I’m going to find a way to avoid the whole Superbowl Day frenzy.
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-=[ What is Community? ]=-
Prison isn’t merely a physical structure, it is, more than anything else, a state of mind...
We hear a lot these days about “community.” More and more of us, we’re told, are seeking it. There is talk about the African-American, Latina/o, and Asian communities; the gay and lesbian community; the political community; a community of peers; the local community. But what is this thing called community? Why are we seeking it? Heck, how will we know when find it?
I have found that a central human quality is this yearning for the company of others. A desire to find meaningful connections, to be with and be touched by family, friends, and clan, is wired into us. As a formerly incarcerated person, I know too well the feeling of being alone and isolated. I think if we’re all honest enough, we can all admit to a familiarity with the sense of being stuck in our own skin, apart from others. I also know that one of the principle factors in my successful reintegration has been my struggle to reconnect with loved ones and the community at large. To be incarcerated is to be removed from society. All too often, unfortunately, to be released from prison is to continue to experience isolation from a sense of belonging or community.
To complicate matters further, in this world gone slightly mad, we rarely find time to extend ourselves to our neighbors and loved ones. Today we work longer hours for less money, and it’s almost as if living without an appointment book (or PDA) is an impossibility. Add to this the fear and anger at the outrages committed by narcissistic public figures that serve to drive us deeper into isolation. It is true that taking the time to look within can help us learn to live with this deep alienation, but the only way to live genuinely and fully is by making deep connections with others.
This is what I mean by community.
I was raised in a community of extended family that included family members, adopted friends, and neighbors. This is not the same reality my now adult-aged son experienced growing up. Indeed, many people today dismiss community as an unrealistic ideal that is destined to fail and we close our doors a little more securely. Expecting or anticipating disappointment (or worse), we shy away from trying to find or build community. But the truth is a little more complicated than that, however. Throughout history, both recent and distant, there have been many examples of successful communities. But even these communities weren’t perfect and every group that comes together in community will experience its own unique set of problems, challenges, and opportunities.
I find myself writing and speaking of community a lot these days because much of my professional work is deeply connected to community. As someone working for social and economic justice, I come into contact with men and women who have a burning desire to reconnect, to find their place in a society that mostly spurns them. My professional and personal experience informs me that there is nothing more valuable in the difficult work to “re-enter” society than a sense of community. And this is true not just for people looking to reintegrate -- it seems these days as if a great many of us live lives of quiet desperation... I have come to think of community as a kind of vitamin. The experience of connectedness with others is as necessary to a fully healthy life as the minimum daily amount of nutrients is to a balanced diet. We isolate from one another at a great economic, physical, and spiritual price.
There’s much talk about Polarization these days, but if we’re to survive we need as a community to have an honest and intelligent conversation exploring how our social policies negatively affect our ability to educate our young. We need to fully explore the many different possibilities that lead to a better experience and sense of community. We need to explore examples of how our communities can work for the benefit of all, becoming more inclusive, empowered, and safer in the process. Where are the ideas about helping to make community a part of our future and the future of our children?
I would like to end with the following for the entrenched cynics among us. The problem of community, as with all of society, is in saving and expanding the priceless value of freedom, while at the same time maintaining a mutual respect, mutual regard, and mutual responsibility, as well as a common effort for common goals. This much is true: if we are to preserve and pass on to our children basic human values, a wholesome community life is imperative. Unless we choose to work and live together in connectedness of community life, there can never be a truly unified nation or a community of humankind.
If you do not love your neighbor, whom you know, how can you love the human race? If you have not yet learned to work with a few people, how can you be effective with many?