Yearning for Home

July 21, 2011
Cheryl Woelk |

Yearning for Home in Troubled Times"By embracing what they had most wanted to avoid they gained what their hearts yearned for" - Yearning for Home


The title captured my attention first. Wandering through the stacks of the library, getting distracted from my research focus by the section on peacebuilding with its fascinating topics and authors, Yearning for Home in Troubled Times caught my eye. I hadn't heard of the author, Kenwyn K. Smith, before, but I was yearning for a sense of home and wondered what he had to say. I added the book to my pile.


It was different than I expected. I had thought of a rambling philosophical write, but this was the story of two scientific experiments set up by Smith, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, to explore issues of homelessness.


They invited volunteer graduate students to participate in a situational experiment call "Power Laboratories," which explore the nature of organizations and power, for 60 hours, followed by two days of debriefing. Dividing them into three groups of varying resources - the Elites, the Middles, and the Outs, the volunteers set up camp.


The results of the two experiments were fascinating. An excerpt from the book's preface summarizes the two Power Labs and their outcomes:


"In the first one, the Elites and Middles entered into a coalition and tried to save the Outs from their fate. It failed miserably and led to scenes reminiscent of Animal Farm. In the second Lab the Elites left the Outs to work out their own destiny, the Middles remained in the middle and mediated the system's conflicts, and were stunning. The Outs plumbed the depths of their homeless condition, not only at the Lab but in their overall lives, and found a source of power that was transforming."


The growth and depth of community gained in the second Lab struck me. I thought about times when I have experienced a sense of vulnerability and "homelessness" and realized each time was when community and the security of relationships with those around me was most threatened.


Everyone feels homeless, from time to time, but we try to ignore it through building up systems and structures which keep people safe from seeing our vulnerability, instead of looking at our realities from a stance of abundance, being grateful for what is, and relying on relationships, honest communication, and the creativity within a community committed to the wellbeing of all.


"Ironic though it may sound, perhaps today's misfits, especially those who want the current systems torn down, are trying to teach us about the real meaning of home. Maybe the homeless, the naysayers, those who lie outside society's conventions, are crying in the wilderness and suggesting that we must all find a new way to be in the world."


As a member of the "Elites" in life, perhaps I'm missing out on more than I've realized. Smith challenges me to find ways to learn what the volunteers did as Outs in the experiment, that "to be truly at home, with all the grandeur and mystery that the experience of home evokes, we must collectively and individually discover and rediscover again and again an ancient truth: that, ultimately, home is a condition of the spirit."

Author Name: 
Cheryl Woelk
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