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What Makes Community?

Tonight, as a part of our book group, I will speaking with John McKnight and Peter Block, co-authors of The Abundant Community- Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhood. I enjoyed their book. It contains great food for thought about “community making” and how our “consumer society,” through its materialism, deprives us of many of the benefits of “community.”¬† It is a bit of a polemic.¬† If you understand that going in,¬†it is¬†possible to take what is valuable from its content without being distracted by its advocacy.

Community and family have been on my mind lately.  I marvel at how much better supported we are when in community and a part of family, how they provide us space to realize and give our gifts to others, how they promote for our health and well-being, yet how remarkably diverse and overlapping our communities and families may be.

I am interested in your thoughts as to what makes a coherent community and a resilient family.¬† What ingredients¬†are the “glue” that bind them?

Having just returned Sunday from my 40th Princeton reunion, I again experienced what I have experienced in the past — a cohesive, resilient community that spent only four years together, from 1967 to 1971, that meets every fifth year, that is able to pick up on friendships and camaraderie without missing a beat. Some of my most profound life friendships were begun there and continue to this day.

Mind you, reunions are great¬†fun.¬†But there also¬†are moments of profundity.¬†I sat with the recently retired Provost of Columbia University, the Governor of the State of Indiana, a social worker, a holistic medical service provider, an internationally renowned futurist and planner, a¬†high school swimming coach, a friend dying of ALS, two friends in the midst of chemotherapy for metastatic cancers, a father whose child recently committed suicide, and the parent of a disabled child of 30, who finally found a community in which to live “independently.” Those were the labels, the descriptors, which¬†are really quite irrelevant, except to the extent that they shaped my friends’ life experiences.¬† I sat with Alan, Dan, Jack, Herb, Mark, Miles, Nori, Brad, Mike, Bill, and so many others.¬† Of our class of 700 plus, over 250 returned to be together in¬†a place that shaped each of us, as we shaped one another at the end of our adolescence, at a time of mounting racial tension and the¬†pain of the intractable¬†Vietnam War, in our transition to coeducation in a 200 plus year old bastion of masculinity, in our first times living away from home,¬†as¬†a¬†community,begrudgingly to openly, accepting marijuana and LSD, that attended Woodstock,¬†that had Duke Ellington play for its senior prom¬†and the Beach Boys play for us¬†last Saturday night, thanks to the generous contributions of a few well-heeled classmates.

So our community has had the common experiences of place, youth, and a tumultuous point in history, shared experiences, strong intellect and a degree of privilege, some inherited, some acquired from Princeton campus life.

It felt luxurious, intimate, spacious and loving.  I wanted to bottle it and bring it home to savor on future occasions. I took a few hundred pictures and several minutes of video that will serve as a substitute.  And, before we meet again, we will lose several of our members to disease, accidents and other unforeseen events.  But that is life, after all.  But in a community, the loss is so much greater.

What are the communities to which you belong?  What brings you together?  What holds you together?  How strong do you consider your community to be?  Why is that so?

Similarly, how do you decide who constitutes your family? Is your family as strongly connected as your community?  Why or why not?  What gives rise to the differences?

We will address community and family further in future posts.



Tim Tosta
Life Coach


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