Community has been a recurring theme throughout the World Café conversations and events, with many descriptors alluding to communal practices and relationships needed for learning to happen. Reciprocity, connection, supportive, affirmation, and other words expressing interactions suggest community. The summary posters of the March 17, 2012 World Café Event confirmed this recurring theme of community and the table posters, to be posted, also bear this out. The theme of community is important not just in learning, but in life itself. Without community, can life and learning be as meaningful?
Parker Palmer recently shared in a Facebook posting: “Community does not mean living face-to-face with others—it means never losing the awareness that we are connected with each other…” This link is to a short video of Dr. Palmer discussing the Myth of the Individual.
The servant-leadership conference I attended in Portland reinforced that, although community continually evolves, as a value it can remain intact. Here are some examples.
Professor Shann Ferch, from Gonzaga University, spoke about the “beloved community” that the late Martin Luther King so eloquently referred to. It is the necessity to see each other, including oppressors and those who have done harm to us, as human. Dr. Ferch also quoted Viktor Frankl: “We are made to turn outward, toward another human being to whom we can love and give ourselves. … Only when in service of another does a person truly know his or her humanity.”
We easily dismiss these references to community as the extreme and needed actions and words of those in different settings. After all, Dr. King led the Civil Rights movement in its halcyon days and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Dr. Frankl survived the atrocities of concentration camps during World War II. What do their experiences have to do with simply getting through the day?
Kirk Young, a colleague from Gonzaga, elaborated on what could be understood as community in the form of a value. The communities we choose to belong to share one common ingredient: intimacy. Ferdinand Tonnies, a German sociologist, used the word gemeinschaft and described this form of community as “a tighter and more cohesive social entity. [It is] exemplified in family and kinship” suggesting when humans gather in community, intimate experiences can be shared. Members share the good, the bad, and grow together towards common purposes, thus are mission driven. Values and mission serve as glue for community.
John Dear, a Jesuit priest, proposed in The Rebel Jesus, a second, mostly unnoticed miracle occurred during the Sermon on the Mount: the forming of community. Community allowed people to see the human nature of each other as Jesus instructed those closest to him to organize the large group (some believe well over 5,000 people) into small, more intimate groupings of about 50 people each. Father Dear suggested that in these small communities, people interacted differently and shared as they made connections with those now close to them. People were no longer strangers; whereas moments before they were simply part of a large and increasingly hungry throng. In contemporary parlance, they were statistics.
By witnessing the humanity in each other, we are better able to form community and share intimacy without fear. Our humanity is the one thing we can claim to share with others and in this, we find purpose to gather and form community around the universality of human values.