuate the idea (for example) that the way women experience life is fundamentally different from the way others do. - reliance upon binary categories: most lines upon which we draw divisions are not simple, clean breaks between distinct categories. Goodness knows there are a great many people in this world who aren't unambiguously male or unambiguously female. Are they just SOL, not welcome in either camp? Does someone else decide for them which group they're allowed in, and there they're stuck? Can they join the group of their choice, but only if they don't bring up parts of their experience which differ from the rest of the group's? It can, in fact, be extremely stressful and hurtful to be forced to choose whether to climb into the 'female' or 'male' box. - lost opportunities for those excluded. Stipulated that having a group of like people bears some benefits to members of that group, should this trump the benefits which are denied to members who don't qualify? - I like to pose to myself, when considering the validity of -only-spaces, whether I would be comfortable with a parallel whites-only-space. (In this country many people used to believe that it was acceptable to segregate on racial grounds in all sorts of contexts. Some still do.) If I wouldn't be okay with such a whites-only-space, then is the nature of the grounds upon which the lines are drawn substantively different enough from race to justify the segregation? Consider - would a mothers' group be okay (as opposed to a parents' group)? So the question is - would I be okay with a white-parents-only group? Maybe there's something fundamental different about being a female parent than being a parent of another gender. Is this difference great than, say the difference between liberal white American-raised parents and conservative Chinese-raised parents? Would I be okay excluding the latter from my parenting group?
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Reynold Ruslan ("Ren") on Thursday, January 20, 2011 3:41 PM
Hi, Jack, Thanks for your thoughtful response. As I reflect on my so-called "wisdom blogs" to date, I notice that all of them make use of a kind of "straw man." The first consist of the school kids who offer their derivations of the word "wisdom"; next is that charismatic teacher manque'; then comes King Solomon; and the fourth and last to date is you. Not bad company, actually. But I do need to issue a disclaimer. I apparently use these straw figures tactically to make my point and to illicit group wisdom on the subject. None of my evocations of these folks, including you, is very nuanced. King Solomon, for example, was certainly much more than a randy monarch. So I apologize to you for making your point much more black and white than it was and to my readers for inaccurately conveying what you said. At the same time I am pleased that you took my invitation and borrowed time from a busy grad-student schedule to add the nuances of thought that I was so careful--and careless--to omit. Good on you, Mate. Finally, I agree that there is a big, complex reality out there. Wisdom is knowing that as much as I have looked for it, I have not yet fully found or understood it. Cheers, Ren
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Reynold Ruslan on Thursday, January 20, 2011 3:41 PM
Hi, Jack, Thanks for your thoughtful response. As I reflect on my so-called "wisdom blogs" to date, I notice that all of them make use of a kind of "straw man." The first consist of the school kids who offer their derivations of the word "wisdom"; next is that charismatic teacher manque'; then comes King Solomon; and the fourth and last to date is you. Not bad company, actually. But I do need to issue a disclaimer. I apparently use these straw figures tactically to make my point and to illicit group wisdom on the subject. None of my evocations of these folks, including you, is very nuanced. King Solomon, for example, was certainly much more than a randy monarch. So I apologize to you for making your point much more black and white than it was and to my readers for inaccurately conveying what you said. At the same time I am pleased that you took my invitation and borrowed time from a busy grad-student schedule to add the nuances of thought that I was so careful--and careless--to omit. Good on you, Mate. Finally, I agree that there is a big, complex reality out there. Wisdom is knowing that as much as I have looked for it, I have not yet fully found or understood it. Cheers, Ren
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Levi Lemberger on Thursday, January 20, 2011 8:14 PM
In Subud men and women do latihan separatly. They also have two distinct social networks and bonding. Men are no allowed in these groups. Also in my religious group the same things exits and i know in Islam there is a strict separation of men and women. I am told you rarely if ever see a woman in a Mosque. I am neither condoning nor approving. When I taught in a multi-cultural school, or even in any social situation, where there were American Blacks, Haitian or Island blacks,hispanics from all over Central and South America, and white of European descent, invariably they would cluster together at meetings, or parties. That just seemed to be the way it was. The Jewish teachers would also be together. Uninforced segregation. By the way, when I was a kid snd we went to the country there were signs, No Jews and Dogs allowed, When I moved to Miani Beach in the 1980's the Miami Beach Country club allowed no Jews. There were also Miami Beach small residential islands that allowed no Jews.
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Reynold Ruslan on Friday, January 21, 2011 2:51 PM
Yes, Levi. Alas, many of us grew up with the negative sort of segregating. I'd say, even if it simplifies things a bit, that affinity groups congregate themselves, while bigoted people segregate others. Thanks for your comment. Cheers, Ruslan
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Les Ronck on Saturday, January 22, 2011 9:20 AM
I enjoyed your first blog. Thanks. I have a dear buddy who is looking for a mens group. He's 75, a retired CU professor. Are you open to new members?If yes, let me know how he may contact you. Les Ronick
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Daphne Tibbs on Monday, January 24, 2011 4:45 AM
How about a mixed group as well as the separate ones. Then the problem would be finding the time. I think it is fantastic that people out there are having peace groups at all. Bless! As the native inhabitants of these shores (UK) who have embraced all of us into their country, would say.
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