I sincerely believe that the world can change in 2019, but in order for it to change we first need to reduce our anger as I talked about last week, but we also need to build community. I was encouraged by a friend to check out my personality type, and I ended up being an ESTJ. Here is the first sentence of the description of my personality type, “ESTJs are representatives of tradition and order, utilizing their understanding of what is right, wrong and socially acceptable to bring families and communities together.”
Obviously, you may then believe that I am biased towards believing community is important. After all, I have a personal propensity towards thinking that community is important. Maybe it’s not as important as I perceive it to be. However, I hope that you can follow me down this chain of thought because if we are going to improve our cultural climate in 2019 and make a positive change in the world, building community is going to be one of the most important catalysts to making that happen.
First of all, how do we define community? It is used in many ways. Sometimes it seems to be more geographical. We use it to discuss the people who live around us. I am a part of the central Vermont community. While that is true, community seems to have a broader definition as well. We talk about communities on Facebook. Your favorite online message board probably has community guidelines to make sure that everyone plays by the rules. However, an online message board has no geographical constraints outside of most likely not including any members from North Korea and perhaps China depending on whether or not the government approves of your topic. Consequently, when we think about how we use this word community, it isn’t enough to just say it is a geographic area.
When we talk about communities being geographic areas though, what are we implying? I am part of the central Vermont community. That does mean that I live here, but it also means something more than that. I am part of what happens in central Vermont. I’m far from the most important part, but when a new business opens in town, I benefit from it. When we get hit by an ice storm, I suffer like everyone else. I went to elementary and high school in central Vermont. Geography matters, but it only matters because there is a common interest or a common concern. That is what causes us to build community with the people who live near us. We have common concerns.
I think that when we start to think in terms of community, we cannot neglect the concept of common interests and common concerns. You can’t just put a bunch of people in the room and assume that you have a community. You have a community when those people come together for a specific reason or cause. There could even be several reasons or causes. We talk about our churches as being religious communities. We are certainly brought together to worship God on Sunday, but often times we are also brought together for various committee meetings, music practices, food shelves, or whatever other ministries your church might have. There are multiple interests and causes that bring people to church as part of a religious community. When we talk about the disability community, we talk about people who have similar situations in life. We come together to talk about things that concern people who use wheelchairs for example. The fact that we are a community is situated on the fact that we have shared interests and concerns.
Notice that there has to be a foundation of shared belief in order for a community to develop. We need to be able to unite around something in order to build that community. That is part of why we need to develop communities in 2019 because often times I think that communities are either assumed or abused.
First, when we talk about communities being assumed, I’m talking about the situation where we assume that we have a community just because we are in the same place or may identify with the same group. When I spoke above about a necessary sharing of interests and concerns, it has to be a genuine interest or a genuine concern for a person to be a part of that community. As a rather simple example, communities develop around the love of sports teams. If you are genuinely interested in the Boston Red Sox, then I think you could make a case that you are part of that community. You are emotionally invested in the successes and failures of this baseball team. However, living in New England, I have learned that there are a lot of people who say that they cheer for the Red Sox but really don’t care about baseball at all. Boston is the team in the Northeast, so it is kind of like a default setting, but there are a lot of people who simply are not at all interested or concerned about baseball. They identify as fans, but they never think about the Red Sox.
Using the definition of community that I am operating from, these people would not be considered part of the community. This is a little bit hard to measure obviously, and it is a little bit fuzzy. Therefore, the problem of assuming community occurs when we assume that people are part of a community that they are really not. Because they are in New England, we assume that they are Boston Red Sox fans. In terms of baseball, this really doesn’t make much of a difference. However, let’s move to a more important topic. A lot of people identify as Christian, but if they really never do anything to affiliate with other Christians, a church or even read the Bible, it is not accurate to say that there are part of the Christian community. Similarly, consider people who identify as Republicans. If they do not embrace any of the points of the Republican Party platform, then they really are not part of that community. Because of how people identify, we assume things about them, or they assume that they are part of a community that they are not a part of. That is a major problem.
When we have assumed communities, we end up with distortions of the actual community. Is it fair to judge the Democratic Party by someone who may identify as a Democrat but doesn’t embrace any of the core beliefs of the party? If they do not really have any of the interests or concerns of the Democratic Party at heart, then they are not part of that community no matter what they assume or what we assume about them.
