Why we want / need / fight for / lose community

I read an article yesterday that explored the difficulty of making close friends as we grow older. Yep, in our civilization, the college days and the years immediately after appear to be the times we look back to as the best, and much of that’s because of the density of friendships that we acquire during those exploratory years.

I would say, moreover, that college and our early 20s are the time when community is the easiest, and that’s why we remember those years with such warmth. As the seasons stack on after that, the availability of community falls off decisively.

So, today is about community.

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I’m never sure quite how to define this word. What I mean, at very least, is the kind of regular proximity with a group of people that creates deep connections, mutual care, known-ness, and history. That’s how I’ll use the term community for today.

As far as I know, we all need community. It’s true, some people don’t respond to it very well … and yet I am 99% convinced that community is a helpful influence in any human life. For those of us that just don’t like people, I think they need a bit of therapy or just a good laugh. That’s my usual suspicion, at least.

If I ignore college altogether, I have lived in community for four years. All four of those years have been dense community, meaning I’ve lived with the people that I was um … communing … with. That has entailed very limited privacy, extensive room-sharing and space-sharing, and lots of friction and adaptation as a result. I’ve been around the block a little bit with this thing, and seen that it is both beautiful and extremely taxing.

After four years of this, I have a love/hate relationship with community.

hate community because it is overwhelming. In fact, I don’t even really like groups — I prefer 1-on-1 interactions. Community takes up too much of my time and energy, and I don’t like feeling committed or obligated to anything. Moreover, sometimes I want to focus on my own projects — I want to spend a whole month writing a blog everyday, for instance, so I need some effing peace and quiet please. Community gets in the way of solo pursuits, and it usually does not operate on your timetable, and it can even be an obstacle against individual identity formation. And by the way, you have to clean up after yourself … or else, you have to deal with somebody else’s goddamn mess all the time. So yeah, sometimes community is a pain in the ass, and you’ll want to ditch it. Sometimes.

But I love community because I love people — truthfully I find 90% of the people in this world to be interesting and likeable, so long as I focus just a little attention to find out what’s below the surface. I also love community because I love company. I love the camaraderie of shared memories, traditions, and inside jokes. I love the feeling of a safe place full of laughter. I love the warmth and comfort that comes from arriving home after a long day and not being alone as you rest and relax. I love that when you live in community, all of your joys and triumphs and challenges and mourning become the shared property of your community, and they are sewn into the shared history and memories of your community. So yeah, community can be quite amazing and beautiful, and it might change your life. Seriously.

Granted, these thoughts apply most directly to dense community of the type I described above. In this culture, it is very rare to find anyone living in any sort of dense community … or even, perhaps, in much community at all. As far as I know, most people who live in the city hop frequently across a wide constellation of venues and people groups. We know people at the gym, and at work, and we might know one or two of our neighbors, and perhaps there are some friends across town that gather at the pub every Friday, or whatever. All of these may be scattered by miles and miles, and have no overlap whatsoever … and so goes our urban American lives. Lots of driving, lots of shallow connections, very little community. I’m not trying to be gloomy, I just think this is a pretty honest portrait. Is it not?

And so now we’ve circled back around, and arrived at where we started. In our culture, as people grow up and become more independent, we also scatter and specialize in our own various sectors of life, work, family, and hobbies … and we lose touch with each other. We lose deep friendships, we lose common hubs around which we once gathered together, and in summary we lose community. I think that’s about right.

But … what are we supposed to do about this?

Lots of people have asked this question.

One idea is to get people to live together in one place, like moving into several houses on the same street, or renting out a bunch of units in the same apartment complex. I tried that this past year in the Argosy Project, and it has gone pretty well. But, I think we just got lucky with this one — usually this approach is not an option.

So, what’s left? The weekly pickup soccer game, as community? I’m really not sure.

I am moving out of Argosy in a month, and I am quite curious: how can I still fight for community without actually living in exactly the same place as my community? Is there an answer that makes sense in this culture of ours? Has anyone found a workable middle path?

Discuss.

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