Presence, Participation & Purpose: An Interview with Joan Sleigh

1080 810 World Social Initiative Forum

The Social Initiative Forum project leader & General Anthroposophical Society Executive Board Member Joan Sleigh talks about the organization’s vision, work, & relevance in our time.

Interview by Nicole Asis [PH] | Photos: Samuel Leon Knaus [DE], Ren Tamura [JP], Nicole Asis [PH], Juan Bottero [AR] & Ritika Arya [IN]


Ute Craemer, Joan Sleigh, Truus Geraets & Helmy Abouleish in SIF Egypt 2019 | © Samuel Leon Knaus [DE]

NA: What led you to take on the role as project leader of the Social Initiative Forum?

Joan Sleigh: I took on to coordinate & manage the Social Initiative Forum at the Goetheanum because I could see that it was a very important project in terms of broadening our understanding of the human being & the social needs worldwide. It seemed important to bring a holistic image of the human being, based on the spiritual-scientific understanding developed through Anthroposophy into relevant circulation in the world. In other words, to approach the social needs in our time out of this anthroposophical view of the human being. That’s one point. The other point is that the social question applies to all the sections at the Goetheanum. Therefore, no matter what vocational field we are looking at, there are social implications in all of them. This project promised to be interdisciplinary & mutually supportive in their fields of practice. Those are the aspects that drew me into taking up the Social Initiative Forum. This project holds the wish to build a network of people who have given their lives to the social questions & the social needs of marginalized communities, like the founders Truus Geraets & Ute Craemer. Apart from honoring their achievements, it provides the possibility to learn from their expertise & to share & build a network of people who can learn from & inspire one another out of their understanding of Anthroposophy.


In the temple yard, silently forming a spiral. | © Ren Tamura [JP]

NA: What are the social questions that it is currently addressing? 

Joan Sleigh: The Social Initiative Forum is currently addressing the social questions of globalization & standardization. It highlights the danger to slip back into a collective consciousness, whereas globalization is actually asking us to be multicultural & cosmopolitan. Of course, these are big words & we can ask: what does it mean to be “cosmopolitan”? What is asked of each one of us to develop a cosmopolitan attitude towards other human beings? These important questions can be promoted & inspired through an anthroposophical understanding of the human being; & also of the fact that nations, or groups of people, having particular tasks or roles in the place where they are located, grounded in the geographic genius or genus loci of where they are. This is an aspect that is not currently being addressed by a wider population or society as a whole. This is a contribution which an anthroposophical understanding can bring.


Conversations | © Nicole Asis [PH]

NA: What is the significance of the Social Initiative Forum establishing its home at the Goetheanum & at the same time going out into the world?

Joan Sleigh: The Goetheanum is more than just a special building or center within a particular location. It’s a living impulse. It is a way of being, the manifestation of a particular holistic way of life. We see the Goetheanum as an impulse in the world, a place of research & practice of spiritual science, embodied in the work of a group of people who strive to study & realize the multifaceted complexity of life. That is the significance of the Goetheanum – to be seen as an example of what can be in many different places where human beings are working out of spiritual science. So, what I understand as a significant contribution of the Social Initiative Forum is that it aims to create “mini-Goetheanums”- Forums where spiritual science can be manifested through the mutual interaction of human beings, one with another. Our vision is to develop partnerships in places throughout the world where people can meet one another in a safe space in true recognition of their spiritual identities.


What is the Social Initiative Forum? |© Juan Bottero [AR]

NA: How can these streams support one another in addressing the social questions of our time – the Goetheanum to a global network & the global network to the Goetheanum? 

Joan Sleigh: We create spaces in the world out of our understanding that the human being is a quasi-spiritual being & that we can all meet on that level. At that level, we can transcend our diversity through celebrating & getting to know our differences, aspects which each of us brings according to our heritage, language group we belong to, place on earth we come from. These bring particular individual collective constitution & quality, which together can build seeds for a new humanity, seeds for a new society. A cosmopolitan society is a network of different qualities, capacities, & approaches that build a vibrant & living unity through diversity. This is what I see as the goal & vision of the Social Initiative Forum. However, to have an impact in the world, it needs a place where this consciousness is held. This also includes worldwide Forums, which can become “mini-Goetheanums”, if we are working out of that impulse of what is truly human. I see this as the significance of the Social Initiative Forum to the Goetheanum & the global network –  creating such spaces & inviting people to meet & network on such expanded levels.


About Empathy | © Juan Bottero [AR]

NA: What is your vision for the Social Initiative Forum & the steps the initiative is currently taking to achieve that goal? 

Joan Sleigh: We live in a time of dire crisis & need. The worst suffering manifesting in the world is societal. These underlie all areas of the world and aspects of life, evident in poverty, hunger, marginalization, violence & most notably, in national prejudice & inequality. However, it is equally apparent within the widespread pain & suffering, that these are the source of the biggest possibilities. As humanity, we are the driving agents, not only of society but also of the evolution of the world. We are being forced – individually & collectively – to wake up to the social issues & the critical situations that we have caused & continue to create all over the world. Whether these be the economic crisis caused by greed & consumerism; the destruction of the environment; manipulation & exile through taking power over others; or cultural-spiritual or religious dispute; causing terror, torture & wars – all these result in social crises. We are all aware that this area of life demands most concern & energy in the world at the moment. Through it, however, we are waking up, we are forced to wake up to ourselves as individual agents within a social context. On the one hand, we face the most dramatic situations & on the other, these motivate unlimited potential. Through this potential of awakening to a new social understanding & vision, the Social Initiative Forum has its vocation & must become proactive. We have to not only be present in the social situation but also show up, step in, & engage in what is happening.  This means we have to participate, not necessarily by joining mass movements & demonstrations, but largely in our way of thinking & forming concepts, which become attitudes. We participate when we bring the right attitude & understanding; through interest & an enquiring mind; into circulation with the people we meet & work with. In this way, we participate in the future transformation of the crisis in the social realm by bringing healing wherever we can. Social healing is transformation through how we think, how we feel, how we speak & act towards all people, how we approach & listen to others. These are the social tools we all have & can use to be active contributors to healing society. This is the purpose of the Social Initiative Forum- providing Forums & spaces so that human beings can meet at the highest level of humanity & manifest individual & collective potential. I would like us to co-create a worldwide network of partners, of mini-Forums all over the world, linking people who carry & represent the same vision, who partner with the same purpose. This means building a universal web of social & spiritual awareness, which aims particularly at the social crises of our time, all of which are interconnected in diverse areas of life & thereby have the potential to unite all people.

Connecting | © Ritika Arya [IN]

NA: Is the Social Initiative Forum relevant in our time? In which ways is it relevant & important, both in the anthroposophical movement & in a bigger global context? 

Joan Sleigh: Being present is the first aspect of showing relevance – that we step into a process of healing through participation. The second motivation of the Social Initiative Forum is to participate wherever the development of social skills & awareness can take effect. & thirdly is what is the purpose? The purpose is that we assist in developing a cosmopolitan society with a new understanding of oneself & each, in which we can be present with & for one another. Therefore, the Social Initiative Forum is highly relevant in our time because it creates spaces in which we can contribute to the co-creation of a new society, a new future. It intends to generate, envisage & enable new ways of living together; possibilities of embracing our differences; celebrating the diversity of unique potential; learning & growing with & through one another.

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