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.