We all feel the pull, that innate knowing that we were put here on this earth for some important purpose greater than ourselves. But how can we realize that calling in a world that seems so utterly broken and in perpetual turmoil? How can one person make a difference? How do we help others, when overcoming our own personal problems seems so overwhelming?
It is simply by rediscovering our connectedness through community participation that both our inner and outer worlds begin to transform. The Gifts of Community reveals the mutual path to personal and community development, a path that has been well hidden behind cultural messages of competition and self-preservation. By sharing your gifts with others, you are gifted with all that you have felt has been missing in your life. You grow as a person, realize your dreams, develop your talents, and meet your soul partners. And as you realize this potential and begin to think in the mindset of community, the world around you will change for the better as well.
Community is a grand-scale gift exchange. As you give good to others, good comes back to you.
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The Gifts of CommunityChanging Your Life by Changing Your World
By Anne Marie Durham
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Anne Marie Durham
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Gifts of Community
Because this book is about community, it is all about you.
You have never been and never can be separate from community. There is no mountain high enough, no sacred space holy enough, no cabin in the woods far away enough for you to escape this truth. You can never deny that you are community and that community is you.
You were born into community. You are part of a family living in a neighborhood, which is part of a city and state, which is part of a country in our shared world.
You were built by the experiences, lessons, and values of community. You are a walking, talking, breathing representation of community. And what you do and say, who you are – is constantly impacting others around you –changing them, reflecting your likeness.
Who taught you to say (or not say) the pledge of allegiance?
When did you learn that stealing is wrong?
When you have found success, how many countless others helped you get to that point?
Who do you turn to for advice in hard times?
You do not become who you are without the influence of your community. Community is tightly woven into our lives and there is no separating it from the human condition.
There has been great debate about the definition of "community". Sociologists had given community over 94 different definitions by the mid 1950s. Some believe that community simply describes a group of people living in close proximity within a similar geographic location. But that definition doesn't hold true in times where our personal actions can personally and immediately impact someone on the other side of the globe. Proximity and geography have little to do with community these days.
Some people consider community as a group of people who share a common self-interest or who work together for a common purpose. That is a very good technical definition, but it doesn't take into account the depth of the community experience.
It isn't easy to find the words to adequately describe the flow of fellowship and connection that makes community a state of being, rather than just a place or a group. You have to strip away all of our present cultural inferences of the word and go back to its Latin roots: "Comm" meaning "together" and "unis" meaning "gift".
To have community there must first be togetherness. People must come together for a shared reason or goal. But togetherness alone doesn't create community in its truest sense. Gangs come together. So do hate groups. And the result of their togetherness is not necessarily a positive for the larger community.
To achieve true community, there has to be a positive result for all – a "gift" that results from a healthy transaction of togetherness. A gift that enriches not just the well-being of the collective, but your personal mind, body and spirit.
Those gifts may be tangible. Our ancestors depended on community for survival. They hunted for food together, built shelters together and created tools that were shared. Today we see the impact of community in the goods that are produced by people who work together in factories and on farms, and in the homes, buildings and roads that are built for our common use. Every car, every dinner on the table, every million dollar mansion is the result of people working together successfully in community.
The gifts may be intangible. Your friends and family members provide words of encouragement that help you go after your dreams. You may be part of a musical group that brings you great joy. The attention of an important teacher may have pointed you in the direction of your life's work. Something you saw on the internet or read in a book may have changed your life path. Or maybe someone's joke just made you smile and helped to change a bad day into a good day.
Community is a grand scale gift exchange. As you give good to others, good comes back to you. And this goodness accelerates our collective growth and evolution as a human race. It is the natural order of the universe falling into place, propelling us to our ultimate destination of a whole and peaceful existence. Togetherness is our natural state of being, it is where we came from and where we are destined to return. Community is experiencing our place of creation and connectedness, where we exist seamlessly, at one with our Creator.
But we cannot fulfill our collective destiny and return to togetherness as long as we live in a culture that emphasizes separateness. We are constantly distracted from our mission on this earth, and we are inadvertently making choices that further divide us by disregarding the tremendous impact of community in our lives.
I grew up and still live in Huntington, West Virginia – a town of about 50,000 people near the border of Ohio and Kentucky, nestled in the Appalachian mountains. My high school was located in a residential neighborhood of family homes. Often, after school, our band would practice for the big Community Day Parade by marching up and down the neighborhood streets, our band director running alongside, shouting instructions for perfect lines. It may have been just a rehearsal, but it was also a big event for the neighborhood residents. Elderly people would shuffle out to their front porches and smile and wave. Parents would bring their children to the sidewalk and they would jump up and down and dance, or marvel at the big drums and the pretty majorettes. Cars would honk and wave in support.
