“We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our community as members of the same body.”
—John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630
Building community—it is difficult to define community to someone who has not experienced neighbors helping neighbors. I was fortunate to grow up in a farming community where we depended on each other. We could not have survived harsh Michigan winters, accidents and illnesses, loss, tragedies or casualties if we didn’t have close neighbors that we cared about. When a barn burned down, the community came together to help rebuild it. Neighbors worked together during threshing season. After a long morning of back breaking work, they gathered around a long table to eat a full noon-time meal. Breaking bread together is still central to community. Our one room schoolhouse had a solid sense of community where we looked out and helped each other. We grew up with agreed upon core values of honesty, empathy, truth, kindness, civility and respect for others. Community can transform our lives and bring unity and peace to this country. Genuine community is inclusive, where we learn from and help each other; helping neighbors.
The last few weeks have made it clear that we need to look at ways to build and restore community as the fundamental element for the vitality of American life and in fact, for democracy to endure. Our nation has become more divided, strident and even violent. We need to mend this divide. Even if people are irrational and buy into conspiracy theories, we need to talk to each other and listen. It is up to all of us to take a hard look at how we communicate with others. We can be authentic and truthful and still treat each other with civility and respect. We need to focus on shared values and on what we are for —peace, kindness and community—and not what we’re against—lies, resentments and grievances.
Community begins with a willingness to connect and care about others. Even if you disagree with ideas, the tone can be, “I know you’re intelligent. I know you have integrity. I care about you.” People need to be heard. This isn’t easy. Our natural response is to avoid, smooth over conflict or get angry. However, we are called to be instruments of peace. This spirit of caring and repairing divisions involves taking risks, being vulnerable and risking failure.
So start with simple steps. Unplug from social media and talk with people directly. Call your neighbors and check on their health and well-being. Find common ground with friends and family and talk about books, art, music, the weather and family. Send a thank you note to first responders, health care workers, teachers and your elected officials. Look for the good. Shop locally. Finally, volunteer and join a service club such as Rotary whose motto asks us to reflect on these questions before we think, say or act:
The Four-Way Rotary Test:
1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
It is our civic task to make the world a better place. What we cannot do is lose hope. Our faith in humanity and the basic goodness of people can help us build bridges, solve conflicts and restore trust. That is community. Civilization depends on it.
Contact Sharon at firstname.lastname@example.org.