Exploring the idea of Community
Posted: July 30, 2012
Seven or eight years ago a history professor at one of our state universities asked her students to define "community." Someone waved his cell phone and said, "This is my community."
Our communities have certainly expanded beyond brick and mortar neighborhoods. What happens if your house burns? In a brick and mortar neighborhood all the neighbors pitch in to help that family recover. Can a phone or Facebook community do the same? Living near each other, many people could check with the family each day to see how they were coping.
Last year I experienced this very situation. Among my Facebook friends are many of the students I taught years ago in a small school in South Jersey. One day one of those former students posted photos and news that he had escaped his house safely when it burned to the ground overnight.
There was tremendous support through Facebook for Chris who still lived in South Jersey, while many of us had moved elsewhere. Imagine how surprised and sad we were to learn a month later that Chris had gone to live with his mother in Florida and had succumbed to his burns. The Facebook community was not close enough physically to know how badly burned Chris was or that he had moved to his mother's home. Chris posted only positive information about himself online.There still are a lot of caring neighborhoods, but that is no longer the case for everyone. Some years ago Robert Putnam described in his book Bowling Alone
how our communities often do not overlap. We live in one municipality. We work in another county or state, in some cases. Our children may go to school in a different municipality in a consolidated school district. Our place of worship may be miles away in a another direction. We do our weekly shopping in yet another place that doesn't overlap with any of the above.
Why is it important to maintain a sense of community? We've always helped each other in time of need. Interacting with each other on a nearly daily basis also helps us to get to know each other as multifaceted individuals. In some communities people volunteer for the local fire company or ambulance corps. They run money-making fairs for schools and churches. Some developments or neighborhoods band together for joint yard sales or block parties. During all these activities we also are learning more about others who live in our community as we chat and joke with them.
Later when an issue affecting the community arises, we already have an understanding of why some neighbors value one approach to solving the problem and others value another approach. We know that Joe often roars like a lion but is really a pussycat inside. And experience tells us that when Anna gets excited about something, her voice becomes shrill, but she is sincere. We can be more empathetic toward both sides, and we will be able to listen more actively than if we were strangers. We have already laid the groundwork for positive communication with others in the community.
What happens when new folks move in? You probably have your own stories to share. In the future, I'll share some stories about new comers and power bases in the community.