Self-governance as body of the spirit

Florian Osswald

When we consider self-governance, we quickly come across such polarities. They arise from the need of people to differentiate themselves from what they are not, in order to find themselves. The way they see themselves depends on the way in which they deal with the gap which opens between themselves and the world. That creates a basic tension which, however, also bears the possibility within it of a new connection created by people themselves. Uniting with other people is a lifelong task. Whether that task is taken up is solely up to people themselves. 

No individual without community

From the first breath we take we become members of a community. It was one of the most important social discoveries that we are not viable without the care and attention of other people. It is the human environment which creates the prerequisites for finding ourselves. The community accompanies its new members in their first steps into life. Human beings as spiritual entities require forms for their healthy development and the nature of the image of the human being which they encounter in their environment is vital.

The kind of forms we can offer today must keep pace with the impulses which the newborn children bring with them. They are the bearers of the future. Their impulses require nurturing so that they can come to appearance. Do we want to give this future a chance to develop?

If we say yes to that, then there are far-reaching consequences. In that case the aim of education is to provide the growing person with the help they require to find themselves in today’s world. The subject matter taught in schools becomes an instrument for supporting this process. Self-education becomes the soul of the method.

If, then, the wind of the spirit in the children is allowed to blow in the school, the question arises as to the form the sail must have so that the spiritual wind can get the school ship underway. The spirit should, of course, not just blow in the children but also in the teachers, the children’s models. The latter provide a living example of development, run before the wind and use that to create forms in the classroom and administration. Running before the wind is a demanding tasks for a group. The knowledge of the human being as set out by Rudolf Steiner can form the rigging to support the community when times get rough and which keeps the spiritual sails filled. There is no better way to return to the basic issues of human existence and development with regard to the daily educational issues than the intensive study of the educational foundations. That creates the prerequisites in the crew to be able to sail the school ship safely.

No community without individuals

In the first instance, the crew consists of individuals, or more precisely: egoists. We might well be generous and understanding, but we should nevertheless admit to ourselves that we naturally give our own aims and needs the greatest prominence. If we are going to go on a voyage together we should not ignore that. A lot of lip service is paid which tries to gloss over this situation: the fact is that what we have in common first has to be developed.

And there is nothing wrong with that! Because the individual is the source of every activity, initiative is ignited in the individual. Even if the community forms the basis for them, new things do not develop through a prescribed group diktat. We must not succumb to any illusion about egoism. It has a destructive effect in all areas. Yet how can we recognise it and learn to deal with it when it is not obvious? Only when we do that do we have the opportunity to bring its opposite, selflessness, into play. Be it in drama or comedy – the diversity of our social life takes place in this polarity, this is where the new element appears which Rudolf Steiner expresses as follows:

“It is simply not true that any person can be selfless. But it is true that selfishness can be sublimated in such a way that it acquires an interest not just in a person’s own affairs but in those of the whole of humanity. Do not preach to people that they should be selfless, but implant in them the highest interests so that their selfishness, their egoism attaches itself to them. Then you will sublimate a force which truly does lie in people; otherwise you are talking about something which cannot exist, but which can turn people into liars.” Steiner turns the usual moral cudgel “be selfless” on its head. Egoism the enemy turns into egoism the tool. The starting point is a real force in us and not wishful thinking.

No community without something that transcends it

Rudolf Steiner started the first course for teachers with a meditation. That is both the baptism of and the perspective for managing a school. Like presumably any form of inner contemplation, this inner overture means both perceiving the wind of the spirit and generating it. In meditation a path is shown which can show us to learn to understand the “spiritual wind” as a normal part of our work. It may sound grand, but without the repeated new search and enquiry for the forces at the spiritual level, which are described in Christian tradition as angels, archangels and archai, human community lacks the spiritual bond which goes along with the soul connection.

Here, too, the starting point is the individual going his or her own way, but a path which is wholly focused on what is to develop in the future. It counts on the productivity of the individual. Supporting this is the foremost task of his or her colleagues. If recognition of a person’s creative power lives in the group, then there is also a desire to pass on the results. True community is formed on that basis, a community in which one person has something to give to the other. Sometimes that is enhanced further in that the community is illuminated with the gift of a sliver of wisdom, receives guidance from a spiritual plane.

We often yearn for a solution which lies outside ourselves and then run the risk of forgetting that the solution is human beings themselves.

The experiences we gather in the world throw us back on ourselves. The first step in any change therefore lies within ourselves. Counsel can help us to find our direction but can, at best, only act as midwife but never give birth itself. We ourselves must take on the task. It requires strength and courage to face up to the challenges of our time because once we have excluded everything that we are not, we are alone on our path, separated from our fellow human beings and separated from a spiritual world.

We have been released into freedom and this has for the first time given us the possibility of  approaching other human beings in free will, to bridge the gap and found a community with them. But the communal element must always be recreated. If we are successful, we obtain the courage also to tackle tasks which otherwise seem impossible.

It is not a simple thing to form a community in which it is not programmes or favourite structures which dominate but in which the people form the be-all and end-all. As soon as we start to create forms, we have to take decisions, decisions out of ourselves, because the spiritual requires a form, a body, in order to become active. Self-governance has its roots in inner independence. And inner independence is the capability we want to give the growing human being. It is probably the foremost aim of our schools. Self-governance is the model and ground for such inner independence, it is the form which the spirit of the Waldorf school is seeking.

About the author:

Florian Osswald is the leader of the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach.