I’m a few days back now from the Isle of Eigg (one of the small Hebridean Islands; 7,400 acres with about 80 people—and a stunningly beautiful landscape). We were there for a core course on the MSc.
There is a lot I could (and probably should) write concerning our visit there; one of the primary reasons we visit Eigg is to observe the workings of a small community—how they interact with each other and their environment. I’m supposed to be able to parse this all out and write about it; however, as I’m becoming more aware of issues of legitimacy (the “who am I to come in here and think I can tell these people anything” question) and just generally sensitive to the spirit of a place, I feel less inclined to write (probably not the best reaction on an academic course!). I think I’m better able to experience a place and appreciate it than I’ve ever been before (and keep in mind that I’ve now had a lot of training to do this). But am I competent to tell someone else’s story; this is the question I am working through. (This is one of my learning edges for the course.)

I can, however, make a comment on my story. Or, perhaps enlarge it a bit and comment on the story of my group in the MSc. We are a community of sorts; granted it is a completely self-selected community and we are gathered around a generally common cause (though that cause is amorphously defined). This is a very different course than most academic ventures; it’s purposefully designed to delve right into the “deep stuff” in our lives and in the wider world. To do this, we’ve had to open up ourselves to each other and have built a good sense of camaraderie and trust. Yet, we are not superhuman [ecologists], we are still just people in a community. And, like people on an isolated island, we can celebrate the closeness of our group but also have to deal with the occasional fistfight in the pub.

So there are tensions and conflicts that are difficult to deal with; of course, that’s what we studying, how to help other groups recognise and work through these things. Yet, when it comes to our own group dynamics, it seems we forget important bits of information. I think it is easier to save the world than any one of us. The world is over there, off the island, we can see their problems and comment on them from a distance. But it is also easy to dwell on them and forget to nurture the community right here. (I suppose it could be equally possible to forget the rest of the world and focus completely on ourselves—like everything, it’s about finding balance.)

Thankfully, we are a resilient bunch and will work through these things; I think there is great care and love between us. However, though I’m wary of this “let’s look in upon ourselves” kind of language (too much introspection), I’m learning that it’s necessary to take the time and energy to do so or we’ll end up with things to “fix” rather than working through a smooth process from the start. I think most of these sorts of “issues” would be resolved if each of us were open to positive criticism and we were willing to speak it without fear of hurt feelings.

(I now feel qualified to write an episode of Lost.)