Community

November 7th, 2019

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.”
― Ruth Reichl

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
― John Donne

During the trip to El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, several people told our group to work at building community. I remember, in particular, Father Bill mentioning that. It sounds like a good idea. The problem is: what does it really mean? How do you build community? What exactly is a community, and why do we want to build it?

One definition of the word “community” is:

“A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”.

That definition doesn’t help very much. It could mean almost anything, and maybe it should.

During one of our evening reflections at Casa Vides, a member of our group remarked that we had already done much to build community among ourselves. Really? How and when did that happen? In the last few weeks, since we returned from El Paso, I have heard from five people who were in our company. That would be five out of fourteen. So, does that make us a community? Perhaps not.

Building community, whatever that actually means, is a long and arduous process. Spending five days together with strangers does not make a community. During the five days, I spent hours talking with some people, and I spent at most five minutes interacting with others. I suspect that this sort of thing is normal. I connected quickly and easily with some folks, but I felt a distinct barrier in my dealings with others.

Building community takes time. A person does not become part of a community overnight. Sometimes, the process requires enormous patience. I am part of a shul, an Orthodox Jewish community. I am not Jewish. I would estimate that it took probably five years before I was accepted into that community. It took that long for mutual trust to develop. This might be an extreme example, but I mention it to emphasize that building community is not as simple as friending somebody on Facebook.

Building community requires listening. To truly connect with somebody, a person has to shut up and listen to other people. In our culture we are not good at that. Often when I talk with someone, my mind has already gone some place else. I find it difficult to be with another person 100%. However, that total commitment is necessary to establish a bond with the other individual.

Building community cannot be forced. Connections between humans happen in a haphazard sort of way. There are environments that are conducive to community-building; for instance, meals taken together. However, communities, like friendships, develop at their own pace. Community building is not always an active process. Sometimes, it requires that people abandon their agenda and just let things flow. Our culture is not good at that either.

People move in and out of communities. A person may be part of a community for just a week, or maybe for their entire life. Communities are fluid. They are dynamic because they are alive. Living things move and change. Only death is static.

Is our small group from the El Paso trip a community? I don’t know. It may be in the process of becoming one. We have shared an important experience, and some of our interests are the same. However, we are, at this point, mostly just strangers to each other. We could easily drift away from each other, and that would be a shame.

I guess we’ll have to work at this.

 

 

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