What is community?

If you asked people to name things that are important to them, I’m willing to bet that one of the most common responses would be something to the effect that they want community.

But what is community?

It’s one of those words that I think people assume everyone agrees on. But I don’t think that is the case anymore.

It’s kind of like defining what a person is. Go ahead and give it a try. What is a person? If you say that a person looks a certain way or has certain features, then the question is – what about people who don’t look that way or have those features? Maybe you want to go down the road of mental capacity. Ok, so what about those who don’t have those mental capacities? Or is someone not a person before they have certain mental capacities? What about if they lose those mental capacities? Maybe a person is someone who has certain physical abilities. Great – what about those folks who are for one reason or another disabled?

See, not so easy, is it?

So what is community? Is it made up of certain people? A geography? Something that gives an identity? A cause? Something held in common? Just as there are questions to raise when defining person, there are questions to raise around what community is too.

One feature I have observed about healthy communities, regardless of how we are defining them, is that they struggle together. A friend of mine who is a missionary talks about this related to the community he is living in. The common struggle draws people together. So is struggle necessary for community? I don’t know. Should we create struggles in order to build community? I don’t know what the effect of that would be? And would we be putting people in pain? Is that moral? Great questions.

So what is a community? I don’t know what a good definition is, but I know a community when I see it – to twist former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous opinion regarding pornography.

Here’s what I do know about community – when I am in a healthy community it just feels right. There is care and concern for the people in the community. There is give and take. There is responsibility. There is fun. There is vulnerability and open communication. Does it all work perfectly – no because people are involved.

And here’s what’s missing from community – sabotage efforts, people who refuse to communicate or offer their thoughts, privileged attitudes, and seeing others in the community as lesser than oneself.

So what is a community? Something that is hard to define, but easy to experience. Something difficult to maintain, but easy to destroy. Something that requires people to work at it, but not all consuming.

That clears it right up, doesn’t it?

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