Me. You. Us.
We all exist in the world. We all affect one another. This reality cannot be avoided. The question is, how do we attempt to live, knowing we live in a populated world. Do we live in isolation, in unhealthy community, in semi-healthy community, or in healthy community? How do each of these look, and how can we work toward healthier community?
In isolation, my harmful thoughts can easily overpower my rational mind. I begin to believe the worst in others and in myself because there is no one to say differently. Everyone becomes an ‘Other’ to me. I lose any sense of belonging. My mind becomes a battleground of blaming others for who I have become, blaming myself for what I am.
Loneliness, despair, anger, what is wrong with me that I must be alone? It’s their fault, it’s my fault. They think I have no value, they have no value. I have no value.
In unhealthy community, my harmful thoughts are refined and encouraged, no matter how depraved they may be. The ‘Other’ becomes anyone who does not agree with us.
We are right, they are wrong. They hate us, so we must hate them first. It’s their fault we’re unhappy. They think they’re so great. We don’t know them, we don’t trust them. They would do it to us, so we must do it first.
In semi-healthy community, my harmful thoughts are challenged and mostly kept in check. I am accepted as a part of the community but only if I abide by the rules. The rules aren’t too hard to follow though, mostly just get along in a sort of uneasy truce to engage in mostly reasonable behavior. But if I break the rules, I’m thrown out.
We don’t agree with you. Those thoughts, that behavior won’t fly here. Chill out, you’re fine. That’s strike three, we can’t have you here anymore.
In healthy, loving community, my harmful thoughts are turned away because I know the value I hold as a fellow human being is equal to the value of any other human being. I know because the members of my community treat me in such a way. While they do not and should not accept moral failings, they still accept me. Though my status, my beliefs, my actions may change, the base value I am born with never changes. The community knows and accepts this and always tries to find a place for me regardless if I am trying to find my place or not.
Love begets love. I may never lose my harmful thoughts, but I can deny myself in the face of the overwhelming grace of others.
Healthy, loving community is the goal. It rarely, if ever occurs. At best, semi-healthy community is sometimes present in our culture. More and more, unhealthy community and isolation seems to be rampant and growing stronger. Advances in technology, poor policy, misappropriated funds and a variety of other reasons are given as the reasons why unhealthy community and isolation is growing. These are mere symptoms of the root problem, tools which we use to make the problem worse. There is a much deeper cause of the growth of hate, intolerance, and division.
The problem is Me. You. Us.
We are all victims and oppressors in our families, in our communities and in ourselves.
We are all afraid to look past the trespasses of others to protect our own self-interests. (And often justifiably so. This is not a critique on those who have been victimized. If any critique is necessary, it is directed to those of us who are in a powerful or privileged class for not doing more to build a society in which there are not victims as opposed to relying on an absurdly see-through belief in the pseuedo-morality of the free market to bring about ‘natural’ social reform but which often only brings more power and privilege to those who already have it.)
How then do we build healthy, loving community? How do we properly account for justice, for equality, for reasonable fear, etc?
By taking intentional steps that increase our individual and collective awareness, build empathy and grow our ability to live in community with those who are different from us.
Accept that you are not special, yet you are uniquely special. I am, like everyone else, unique. Through a combination of genetics, environments, experiences, and relationships, I am and will continue to be an individual different from everyone else in the world. But, my uniqueness does not mean I matter more than my neighbor or my enemy. To paraphrase an old saying, from dust we all came, to dust we all will return.
View your community through the lens of who is being left out rather than who shouldn’t be here. One viewpoint is an isolating perspective while the other is an inclusive perspective. This isn’t to say you have to believe what others believe but rather that same beliefs shouldn’t be a requirement for being in community with another person.
Don’t just listen to others, hear them. Often when I am frustrated or upset, I don’t want a solution from the person to whom I am speaking. I am a mostly rational adult, I can generally figure out how to fix whatever problem may be hindering my life. If I needed help, I would specifically ask for it. I do want to be heard though. I want someone to understand the injustice and hurt I feel from whatever may have occurred. And then, I need to be willing to do the same for someone else.
Healthy community sounds like a Utopian ideal. It probably sounds impossible in our current increasingly divisive culture. I don’t know that I’ll see a healthy community in my lifetime. But, why should I only be concerned about what benefits my life? If I can do something today that will benefit the world seven generations from now or beyond, should I not at least try?
I will try. I hope you will too. Like it or not, we are all in this together. Our actions affect one another – for better or worse. So, let’s try love. let’s try listening. Maybe we will fail, and maybe we will fall short.
Every bit of light, even if it is quite dim, dispels a bit of the darkness. Even if all we can do is brighten one person’s day for but one moment at a time, I venture to say it is worth the effort.