The community turned out en masse. The line inside and outside the funeral home snaked; people waited over two hours to pay their respects to a man who was a pillar in the community for decades. The heat and the crowd swelled as the family received friends, colleagues and admirers for six hours. After texting my daughters that we’d be longer than expected and letting them know they would need to fend for themselves for dinner, one astutely noted in her reply, “a long line is a good thing.” A sign of course of a community’s beautiful outpouring of love and admiration stretched on and on for a cherished member.
Recently the singer/songwriter Joy Oladokun told me that when her family first moved from Nigeria to Arizona, they were not widely welcomed. Yet she felt grateful that her parents eventually stitched together a small group of people that they could live in community with.
I’ve been thinking about community a lot lately and fear I’ve gotten some aspects of it wrong. I used to think that a community was simply where you lived. It was a place populated with good things; schools, businesses, environment, things to do and of course people.
Only realizing more recently that community is more than a passive description of a place where you live but an active commitment to those around you.
In writing this, I realized that I am not alone. There are in fact two primary definitions of community. The first is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” The latter is “a feeling of fellowship with others.”
In the one definition a community can be defined as a place people live because they all wanted good schools. In the other, it is simply finding and offering fellowship and community with whoever is around you. Community is people first, place second.
I’ve recently launched a series for Fast Company and The Economic Hardship Reporting Project called Moving Up in Communities. It features places and people who have come together to address problems their communities are facing or to create more opportunities for their fellow community members. In one article, you see the struggle of gentrification as one definition of community looks to assert itself over another.
In interviewing people for these articles, I was blown away by their commitment to the community. One born not out of self-interest but collective good.
When I consider my own commitment to community, it’s more extractive than I care to admit. My children enjoy good schools, safe streets, beautiful parks, and good local businesses. In return I pay taxes, vote, coach youth soccer teams and try to shop locally. I attend some local community events and occasionally get involved in a local community issue – normally out of self interest. I’m getting more than I’m putting in.
To her credit, my wife is much more engaged. A volunteer firefighter, a Girls on the Run coach, avid tennis player and natural extrovert, she is always more in tuned to what’s going on and ready to help a fellow community member in need.
Moving forward we could all benefit from more fellowship in our communities, to evaluate how much we’re putting in and how much we’re taking out. And by the way, when I say community, I’m not simply referring to the small geographic area surrounding your home or even the culture or groups you identify with most closely. I’m also talking about how we find fellowship in every aspect of our lives. In our homes, neighborhoods, states, country, and even planet. In other words in every possible community you might be a part of.
May you enjoy a week full of community.