And in between the moments of making sure I was marching on the right foot and keeping my clarinet directly straight in front of me, I fell head over heels in love with my community. The people on their porches, the cheering from the sidewalks and the affirmative horn honking made me - an awkward teenager unsure of herself and her place in the world - feel special and important. I held my head higher and paid closer attention to my steps and formation in reciprocity of their attention. My self-esteem was energized. Working together, our band was doing something that made people feel happy and proud. We weren't able to talk to each other about what was happening as we practiced, but I could feel that my fellow bandmates felt the same way. They were also marching taller and straighter – and there was no goofing off as was normal for a rehearsal. When parade practice was over, my friends and I were positively elated and in high spirits. We were proud of what we had accomplished together – confident and eager for our upcoming performance in front of an even larger crowd.
Years later, my high school was closed due to consolidation and converted to Board of Education offices. The loss of the school was devastating to the neighborhood. Very quickly, the houses on the adjoining streets became abandoned and fell into disrepair. Local businesses, including the diner across the street where moms used to gather for coffee and "report" on our activities, closed down. Crime went up. Property values plummeted. You couldn't directly trace all of this deterioration back to the closing of the school. But it certainly seemed to be the catalyst for the rapid downward spiral of a neighborhood that was once vibrant, cheerful and purposeful. It was as if the lights went out and the darkness was consuming.
The brand new, shiny, state of the art high school is architecturally beautiful and equipped with modern technology for learning. It sits on top of a mountain, in a closed, secure campus designed to protect the children from outsiders and to make it very difficult for students to leave school without permission. The only road up the mountain is patrolled by a guard, who stops every vehicle to question the occupants' purpose for visiting the school. The school is well-equipped and secure. But it is missing a critical ingredient - community. There are no neighbors to surround, protect and support the school and there are no adjacent businesses to benefit from the commerce of students, faculty and their families. The watchful eyes of parents and neighbors are virtually absent, and from 8 a.m. -3p.m. our area's youth disappear from our sight and unfortunately, our minds. And even though I have had two children complete four years at that high school, I am sad to say that I have never heard their band. The community parades my school used to march in have been replaced by competitions in secure football fields.
It is the same story all over the country. Maybe it wasn't a school closing in your neighborhood, but a factory closing or a hospital closing. These institutions were once natural rallying points for community. When they disappear, the entire infrastructure collapses. Jobs, friendships, businesses and purpose are lost. It is an unnatural disaster of overwhelming proportion that fuels hopelessness. Turning things around seems too big of a task to accomplish in our lifetime. Fear of the future is paralyzing.
And then there is the grief. The experience of loss hardens us. Like injured lovers, we withdraw into our cocoons and decide we don't want to date community anymore because we don't want to get hurt like that again.
Who needs community, anyway? All the food we could ever want we can buy ourselves in the grocery store. Heck you can even have it delivered to your front door. All the entertainment we could ever need can be downloaded in two minutes on our computer – the local video stores are long gone or well on their way out. Blouse torn? Go to Target (or go to Target.com) and buy another one for $14.99 – do we even have tailors anymore?
Every person we have ever known can chat with us on Facebook, from anywhere so we don't need to visit anyone at any particular time. We are kings of our own castles and we respect family privacy to the degree that many of us can't even name our next door neighbors. We have left our front porches, closed our front doors and let our televisions and computers become our new window on the world.
We are designing a world where we can get almost everything we need without ever interacting with a single human being.
This retreat from community is measurable and visible. Business districts are full of empty buildings. Churches struggle with attendance. Civic groups have to search high and low for new members. Government meetings are conducted with minimal citizen input. Summer festivals are poorly planned and attended – or may not even exist anymore.
But here's the catch. Community deterioration is not just about what happens "out there". It also infects our homes and families. There is widespread agreement that the American family is under more stress than ever before. Parents struggle to find high quality child care for their children. Families rarely share the dinner table. Children are overscheduled and on anti-anxiety medications. Most families can not earn enough from a hard days work to pay for the most basic necessities of life. Kids start drinking at the average age of 12. Divorce is at an all time high. Almost every family is dealing with a substance abuse issue.
It is no accident that in run-down, economically destitute communities you see the lowest levels of personal well-being. Poor health, illiteracy, drug use, mental health issues – nearly every negative personal and family outcome will spike higher in areas where the community has deteriorated into separateness.
Separateness is the belief that we should solve our own personal problems independently. Separateness chooses individual benefit over the whole. It is a failure to acknowledge our responsibility to others in favor of looking out for ourselves.
Separateness cannot sustain or heal broken families or broken neighborhoods. That sounds like a no-brainer, but our society continually ignores that very simple fact and pushes for more separateness as a solution.
