I’ve been spending a lot of time in recent months thinking, reading, listening to people speak, and ruminating on the topic of community-the communities we have now, the communities that used to exist, and the future of communities.
You may or may not have noticed that things are a bit of a train wreck right now. Depending on where you live, they may have been a train wreck for all of your life, so I acknowledge that, but even to those of us who felt very insulated, we can see some of the facade of security crumbling away very rapidly. For those of you who already adapted to that reality long ago, bear with me, because it’s starting to really sink into my brain.
We are all “connected” but still very isolated. We may be friends electronically with people far away and know nothing about our neighbors, or people in our own larger environment. Manufacturing has broken down, dispersing communities far and wide looking for work. School of choice programs often mean that a community may have only a small portion of its residents in the surrounding district. An increasing decentralization of religion and other institutions mean that there can often feel like less “center” to the community. Then we have to challenge what community means.
My thought is that in our culture right now, community has to be intentional. It may be formed in traditional ways, like in neighborhoods, or not. Who knows. It doesn’t matter how we go about it and trying to dictate that will nearly ensure failure.
Because we are often what I would consider decentralized and fragmented, I think we are strangers to many, and though we may be crowded together from house to house, we may be very alone. We have no shared identity, no shared stories, no shared responsibility, no shared investment in our future. There is no sense of belonging, of home, and therefore, often no narrative for who we are and what we value together, because for all intents and purposes, we aren’t actually together. It’s much easier to hurt someone else when they aren’t one of our own tribe. It’s easier to disregard their safety, or their property or their interests, because they don’t feel real to us. It’s not personal. It’s every person for himself. It’s less important to us to sacrifice for others when we don’t know them enough to care. It’s less important to us to make sure that our young people have opportunities and our elders have security and dignity because they don’t feel like “ours”. There is no sense of belonging or “home.” I would argue that communities that are closely connected harm each other less, are safer, and are happier if there is equity among them.
So, I’m calling for us to start working on how we restore the village mind. I assert that we find our village by finding ourselves, thereby figuring out what role we play in our village. And then we play it. That’s why each community may turn out differently; it is made of different members, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s desirable, because conformity is not a virtue anymore. It’s rather causing quite a lot of problems.
What could life be like if we formed our village and it looked like thus:
-Our village is multi-generational, and made out whatever group of people comes together naturally, hopefully diverse and beautiful, with a wide range of gifts, talents, and experiences.
-There are people in it that know how to teach skills, teach knowledge, teach the stories of the community, teach the children, teach the adults. Wise ones, smart ones, clever ones. The keepers of the knowledge and the keepers of the history.
-There are people in it that know how to heal the body, or an aching heart, or a broken relationship, who can make medicine, who can mend the breaks, soothe the wounds, comfort the weeping, and counsel the lost.
-There are spiritual leaders to provide spiritual care to those who want and need it, to create ceremonies that give context to life, that provide for moments desired by the community, to include birth celebrations, coming of age ceremony, weddings or other unions, “eldering,” and funerals or “crossing over” or those other needs dictated by the community.
-There are village leaders who help make big decisions of import, selected by others of the community, and who train the next generation of village leaders.
-There are caregivers who particularly are called to look out after the well being after the young, and perhaps the old.
-There are protectors, warriors or guardians, who keep an eye on systems of safety for everyone in the community, not to enforce, but to truly protect
-There are the “makers,” the growers, the inventors, the problem solvers, the fixers- all of those minds that can make something from nothing, or fix something that was broken, to create food or art, or equipment, or things of utility. The builders that create the foundation on which we carry our our lives.
All of the above things are things we already have in our own towns or cities but we are fragmented at this time. We are broken apart. The village is either institutionalized and impersonal, or dysfunctional or just absent. So we need to form our own-intentionally.
To do that, we need to know who we are, and we need to help others figure out who they are, and then we all need to figure out what role we play in the village we assemble. Then we assemble it.
Things around us may go right to hell in a hand basket in our greater culture (or already have) and institutionalized systems may fail. Or, perhaps we can just do better without them. In either case, my vision is of the intentional village; the family of our choosing, the community of our making, with the members we gather together.
I will be writing more about my vision for the roles in the intentional village in coming posts and hope we all find bits of ourselves in those discussions. We may be suited to one or more of those roles. We may already be in them, or we may be ready to emerge into them. It may be a time of our great becoming. I hope you will come along as we explore.
Remember who you are.