Reclaiming a down-to-earth way-of-life

by | March 2, 2019

At a more grass-roots level, some of us have found the old idea of the commons to have relevance in the 21st century. The idea of being commoners and engaged in commoning gives fresh expression to a way-of-life that is down-to-earth, practical, cooperative, participatory, local and yet with global understanding.


Do we have a real alternative to the excess and unsustainability of our current western way of life? There seem to be huge cracks in our capitalist democracy and folks from the left, right and middle haven’t found enough duct tape to patch these cracks.

Maybe it is time to say thanks to this era and move on? We’ve gained lots, learned lots, and probably most us didn’t expect it to be hugely inequitable (1% vs 99%) nor planet destroying but it is, so what do we do?

Wise sages tell us we are in a time of “great turning.” We are moving from a time dominated by humans to a new ecological era that rebalances our human – earth relationship and lets us live sustainably into the future. Some call it an “Ecological Civilization.” (David Korten,

At a more grass-roots level, some of us have found the old idea of the commons to have relevance in the 21st century. The idea of being commoners and engaged in commoning gives fresh expression to a way-of-life that is down-to-earth, practical, cooperative, participatory, local and yet with global understanding. It is surprising when you pay attention to it, that lots of people are already talking and thinking in commons language. In short form, maybe it represents for us in the 21st century, a down-to-earth (ecological, spiritual) way-of-life (our ethics for living).

A Down-to-Earth Way-of-Life

I like these two hyphenated words because they convey so much of what is important to me about commoning.


As one trained in ethical thinking I’ve always liked a “way of life” as an easier way to describe the often obscure discipline of ethics. Being ethical is really just paying attention to the choices one makes about daily life and how it relates to the broader community from which I derive my guiding worldview, grand narrative, or story. The more conscious I am of this guiding story and how I have sought to define myself in relation to it, the easier it get to understand my way-of-life. Most of us find the golden rule and the green rule – do unto others, and the planet, how you would want to be treated – a helpful shorthand of our defining ethic. These ancient truths and practices seem fresh in the 21st century as we recover from an era marked by its excessiveness. We rapidly need to figure how to cooperate with each, and live sustainably, so that we don’t end in extinction. Maybe a commoning way-of-life offers us some hope?

Exploring this way-of-life in an everyday sense, it helps me makes choices at the grocery store and with most other daily choices. Do I buy the cheapest eggs or the ones from a farm that treats its chickens more humanely? Do I drive my car everywhere or sometimes walk or take public transit? Do I check about the manufacture of my clothes? And so on. By slowly, but surely, thinking about these day-to-day choices and gradually changing behaviours I realize that change is possible and I’m part of it. It is these small changes that lead me to see the world through a commoning lens and realize both I and my community can live in a down-to-earth way.


I like down-to-earth for a bunch of reasons. First, in popular language, being down-to-earth means you are easy going, practical, not snobbish, and so on. Second, it conveys an ecological ethic of concern for planetary wellbeing in all its ways. In these times, it supports ideas of biomimicry, or how the planet can teach us humans how to thrive in harmony with it rather than assume superior rational capabilities. Third, it is a counter to our overuse of the planet’s many resources. It tames our Homo Deus ego and re-aligns us to sustainable ways. Fourth, it is a good way to theologize about how the Great Mystery is present with us. In theological language, it is pan-en-theistic (God in Everything). Others prefer pantheism (God is Everything). This is a healthy debate about the origins of the universe, life, and whether we have a divine purpose or are simply biological creatures of an evolving planet/universe.  These discussions take up beyond our imperialist, hierarchical understandings of the divine into these down-to-earth theologies.

So being down-to-earth in my ethics or way-of-life is a wonderful way to appreciate the world around, to be in an intimate relationship with it; its beauty, wonder and awe.

How this is a Commons and lived as Commoning

Over the last 30 + years I’ve worked with people of different faith and cultural backgrounds on concerns of social, economic, and political justice, both locally and internationally. In 2000, at the turn of the millennium, it seemed in intercultural/interfaith Canada that we needed to name this engagement work in a new way. A few of us founded: Faith & the Common Good, recognizing that the best way to understand and appreciate each other was working together on ethical issues of the common good. This common good language worked across cultural and religious backgrounds and overcame past differences in language concerning justice, economics, social, and political wellbeing. We recognized that times were changing (the great turning) and new concepts were need to express a different way of living together on the planet. How could we engage locally (the commons) and globally (the global commons) in a renewed ecological interconnected way?

Since 2000 we’ve continued to test the commons language and to find its expression in numerous other eco-interconnected ways. A futurist like Jeremy Rifkin speaks of the “collaborative commons” that he predicts will fully emerge by mid-century. Kate Raworth’s donut economics” helps visualize an economic model with similar concerns. David Korten’s Ecological Civilization defines the many big picture challenges and opportunities. Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest theme continues to document the millions of commoning-type efforts around the world that will lead to the Great Turning. The Commons Transition website, sponsored by the p2p Foundation, is a tremendous resource for the commons movement. And the list can go on, and on. When you begin to realize how much work is being done on an down-to-earth level you feel your little efforts add to a much bigger movement.

So in this Canadian-based Commoning for the Common Good project we are seeking to lift up local and regional efforts of commoning that correspond with the global commons movement. We offer particular attention to how faith communities, and/or people attuned to cultural/spiritual connections, can help influence the culture shift necessary to underlie this global shift to a more cooperative and sustainable way-of-life.