We work furiously at being separate – at standing out, going it alone. We celebrate and reward separate. We place a higher value on individual responsibility than we do on shared responsibility – in fact, we as a culture have come to look at shared responsibility as shared "dependence" and dependence as something bad instead of as the fabric of our mutual survival. We sometimes vilify government programs designed to promote social well-being, we mock people who protest for something better as being "dreamers" and we support the harshest punishments for the most down trodden among us.
In 1996, then First Lady Hillary Clinton wrote a wonderful book called It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us. The book was about the importance of community in the development and success of future adults. It was based on an African proverb that existed long before the title, "It takes a village to raise a child." The proverb originated from the Nigerian Igbo culture. The Igbo's also name their children "Nwa ora" which in their language literally means, "child of the community."
This proverb reminds us that children do not exist in a bubble. They are part of an ecosystem of environmental and human influences that shape their minds, bodies and spirits. The food they eat, the air they breathe, the lessons from grandpa, the watchful eye of a neighbor, the church they attend, the safety of their schools, the books they read from the library. A child is impacted by thousands of interactions with community. The successful development of children should be guided by parents of course, but parents cannot be and are not the sole influence in their child's life, now matter how hard they try. Ask any parent of a teenager and they will tell you that their wishes do not always trump the influence of the child's peers or culture.
A child's future is also impacted by his or her village. Whether or not the village's influence makes a positive or negative impact is up to the villagers. That is an awesome responsibility for each of us.
But the inherent interconnectedness of community was not widely recognized when the book was released. During the 1996 Republican National Convention, nominee Bob Dole said to thunderous applause, "... with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child." Years later, Senator Rick Santorum published a book in seeming response to Hillary Clinton's book - It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.
The emphasis that the conservatives put on the importance of family was on target. Of course, family is important and nothing about the African proverb ever meant to suggest otherwise. But the debate and the reaction also subtly implied that when it came to the raising of children, community has NO role. It is just nobody else's damn business.
But because children are part of our community, what happens in their lives is our business. Their success contributes to our success, their challenges contribute to our challenges as well.
I have never forgotten the story my son once told me about a troubled young man he met outside the counselor's office in the 8th grade. He didn't know the boy, but he tried to strike up a conversation with him. He asked him if he was in the counselor's office to plan his schedule for high school. The young man replied, "I don't know about high school. I don't think it's for me."
Three weeks later the young 14-year-old was arrested for shooting and killing a woman in a drug deal gone bad. He was tried as an adult, and sent to prison for the rest of his life.
What a tragic loss of human potential. Stories like this play out in the lives of young people every hour across the world. The responsibility and vilification is immediately shifted, of course – to the parents. It is true that in most cases, these children come from troubled homes. But in this broken world, it is simply a fact that there will be parents who cannot, despite their best effort, live up to the difficult standard that good parenting requires. Judging them and publicly criticizing them will not change this fact, and may actually stop them from asking for help.
In the meantime, who will stand in the gap for these young people? Are we callous enough to sacrifice their lives and their potential simply to punish their parents?
Community could have made a difference in that 14-year-old child's life. It could have changed the trajectory of his future. If he and his family had gotten the supports they needed early on – if there had been the right help and not condemnation or looking the other way - things could have been different. The investment that the villagers collectively should have made in this young man would have been minimal compared to the cost of subsidizing his jailing for the next six decades, not to mention the devastating impact on the family of the woman who was killed.
We owe a debt to our fellow human beings that must be paid at some point in time. When we delay that payment and choose judgment and isolationism instead, the costs go up, both financially and in the loss of human potential. It creates a costly cycle of separateness that can go on for generations.
Excerpted from The Gifts of Community by Anne Marie Durham Copyright © 2012 by Anne Marie Durham. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1: Your Community Connection....................1
Chapter 1: The Gifts of Community....................3
Chapter 2: What the World Needs Now....................17
Chapter 3: Community is Calling You....................31
Part 2: Understanding Your Gifts....................49
Chapter 4: The Gift of Money....................51
Chapter 5: The Gift of Time....................63
Chapter 6: The Gift of Voice....................75
Chapter 7: The Gift of Prayer....................99
Part 3: Sharing Your Gifts....................113
Chapter 8: Sharing Your Gifts in Groups....................115
Chapter 9: Sharing Your Gifts in the Workplace....................139
Chapter 10: Sharing Your Gifts with Family....................155
Chapter 11: Sharing Your Gifts @ Online....................171
Chapter 12: Sharing the Gift of You....................189
Part 4: The Grand Scale Gift Exchange....................203
Chapter 13: Appreciating Your Gifts....................205
Chapter 14: The Truth of Community....................217
About the Author....................221