I believe in community.
What do I know about community?
As I began thinking about this, I sought definitions.
Merriam Webster defines “community” as “A unified body of individuals”.
Dictionary.com defines “community” as “A social, religious, occupational or other group sharing common characteristics or interests perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by “the”)”.
I asked others around me what they think about community. They said, “It is someplace I can be myself, where people will accept me as I am.” They said, “It is a place that supports my beliefs and my values.” They said, “It is the place I choose to invest my efforts right after family and work – because of how much I get out of it.” They said, “It is my family of choice.”
For me, community is powerful. It is powerful because of the positive potential of people in groups. We can really change things.
Community is about commitment. I learned a long time ago that there is a secret equation. Within my own boundaries, whatever I put into a community, I get out ten fold. More than that, if I give a little – I get a little more. When I give a lot, I get enormous returns. I’m not talking about money – although I believe that to be true, as well. I’m talking about effort…and love…and time. I’m talking about taking risks. Offering to do something that is new to me or hard for me. [Not about giving more than I feel able.] Offering a kind word to someone I don’t know very well. Offering to help when I’m not sure what “help” might entail. Speaking up if I don’t understand or if I’m concerned. Taking the risk of speaking to someone who can help rather than gossiping.
And then doing…
There are people in this community who set a powerful example for me. I am awed by the dedication of the leaders of this community… By their intelligence and their creativity. And I’m not talking about the school president (we don’t have one) or the principle (nope, we don’t have one of them, either) or even the “head of school”. We are, as you know, figuratively, headless. I am talking about teachers, staff, and family members who make this school such a unique place for my daughter and my family. I am very grateful for all of you who dedicate so much of your time and efforts, above and beyond your school jobs and time in the classrooms, to do everything else that is required to make this school such a special place.
A healthy community knows that it isn’t perfect. When we bring problems and concerns into the light, it gives us a chance to address them. Sometimes they are easily fixable – or relatively so. Sometimes we’re not sure what to do. But we talk about them, with a commitment so solving them in ways that align with our values.
Community is about Inclusiveness. Someone once described community for me as a rainbow – a complex continuum, including the colors of the spectrum and the great arch. A healthy community has diversity of all kinds and acknowledges and welcomes the ends of the spectrum. From quiet to outspoken. From those able to sit still to those always in motion. From those who welcome change to those who adamantly resist. All who contribute to the community welcomed.
Community is about supportiveness.
I am frequently awed by the many ways we support each other when we need it. Again, I’m not talking about money, but time, and effort. Covering a shift or making meals during times of illness or grief. A kind word or a moment to listen.
Community can be hard.
When my community represents my highest values for creativity, growth, development, and learning, I can maintain principles before personalities. When we disagree, we have common goals and similar values at some level, that help us to work through them. Sometimes we agree to disagree – and I can still feel love for them as part of my community. I know that their success contributes to the success of our community. And when someone leaves our community, we grieve that loss and we wish happiness to those departing in their future endeavors. Community makes me stronger. It gives me opportunities to learn about myself and to grow. And I like that…most of the time.
A healthy community challenges me to look at myself – to see myself in new ways.
And sometimes I don’t like it. But when I am willing to look, I can learn lessons I never imagined. I can find aspects of myself I never knew. Those are the things that make me a better person. That is an invaluable gift in my life.
And finally, communities endure change.
With our school in the midst of a major transition with Louise preparing for retirement at the end of this year, we celebrate all that she has done for this school – the indelible mark she has left. And we look with some apprehension and lots of excitement to see what the future holds. We will miss Louise – and we will endure.
This is just a glimpse into how I feel about community…about THIS community.
To those of you who are always here – thank you. To those who feel overwhelmed, I say, I get it. I’m one of the board co-chairs. To those who aren’t sure how to contribute or you worry about getting all-consumed, I suggest you offer specific help in ways that fit with your values. We welcome your help and we’ll take what you can offer.
I am proud to be a member of this community…to say that I am a member of this community. I believe in the goals, the values, and the mission of this community.
This I believe.