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At the Humanist Chaplaincy at Tufts, we want to foster a comfortable environment for people to engage in honest discussions around the challenges in their lives, and explore how people outside traditional religion approach questions that many faith traditions engage regularly. 

At Small Group Reflections, the Humanist in Residence facilitates an open, respectful, and confidential conversation around one theme that concerns and informs many of our choices and experiences in our life journey. The conversation is rooted in a text (or other piece of culture) written from a Humanist perspective that engages the theme, and from there will be open to the perspectives and experiences of everyone present in the group. Those present are encouraged to bring pieces of culture that inspire their own values on the theme, including and especially those from other faith traditions. Small Group Reflections occur each month (October’s postponed for Indigenous Peoples Day), and are free and open to all members of the Tufts community, irrespective of their belief background.

The next reflection will engage the theme of family, led through a selection reproduced below from Todd Gitlin’s The Sixties. It will be on Monday, November 10th, at 9pm in the Interfaith Center meeting room. Light refreshments will be served.

While our conversation will proceed organically, we want to consider in particular the new ways that we come to think of “family” in a local, active community like Tufts’. The Sixties, written by organizer and academic Todd Gitlin, traces stories of young Americans rising up against injustice through the iconic decade of resistance and political change, in particular by building loving communities to fill in gaps of kinship as young activists grew distant from the past generation. In discussing the history of the Students for a Democratic Society, Gitlin explored the new sort of “family” that emerged among students involved in the activist organizing. From this passage, we can explore how we think of “family,” whether it’s a question of geneology, shared strife, or something more.

“Human brotherhood must be willed”: it does not come naturally. Over the next few years the principle came to be honored in the breach, and eventually a good deal of the community of the [Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)] elite unraveled in disputes of ideology and personality. What is interesting is that the passion was so strong in the first place.

The SDS circle had founded a surrogate family, where for long stretches of time horizontal relations of trust replaced vertical relations of authority. Letters, still the premium linkage, were round-robin affairs, passed on among brothers and sisters, full of well-wishing. “A band of brothers standing in a circle of love”— this was James Forman’s phrase for SNCC, popularized by Staughton Lynd, its sexual exclusivity not yet apparent. True, the circle faced outward, to a world that had to be remade. But the movement constantly tended to become its own end, its own “program”; more energy flowed into maintaining the collective bond than into making clear where it wanted to take the world, and how. The movement was in this way a living protest against both isolation and fragmentation. There was a longing to “unite the fragmented parts of personal history,” as The Port Huron Statement put it— to transcend the multiplicity and confusion of roles that become normal in a rationalized society: the rifts between work and family, between public and private, between strategic, calculating reason and spontaneous, expressive emotion. At the same time, at least for some of us, the circle evoked a more primitive fantasy of fusion with a symbolic, all-enfolding mother: the movement, the beloved community itself, where we might be able to find, in Kenneth Keniston’s words, “the qualities of warmth, communion, acceptedness, dependence and intimacy which existed in childhood … .”

Which is to say that in some measure some of us were bent on overcoming the traumas of our own troubled families. By rough count, as many as one-third or one-half of the early SDS elite came from visibly broken or unstable families: a disproportionately large number for that generation. But even those who grew up in more stable families shared the fervent desire to find a community of peers to take seriously and be taken seriously by. In no strict sense was the movement simply a surrogate for amniotic bliss. If vulgar psychoanalytic interpretations were sufficient, the early SDS circle might have been a religious cult or a Utopian commune, not the complicated and paradoxical, inward- and outward-facing community it was. 

 Gitlin, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. Bantam Books. 1993. p106-107.