Some thoughts about living in community
‘The nation doesn’t simply need what we have. It needs what we are.’
Edith Stein (1891–1942)
For any community to thrive, whether it’s a town, a school, a business or even a nation, its members need to be able to live together and form meaningful relationships. It also requires an economy of giving and receiving, in which people take on particular roles and show a willingness to contribute to the flourishing of all. This, in turn, will only happen, if relationships are defined by trust, loyalty, and mutual fulfilment.
To establish relationships of this nature, we need a sense of self-awareness, and I would like to suggest that, maybe paradoxically, we will obtain the truest perspective of ourselves if we are rooted in a flourishing community. For most of us, our first community in which we discover who we are consists of our family, and in later life school, university, workplace and neighbourhood provide a framework in which we find our own particular place.
One of the problems we face in our current society, I believe, is the erosion of communities built on trust and mutual flourishing, as they are replaced by apparent online communities (such as Facebook) or groups where relationships are based on an unhealthy interdependence and a quest for power, such as fundamentalist groups and gangs. So, rebuilding a thriving community will go hand-in-hand with reclaiming our true identity.
Here, for me, the Christian faith offers not only a helpful, but I would say necessary starting point: that is that ‘who we are’ is not something we need to invent, but we need to discover it. The difference here is that our identity is God-given, it is not something we have to invent or ‘make’ ourselves. To some non-believers this may sound like a great and unnecessary restriction on our freedom, should we not be able to determine our own identity and destiny? However, on the contrary, I would argue that it offers us a great relief, because in a sense, already we have been given what we are trying to establish.
I believe that a stronger sense of our being as a gift, to be discovered in the encounter with others, will release us to see how we can use who we are for the common good, instead of becoming caught up in anxiety over who we need to make ourselves, in isolation from or competition with others. In turn, that realisation will enable us to not only live a truer and freer life, but also to imagine and build a society in which all can flourish and thrive.