Collective Consciousness - Part 3: When Collective Consciousness Holds Us Back

As some of you know, the Town of Hartford recently hired and lost an amazing Town Manager who had previously served as a Colonel at the Pentagon. His name is Leo Pullar and he captured the hearts of all of the core Hartford communities - Staff, Board, Business Community, Residents - at both conservative and progressive ends of the political spectrum. One day, he sat myself and the Board’s Vice-Chair down and let us know that, due to health reasons, he was planning to retire. After we got over the shock, we began the Town’s search process for a new Town Manager.

Jump forward nine months: We had signed a contract with a new Town Manager. The going away party had happened. And I found myself back in his office for what seemed like it would be one of our last conversations. I finally let down my guard and said some things that had been on my mind.

I started talking about increased frequency of severe weather events and road washouts and I mentioned global resource scarcity, our aggressive and imperialistic foreign policy and the potential for an all-out war. I mentioned the potential for another financial collapse. I said “I have come to believe that our unspoken Selectboard practice of not talking about these things might be hampering our ability to protect the interests and safety of Hartford Citizens.” I assumed I was relegating myself deeper into the category of wingnut, but I just had to bring it up. To my amazement, the Town Manager said he basically shared the same concerns. He seemed to understand not only the way these factors had ushered in a new era of human history that we need to be proactive in how we react to them. 

I was shocked. The first question that came to my mind was, “How come our Town Manager had never shared this view with us?” The second question was: “How come I waited until his last weeks on the job to share this view with him?” I think the answer to both questions, as well as the question about why we never talk about these things on the Selectboard Floor, has to do with collective consciousness.

In addition to all of the benefits of collective consciousness in creating a working environment fit for creative collaboration, collective consciousness also delineates what can and can’t be spoken and even thought within a certain group. When the collective consciousness of a group is at a conventional level, it makes those who make up the group more cautious and conservative. A conventional field of collective consciousness (a.k.a. a conventional social field) limits each member’s expression by encouraging each member to be disconnected from the wisdom of his or her body. The social field that generally dominates a Selectboard meeting encourages each person to speak less from his or her own perspective and more to the expectations of the group, which are based in the group’s history. 

This is why when change is urgently needed, a group such as the Selectboard has two choices: It can maintain a conventional  level of collective consciousness and stick to a business as usual mentality, or it can raise up the level of collective consciousness and create the opportunity for something new to come forward based on the views and inclinations of the group’s members. So it seems that when it becomes necessary for a community to change course to avert disaster, a conventional social field that inhibits each member of a governing body to speak from the heart, can pose an existential threat. Today, it seems that the core teaching of the Greek philosopher, Plato to “Tell us what you really think.” is more important than ever. 

So when I learned of the Town Manager’s openness to discuss the way global threats relate to local governance, I was delighted and I asked him to express this view to the Board. I thought his support could help to expand the horizon of issues Board members are willing to discuss. Unfortunately, due to various factors, this couldn’t happen. So the work of expanding the limits of what can be included in polite Selectboard conversation continues to be up to us all. Perhaps we can accomplish this best by helping to raise up the collective consciousness of all the groups we are part of.

Thanks for reading and for all you do. 


simon dennis