I've been thinking and writing about community over the last couple of months. For many of us, our first experience with community is at school. We venture beyond the safety of our family into the greater fellowship of school administrators, teachers, friends and schoolmates. Some of these relationships last a lifetime and some fade away upon graduation. But within the educational community we find friends whose interests more closely align with our own. My friends and I were Campfire Girls, members of the school choir, attended the same church, worked on the school yearbook together and enjoyed the same music and movies.
As an adult I found community at my job but recently I read an article that reported Americans no longer look to work as a place to form meaningful relationships. I can understand that shift given the fact that long-term employment is no longer a given in the United States. Polite but professional seems to be the code for office relationship these days. Another place I found community as an adult was in my children's school. I knew all my children's friends and in many of their parent's too. I was a member of the PTA, a Girl Scout Leader, a Cub Scout Den mother and a youth group leaders. In all these cases community was created for me when my children or I joined an established institution.
Our transient society or aging may result in the shrinking of our circle of friends and lessen community at the very moment it is most important to us. Human beings are social creatures that need contact with other humans to thrive. I also believe we harden our hearts to the concerns of others if we become insular. Additionally without community we begin to feel helpless when presented with a problem. I will give you an example of the strength of community from my own life.
I live on a lake in the Hudson Valley and for the last two summers we have had a problem with blue-green algae. A blue-green alga is fouling the lakes and rivers all over the world and has been linked to everything from climate change to phosphorus and nitrogen from golf courses. A group of neighbors came together to educate our community on blue-green algae in general and our lake in particular. Our solutions included an education program on septic pump out, planting rain gardens and clearing out the lake's remediation pond. Our community focused on the single goal of improving the health of our lake. We did not have to take on the overwhelming task of cleaning up all the lakes and rivers of the world. (Though we are willing to share what we have learned with others if needed.) But without community nothing would have been done and would have furthered the belief that the "average citizen" is ignored. A happy by product of our rallying around the lake cleanup was the good friends we made; friends who make our lives better.
This is why we need to form and maintain communities. Our communities need our gifts, our collective wisdom and our willingness to create a positive vision for the future. And we need community because we have a deep-seated need for connection.