I believe that peace is an inevitable result of community. Peace will emerge when we embrace community, when we more fully realize that we are meant to be “in unity with” and connected on some level with all others, without exception. The level of unity must vary based on location, time, culture, family, and circumstances, but it always exists as a fundamental aspect of humanity. Awareness of this universal unity at the heart of community is the key to peace.
My belief in community came after a long search for the meaning of life that took me down many dead end paths. On the path of individualism I tried to achieve and earn enough to separate myself from the crowd – to be “better than the common man”. But instead of finding peace and security my worldly achievements and earnings only brought anxiety about achieving more and protecting “my things”. I eventually came to see that peace can only be built on the common good, that it cannot result from a single faction achieving domination, but only from all factions surrendering to communion rooted in truth. I believe that truth is not relative but it is relational, and absolute truth can only exist in unity, in community, not in the individual.
I was also led astray by the allure of efficiency, by the idea that those who are more productive (the ones who currently have the gifts) should be regarded and rewarded more highly than those with needs (who should just get out of the way for the sake of efficiency). But now I realize that if the ultimate goal is peace then the only path leads through relationship, not through efficiency. Relationship grows from involvement, from working with others as modeled by groups like Habitat for Humanity and Engineers Without Borders. I experienced this different perspective on efficiency and relationship while sweating alongside African villagers building a residence for teachers in rural Ghana. Even though they needed the house completed to help attract teachers, the villagers ignored our aggressive American schedule and spent time in welcoming ceremonies, teaching us about their culture, and feeding us traditional meals like Fufu. They believed that our work would only be a success if it was built on a solid foundation of relationship, and through their wisdom they transformed us from “others” to “brothers” in our world community. The house was not completed during our first trip, but the relationships and the spirit of community will stand forever.
I have come to believe that the common thread that builds and binds community is the relationship between the needs and the gifts of the people. Needs do not need to be eliminated, but rather served. People and problems do not have to be fixed, but rather mended. The needs are as essential to the community as the gifts and talents. And those with needs have no less value or dignity than those with gifts. Similarly, those with different views or beliefs or behaviors than ours have no less value or dignity than those who agree with us. A diversity of perspectives and an ever-changing combination of needs and gifts are essential for a healthy community. My many years of formal education never taught me the “economy of giving,” the truth that a true gift always adds to community without detracting from the individual. Both the giver and receiver profit – there are no debits. It is like Love is some special form of energy that expands in the giving and receiving, and its spread can only be slowed down when it is refused or withheld. In the loving gift of self we reach our full humanity and become an integral part of something bigger than our self – a mystical body, a compassionate community.
My long journey in search of truth has led to my belief that the power of community will triumph over the illusion of individualism. There will be peace through community. It is inevitable. This I believe.