You can imagine a situation where I sit down and have a discussion with this hypothetical assumed Democrat. After talking to him, I am pretty convinced that I shouldn’t become a Democrat because he doesn’t make a good case for his position. The only problem with that situation is that I have not really addressed the core concerns of Democrats in general. I have only knocked down the position of someone who has distorted the Democratic community position. Maybe this person is assuming a position in the party, or maybe I am assuming that position in the party, but the problem remains the same. When people assume they are part of the community that they are not really a part of and do not share the same interests or concerns of the people in that community, we have a major problem.
Second, when we talk about communities being abused, I think this is a little bit easier to understand. There are situations where people might have become a part of a particular community. Once they get into that community, they might perhaps use it for their own purposes. This is slightly different than assuming community. These people are indeed members of the community that they claim to be members of, and it makes sense for them to be members of that community. That said, these are the people who take either intentional or unintentional steps to tear apart that community from the inside because many of their interests or concerns relate to themselves. They may align with the concerns and interests of the community, but they bring and ulterior motives. Being a part of a community involves a certain level of trust. You make yourself vulnerable to the other members of the community. Some people take advantage of these things and can easily cause tension or division within the community.
When that happens, there are a few potential consequences. First, the community might just fall apart. We all have seen that happen whether it be in churches or in other organizations. One person causes a major problem, and everything just fails miserably. This is normally when the person causing the division is perceived to be a prominent member of the community. Second, the community divides. This is the story of a lot of churches. Part of the community remains together, but a substantial portion departs based on this abuse. Third, and this probably has the fewest consequences, but in situations of the abuse of community, sometimes no one listens. If the community is strong enough and recognizes the abuse for what it is, the members might unite and stand against it. This happens less than we would like it to of course, but it is a potential consequence in this situation. Maybe a few people depart from the community, but in general, the community remains intact.
If we can avoid these errors of assumed community or abusive community, then we can work on developing community. We come together around common interests and concerns. This can be geographical in nature as I mentioned before, but it didn’t have to be. I am so privileged to be a part of the community that produces An Unexpected Journal. We are spread out across the country and even around the world, but we have joined together around a common interest in order to produce a publication that a lot of people seem to be enjoying and interacting with. It is different than a physical community, and there are plenty of times that I wish that we all lived in the same town and could have our meetings in person, but utilize technology to do the best we can, and it undoubtedly is a community that I am a part of and I value greatly.
These are the kind of things that need to happen if we are going to change the world. It is rare for one person to be able to change the world all by him or herself. Some people have, but as a general rule, it normally takes at least a small group of people dedicated to a cause to make a significant change. The vision may start with one person, but that person needs other people to come alongside him or her and buy into that mission. To come back to talking about our publication again, we have had a group of people committed to this project from the beginning. It is not just one person pulling the entire weight, but it has been a venture of a lot of people working together.
I mentioned this reliance on community because we live in an increasingly alienated society. We don’t think that we need anybody, and we don’t want help from anybody. Sometimes we even reject the help of people who would be willing to work with us because we do not absolutely agree on every issue. We demand absolute ideological purity on every issue, and we are somewhat surprised to find out that each of us are little bit different. We might agree on 99% of things, but at least I have yet to find someone who agrees with me on everything. That demand of ideological purity then causes us to reject the help of those that we could work with and stands directly opposed to the development of community. This tendency towards isolation and alienation under the guise of embracing independence causes people to feel disillusioned.
As a result, when we start to come together as a community, this disillusionment will become evident. People will realize that they are missing something and want to fill in that void. Community can do that for so many people. They realize that they don’t like being isolated, and they want to come together with people for a set of common interests or concerns. Once people realize the difficult situation that they have put themselves in by isolating, they want something bigger than themselves and ultimately something better.
That’s where we have to come in as we think about these issues going forward into 2019. Are we the types of people were going to identify these interests and concerns? Once we identify them, are we going to be the type of people who are willing to help develop a community around those issues? I can’t necessarily change the world by myself, but if I assist in the creation of community, I will be doing something to help change the world, and I think that is what we need to see more of in the year ahead. It obviously is not easy, and I have outlined some tough issues in this post, but they are the obstacles we will have to overcome if we truly want to start to make 2019 better than 2018.