Common Fire Project

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Sun, 07/01/1990
End Date: 
Wed, 06/30/1993

These three grants funded a multi- year, collaborative qualitative research project aimed at understanding how a broad and diverse group of people have sustained a long-term commitment to public action on behalf of the common good. Using the analytical tools of constructive developmental psychology and a focus on educational strategies (broadly construed), the researchers identified and interviewed more than one hundred adults who fit the following criteria: commitment to the common good (defined as people who "while working on behalf of particular constituencies, understood themselves to be working on behalf of the whole of life"), perseverance and resilience (which included sustaining work for at least seven years, but in many cases more than twenty years), ethical congruence between life and work ("people who, while inevitably imperfect, could be recognized as reasonably decent human beings"), and engagement with diversity and complexity ("an ability not only to care for a particular individual, community, or cause, but also to be able to see the larger implications of one's actions, and to recognize how one's work affects and is affected by the interdependent realities of the new commons"). The research group identified a series of elements that they believe are crucial to the development of sustainable social commitment in this "age of complexity": "a constructive encounter with otherness in the early years"; "the ability to take the perspective of other cultures, to think systematically, and to hold paradox" in mind; "early engagement with public life in the home," "engagement with other committed youth," "opportunities for service," "mentors," and "networks of like-minded people." (MH)