The Ocean of Community

After the first flush of romance,
community is less like a garden
and more like a crucible.
One stays in the crucible only if one
is committed to being refined by fire.
The concept of community
must embrace even those we perceive as enemy.  

Parker Palmer

When I look upon the vast ocean and its shimmering waters, the waves, the undulations, the depth and breadth—it calms and mesmerizes me. Something about the magnitude of its innocence, the mystery of its unknowns. Even on the clearest of days we cannot see beneath the surface. We imagine what’s below and beneath. Things that frighten us, things that arouse us. The Beauty and the Beasts.

We know that the ocean is filled to the brim with the greatest episodes of Survivor–the endless struggle of predator and prey. We also know intellectually that there are peaceful ecosystems and symbiotic societies within boundless worlds all connected by the water. 

The ocean conjures up many thoughts and ideas about our possibilities. The horizon, the tides and the currents, and a watery archive of millions of years of history. There is hope and mystery in the ocean that we will never fully understand.
 
There are certainly “communities” in the ocean. Groups of beings that work and live together. Claiming and defending turfs and “homes”. Though no community is disconnected, protected or isolated from the liquid ocean, the all-encompassing universe that brings inexorable challenge and change.
 
Putting up a cyclone fence to separate the ocean into gated communities would be a joke. Pretending that the well-being of the ocean can be addressed within these artificial boundaries.
 
Community is one of those words that doesn’t really mean anything anymore. We use the word community as a phony divider and as a powerful unifier. It usually describes some generic population or place.
 
How do you define community?

“Community” has become this accordion word that expands and contracts with every crisis, with every celebration or commiseration. The headlines power that accordion, and our need to instantly take sides, circle the wagons and draw a bright line between good and evil. We align with those that supposedly view the world as we do and disassociate ourselves from the opposition who we imagine have no similarities to us. We actively discriminate. In our weakest moments we even wish some people ill will. We add a filter to our friend and even our dating criteria. So our community can change with the currents and winds. Yet we know that community, the big COMMUNITY, is an all-inclusive word. It is not a private club, or a circle of friends chosen by a sorting hat or a selectivity algorithm. You can’t stitch together a community through a collection of single-issue areas. Community is everything and everyone within the boundaries of whatever geographic and demographic definition we embrace.  If we still seek a truly equitable society for all, then community is always about humanity and democracy. 

Like the national forests and the national parks. We can never be about saving one tree or one species. It is very much like the ocean. Everything in it is interconnected to its life energy and part of its fabric. Opposites are complementary and necessary. We must protect the predators and the prey. 

We all complain about the divisiveness. The extremes. The lack of compromise and bipartisanship. Our working definition of community, who is included and who is excluded, will reveal whether we are more part of the problem or the solution. We are all complicit in widening the divide when we forget how our opinions, values, emotions, and self-righteousness impacts the whole. 

Our moral compass is essential. We need people who want change. Who assert the rights of the weakest and the vulnerable. To give voice to those left out. 
Think about your definition of community. Not just your neighborhood of course. That can’t be defined by just who we like. We can’t define the boundaries of our community by just the way people vote or how they think.  We don’t even know how people voted think. We assume, we project. We see superficial dimensions of others and somehow know what is right for everyone. 

Where is your community today? What are your communities? Who do you care about? And who do you align with? And who do you exclude? 

For most of us community seems like a static thing. But we know that it is dynamic and ever changing. So how do we adapt our understanding and definition of our community to reality?

The ability to exclude is one of the harshest forms of power. We talk so easily and loosely about DEI and we say the word inclusion and don’t mean it. “Everybody but _____________(fill in the blank), just not those people.” And there we violate the fundamental laws of real love, real compassion. And I assert real community.

I am not just advocating for a Pollyannaish Kumbaya, love thy neighbor philosophy. I am asking us to look in the mirror and reconcile our values of inclusion, equity and sustainability in the ways we “build”, “promote” and “develop” community. 

We complain that our leaders don’t bring us together. That our institutions are broken.

We are the leaders! What we do and say matters. How we broaden our understanding and our actions to incorporate the interests, needs and ideas of a more inclusive community will change everything.

In the end, it is separation, competition between right and wrong, and winning and losing, that all contribute to a loss of equity, inclusion and diversity.

Yes, our need to be right or to make others lose, undermines DEI and any real comprehensive definition of community.

Our reactive condemnation of every decision, every headline, and the intended and unintended vilification of the “other side” contributes to the destruction of the potential of community. 

True compassion is having as much empathy for the perpetrators as the victims. Inspired by former Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu


Extremes are not workable or relevant to community. They are not models or principles of any common ground. So extremes can not define what we want and need as a community. 

As some enjoy the world as it is, others plot to overthrow it. The silent, oppressed, and disgruntled minority is always going to fight the tyranny of the majority. It is the bane and beauty of the system. 
When we are in control, we can neglect the needs of others and presume permanence. When we lose control, we turn the tables and seek revenge. And the feudal fatalistic fly wheel of separation spins us into delusion. 

We can not make real progress without engaging our enemies in the process of peace and a shared vision. Community must be truly inclusive, equitable and diverse. 

We live in a great ocean of competing forces which must co-exist.

What will we do as leaders to redefine community?  

Which part of the ocean, which drop in the ocean is more important than the others?

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