“The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”
The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts
We often idealize the individual. Particularly in American culture with our veneration of the cowboy archetype in old westerns, the superhero motif of contemporary films, and the political rhetoric about individual opportunity – the individual gets priority. But the individual must have a context in order to have value. That context is the community.
Even the cowboy or the superhero figure – Batman for instance – has a loyalty and a cause for which he/she fights. Curiously enough our films are beginning to reflect this as well. For Batman his community is Gotham, for the Black Panther his community is the nation of Wakanda. The most popular films right now – The Avengers film series, Justice League, and Black Panther – all serve as archetypal plays on the importance of community. The Avengers – as an example – being a collaborative team, each individual part is crucial, but in context the whole becomes more than the sum of it’s parts, to paraphrase Aristotle.
And Who Is My Neighbor?
Many of us are familiar with the Christian story of the Good Samaritan. This classic parable illustrates the importance of being an active participant in the community. In the tale a traveler is beaten by robbers and left for dead. A priest, and a man from the upper class both passed him by. Both of these men were supposedly members of his community – such is the implication in the parable.
Finally a Samaritan, a historic rival – even enemy – of the man in question came upon the man. The Good Samaritan took it upon himself to help the man, even footing the bill for his stay at an inn while he recovered. We remember the Good Samaritan because he actively chose to be neighborly, he participated in the process that creates community.
Find The Others
Active community building can be tough. In our hyper connected world we’re tempted to look far afield for people who can pander to our prejudices and confirm our biases. But the local, neighborhood level community is crucial. It gives us context. Dr. Timothy Leary once said that we should “Find the others.” This advice holds true. If you actively seek out people in your locale with similar interests you will thrive. This doesn’t necessarily mean people who agree with you – often people with similar interests will have a different way of looking at the same thing, take politics for instance.
The point is that by “finding the others” we can start building community at home. Don’t know where to begin? Start with your neighbor. A simple smile or ‘hello’ will do the next time you see them. They may say ‘hi’ back, and you’ve already gone a long way toward engaging in community building. This can also take more concrete forms such as hosting events with friends, neighbors and family. Consider your interests, consider your surroundings. Building a community can be approached many different ways, but the most important thing is to start.