Most of us desire to be in community – a place where people feel valued, accepted, and connected. And, while communities are often founded around common goals and interests, they vary greatly in regards to their openness and collaboration with other communities and with society as a whole. It appears that we are currently experiencing more entrenched attitudes and behaviors within and among these groups and fewer opportunities for open dialog toward the common good.
The “ends justify the means” seems like the present mode of operation by many groups. And, while it may lead one collective or another to a temporary victory, is the long-term cost worth it? In our righteous indignation and justification for winning at all costs, is the angst, corruption of our principles, and the constant attention we give to defensiveness and negativity how we want to live?
Even when we feel we have no other options, we are often avoiding the hard work of finding or creating alternatives. Sometimes, rather than picking one side/approach or another, we can merge the two into an even more effective one. Martin Luther King spoke at the 10th annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967 about two approaches that often provoked one choice, the path of love or the path of power. His stance was that we couldn’t be effective without both. Perhaps it’s time for us to reconsider where we stand and whether the communities we align with have the best interests of long-term goals and those of our children.
Is our community behaving in ways that illicit trust? Do we act in ways the make it difficult for the other side to challenge our civility, dignity, and authenticity? If we don’t because they don’t, how will we ever get there?
Where do we go from here? Isn’t it up to each of us to decide how we act to bring about the future we want for our children and ourselves? And isn’t that future dependent on how we respond and embrace other communities?
After reading my friend Henry’s blog post I have to confess I have been naughty this year, well these past 4 years. You see I have had very strong political views that often crossed the “being appropriate” limits. I was often angry, outraged even and vociferous in my expression of that outrage. I said mean things on Facebook and listened to only one tv station news coverage- the one that I agreed with.
I always considered myself a reasonable, intelligent person. But I just couldn’t accept imitating a handicapped journalist or calling people names based on their appearance or physical features. In my heart I knew that was wrong but our leader was displaying this behavior publicly, snd I saw our interaction between people becoming caustic and aggressive. Santa, I gave into those feelings I had and expressed them instead of trying to find common ground.
We now have an elected leader who is trying to model appropriate behavior and I promise to follow his lead. I will do things to try to bring our country together again. I won’t say mean things or cause disagreement to intensify. I promise to try to reconnect with people I may have upset. That way my letter to you next year can tell you that I have been a good boy and have everything I need so give my stuff to kids who are more needy. This pandemic will certainly cause people to need things that they normally would have. Hopefully by next December this Covid thing will be gone but if not I will ask for enough masks for everybody in our country and the general acceptance that masks help! Please forgive me Santa. I tried but just couldn’t live up to my wish to be a good boy. My friends Henry and Wally were gooder than I was this year so you should give them what they ask for. Well, maybe they were a little naughty too!
I suspect that we each have an urge to assimilate and an urge to be distinct. We try to solve that tension by finding a reference group (or several) that allows us to do both. In a healthy society, just as in a healthy individual, affiliation in various ‘communities’ is fluid enough to help us practice seeing different points of view. I tend to think about this condition as one which features permeable boundaries – like a biologic cell wall — allowing traffic of ideas (like RNA) through the walls. This allows analysis and accommodation among varying points of reference.
When ideologic boundaries harden, it’s no wonder that commerce between particular communities tends to stop. So for me, it’s about permeability – allowing flow. Carrying the analogy a bit further: if we each act as a unit in a living entity, our function is to pass nutrients throughout the system and keep it thriving. It’s also our job to defend against threats to our ability to do so.
If the body encounters a destructive virus, it tends to attack anything which looks like a threat. Sometimes it overreaches. Hen describes a situation where our communities seem to be ill – and some functions are not working well. A healthy community, like a healthy body – should rebound from most infection. However, that rebound depends upon various organs working in concert, not shutting down. The individual’s essential job is to continue to pass nutrients through the system. Now I know that I’ve set the stage for some to liken our current state of affairs to a cancerous growth. Okay, maybe we need chemotherapy – maybe our living entity will die. Or maybe our society is suffering from a malady that can be treated with an injection of common sense and affection. Either way, I believe that our boundaries need to be permeable enough to receive both familiar ideas and new ideas and pass along the useful bits of both which allow the whole body to thrive.