Developmental Community Part III: Vocational Community

The Vocational Relationship represents the second ring of the Developmental triad in this series of Postings. I apologize for the slightly longer Post here, but the vocational is often the least understood in terms of its relationship to both Nurturance and Mentoring. So bear with it. I think the journey is worth it.


The word “vocation” is profound in its roots and rich in implications.  Vocation refers to one’s “calling”.   In common usage it has come to be associated with work or more specifically the nature of one’s job.  Churches have further narrowed vocation’s meaning to refer specifically to those people who are called to a ministry.  In the context of Developmental Community this word is given its original breadth and scope.  Vocation refers to a component of human development that requires the movement of private personal experience into community and public expression.  Vocation is a universal energy that works through the life activity every human being.  This force moves the person’s subjectivity into objective conscious expression.  While this vocational expression most often occurs in the context of a person’s work, every time a story is told, a picture taken, an apron sewn, bread baked, guitar strummed, drum beat, car driven and onward across the vast range of human activity and expression, the energy of vocation is expressed.  Each human being, regardless of gift or the apparent lack of it, must deal with an internal requirement imprinted in their nature to express.  The forms of expression are as infinite as are the humans themselves.  If the role of the nurturance community is to support a stable positive belief system out of which a person operates, the vocational community exists to provide a manageable arena or discipline of public expression for the potent force of personal vocation.   The child begins in the context of the first family to practice expressions of unique vocation.  That practice expands into school, church and extended family.  The general developmental movement is again moving from the safe familiar of nurturance relationships ever outward to the exciting, challenging unfamiliar of vocation.  Whether the movement outward is perceived by the individual as an “exciting journey towards adventure” or a “terrifying excursion away from safety” has a great deal to do with the subjective and primarily non-conscious elements of his or her belief systems laid down in nurturance community or sometimes biology itself.  The vocational communities and relationships distinguish themselves qualitatively from the nurturance relationships.  In a sense vocation offers life its scope and range while the latter offers depth, meaning, and stability.  Those who work with people professionally must have at some level, an awareness of these distinctions or face profound frustration.  A good understanding of these two levels of relationship will allow the leader to achieve an organizational balance that is long lasting, profoundly stable, and finally surprisingly efficacious; And personal efficacy is the reason for vocational community.  

The Vocational Relationships are recognized by these central characteristics:

1.  They are unbonded conditional relationships.

2.  They are time defined commitments.

3.  They are pragmatic and rational 


A person who has reached maturity and adulthood will find him or herself moving through a number of vocational relationships at any given point in life as well as throughout life.  These are the butcher, baker, candlestick maker relationships.  These are also the classmates at school who, remembered as friendly, are not life’s sustaining friends.  These are the coworkers who may spend thirty years with you at your side fighting the good fight for the company, but upon retirement they disappear out of your life.  Remarkably for all the apparent intensity of the working relationship and given the sheer quantity of time spent together, the grief cycle upon separation is very often a shallow cut if it is felt at all.   At this point we need to address the unfortunate occurrence of the person who retires and dies within months out of a sense of loss and uselessness.  It is the hypothesis of this model that this deep sense of loss is not necessarily the loss of vocational community, but from the sudden awareness of the inadequacy of that person’s nurturance community.  That said, the vocational expression is a life long need and the sudden termination of a vocational range of expression can also disrupt and injure the individual regardless of age.

Vocational relationships are purposeful in nature.  The purpose is typically in the language shared by the relaters.  Conditionality is an ethic.  At the broad level, the language of this community defines common mission.    Within the context of mission the social contract defines the strategy of the purpose in terms of measurable goals and accountable criteria.  The strategy invariably strives to accomplish the product or outcome of the mission statement.  In vocational community, the mission is primary and people in the relationship consciously subordinate to the mission.  This may sound like large corporate culture in the sense that the baker down on the corner doesn’t typically publish a mission statement and evaluation criteria.  In fact, the successful baker and the corporate president have much in common.  If one were to sit and listen to that baker what you would eventually hear is the commitment to the baking of bread that tastes good and sells.  The amount of the sales and a steady stream of satisfied customers is the built in scale of evaluation.  When the baker sends the lazy apprentice packing, the baker is not intentionally consigning that person to alienation and trauma, but rather to another vocational pursuit.   This “portability” is the feature of vocational community and vocational relationships are the relationships that introduce creative fluidity in the workings of society that would not be possible if there were only nurturance relationships.  The bond that holds the vulnerable and the caretaker in a stable configuration is balanced by the next developmental relationship that has a flexible ethical and legal standard of behavior through which people can move and operate rationally.  The rational mind rather than the bonded heart is the primary operator. 


The language of time is sewn into the workings of vocational community.  Even the artist who apparently operates in an unstructured life, must relate to the natural boundaries of vocational time through which the artistic expression can be brought into this world for public appreciation.  At the extreme end, time is cut into 15 minute segments and in this age even key strokes for the purpose of attaching a monetary value to productive human activity.  A person’s vocational relationships often evolve around 8 hour shifts, forty or sixty hour weeks, three year grants, 30 year careers.  The nature of the time is often contained in a formal contract which is negotiated in the context of vocational relationship.  The rules of the relationship are external and understood at the outset. 


The contractual nature of this community and its relationships defines limits of the boundaries of commitment and value.  A contract contains the possibilities of the relationship in rational boundaries.  This “external language” gives identity and accountable power to the affairs of the members of this community.  The definitive nature creates portable “pieces” of enterprise and politics.  Law is the ultimate social contract and public law gives some level of predictability and order to the human community.  The contribution of the process of democracy to the evolution of social human community is that it is a system of continuous response and hopefully improvement in the realm of politics.  Vocational relationships fill the need in a person’s life for an arena of expression that is both flexible and limited.  One is never as secure in the vocational community as one would be in the true nurturance relationships.  There is a risk in vocational relationships, however the lack of a true bond can limit and contain the loss that is possible for the participants in vocational relationships.  The working assumption of the vocational is that all participants have a nurturance level of community fall back on.  The fear of risk in the vocational relationships increases dramatically for the participants who have transferred their nurturance relationship energy into this realm of pragmatism and calculating rationality.

Vocational relationships occur in subordination to an articulated system which is often described not only as product, but beliefs.  In this level of community Catholics meet other Catholics, Methodists meet Methodists, engineers meet engineers, social workers meet social workers and so forth.  The context and pretext for the contact is largely influenced by the existing system.  Vocational community is often the setting in which true often adult stage nurturance friendships are formed.  Once these relationships are formed they are nurturance level and no longer vocational.  The test of the true level of the relationship occurs when the terms of the vocational relationship are met.  When the contract is fulfilled, and the check stops, or the agenda runs out, the friends to which one still relates on a regular basis are the nurturance relationships.

The leader of an organization will run a constant analysis of the balance within the community of these two levels of relationship.  Optimal performance and growth for both the organization and the political community are premised on the balancing of the forces of these communities.  For each individual within the society who wishes to live the fulfilling life, the balancing considerations of nurturance and vocation are of equal importance.

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