Community

It seems to me the concept of community in modern society is undergoing a fundamental evolution.

In the past 100 years, the idea community has shifted from referring to people who are similar based on geography, race or socio-economic status to ones that are more ideologically based: those that focus around a particular interest or passion (wine/beer drinking, gun ownership, football teams, music fans, etc.), around shared interests (conservationists, photographers, mothers of toddlers), around need (cancer patients, alcoholics, bereavement) and around action or social change (Sandyhook Promise, Black Lives Matter, Indivisible, Chesapeake Bay Foundation).

My family is a great example of this shift in culture. Each of my parents grew up in ethnic enclaves. They lived in the same houses, went to the same church, and attended the same schools all of their lives. My fathers family still lives in a fairly tight-knit community, although several other immigrant groups have also settled into the same area. I often jokingly tell people that I could visit 400 of my closest relatives and not travel more than 10 miles from my grandparents’ house. Both of my parents also left their communities for military careers and, after marrying, settled in the newly developing suburbs of Northern Virginia, far from either of their family homes.

When I was a child, I spent my summers with my grandparents tucked into their 19th century community of family, farms, church and the occasional trek to the beach (every Friday and every other weekend).  We had so much to do within that little effort was made to interact with ‘others’. Life in the suburbs of Northern Virginia was radically different. From our neighborhoods to shopping to schools, there were always people that I didn’t know – either personally or generally. There were people dressed differently than I was, who spoke other languages, who looked different. I didn’t understand what their cultural norms or values were (more from not being aware) and I did not know what motivated them. But I was aware that they were in the world with me and it spurred my curiosity, helped me to realize that the world was vast with difference … diversity … that I could learn from, be part of and celebrate.

Today, there seems to be no limit to the diversity we can experience in a given day. No longer is it limited to the people one encounters directly or by geography, or ideology. Our exposure to the vast array of people, events, attitudes, ideology, devastation and promise is limitless thanks to 24/7 access through social media (including television/radio).

Our sense of community is being re-shaped by this access and it is painful, overwhelming, and even devastating at times. But it is also exhilarating to me to experience so much diversity of being, thinking, action, hope. I sense that, as individuals, we are better off than we were living 20, 30 or 50 years ago. It may not seem like it at the moment, but I think history will characterize the past 20 years (and likely the next 30) as revolutionary in human evolution.

The concepts of diversity that we have talked about so far this semester are all part of community to me.

How will we recognize the needs of individuals, small groups, minorities in a globally-minded society?

How can we learn from hostile or opposition perspectives without being consumed by their hostility or disregard?

What can advocates do to support and uphold the rights of those they advocate for without overwhelming their cause or issues?

How can we each learn to be tolerant, open and understanding without compromising our own values and priorities?

How can we step outside of our selected communities to develop a deeper understanding of the complexity and impact of humanity?

I think that the communities we create today and into the future will help us address these questions. But I think there is tremendous work to do both personally and collectively to attend to the human needs and issues that underlie them.