Community is a sharing of emotions and experience
We can speak about community on several levels. Yet we decry the notion that a sense of deep community is often absent. We long to belong to a meaningful group, yet some of our relationships are less than satisfying.
We may look for that deep sense of belonging in any number of places. It may be a team, a work force, a union, a religious community, a gang, a political party, a volunteer activity, a public cause.
Indeed, the will to belong is as strong a drive, I believe, as the will to power and the will to pleasure.
What I mean by deep community may grow out of observations and experiences I have had. I could as well call it an ecological community for I believe that everyone and everything in the world is interrelated, deeply interrelated. This is a notion that I have picked up from science, philosophy and poetry.
But we don't always maximize the potential of interrelatedness that we already have. Each of us shares the world's experiences within our own bodies, but we do not always make meaningful connections with others.
Within a deep community I envision that feelings of others are felt, that empathy and understanding accompany the eagerness to seek the good of others. Our scope and capacity for such empathy has its human limitations, but we know that a sense of community often grows out of the compassion and empathy surrounding the feelings accompanying a crisis or disaster.
Hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, drought, storms often bring or prod people to come together for comfort, relief and survival. Such devastation and pain, although destructive in so many ways, also brings people together with a sense of community.
Unfortunately that sense of community may only be temporary. In other occasions, it may trigger a firmer resolve to nourish and cultivate that deep community over a longer period of time.
How can that happen? The sharing of personal stories, when done so without judgment and prejudice, can feed the fragile ties of belonging -- a deeper sense of community. We discover someone who listens and understands.
We engage in such empathetic listening within our body, for instance when we have a toothache. We do not simply ignore the pain by saying "it's only my tooth. It doesn't matter." We see to it that the pain is relieved and the tooth is cared for.
Analogous to relieving the pain of a tooth in my own body, a deep community seeks to relieve the suffering in the wider social body by listening carefully to the pains. Then the community seeks to discover ways of relieving that suffering for the welfare of the community. The experience of community is deepened.
The Rev. Fritz Fritschel is a retired Lutheran minister.