What Does Community Look Like?

In my more recent posts, I’ve mentioned that after a person’s basic needs are met, we human beings seek out relationships with other people.  We long for a place where we belong, where we’re accepted, and where we’re a part of the group.  We search for an important role to play, where we depend on others and they depend on us.  We want to matter.  We desire respect, crave self-esteem, and strive for greater ability at our “thing”, whatever that may be.  We desire to be a part of a family, where successes and failures are shared.  These are the sorts of things I mean when I say we crave a world beyond ourselves, a state of greater connection with the world.  In other words, we want community, but what is that exactly?

A few years ago, I was reading a blog post by a scientist and he was sharing his view that sports are a total waste of time.  To think that people would spend hours and hours throwing a ball through a hoop!  What a waste!  They need to be developing their minds, not kicking a ball around.  I don’t think he realizes what they’re really about.

While academics are important, that’s not all there is to the world.  I saw a video on Youtube where the comedian Russell Brand introduces us to a youth sports league he sponsors.  Take a look at it.

Listen to one of the young boys tell his story.  His father left their family, and he lives with his mother and little brother.  From a very young age, he felt he needed to be a role model for his little brother, considering his father wasn’t around.  He dealt with anger issues and his temper would flare up.  A little while after joining the team, all of that went away.

And pay attention to what they liked about playing on their team.  You may think that it’s the thrill of dominating the other team, or kicking some amazing goal to win the championship, or impressing cute girls who watch the games.  After all, they’re just kids, right?  But what is it that they actually like about the team, in their own words?  Just listen.  They feel they’re a part of a family.  They also like the atmosphere where success is encouraged, but nobody is too judgmental.  They’re encouraged to be their best, but they’re loved and accepted, regardless.  Nobody is turned away.  That’s something to think about. I thought the coaches seemed like good people.  They’re creating a very positive environment.

Over and over they stress, “we are a family.”  They train together three times a week and they’ve been working together for over five years.  That’s a lot of time spent together.  What do you think that place is for them?  The reason I bring it up is because it’s everything I mentioned just a moment ago.  Within that team, on that field, kicking that ball around, they have a place where they’re respected.  They have a means to develop self-respect for themselves.  They’re a part of something larger than themselves.  They share a common goal with a group of people.  They learn to be a team player.  They get to have the experience of sharing successes and failures with their team, their family.  Lifelong friendships and bonds form.  It’s a wonderful thing.

The other day I was out with my friend Greg, and we were questioning where in the modern world you can find community.  Outside of some churches, religious organizations, the military, sports teams, clubs, and a few other small pockets here and there, most places are devoid of this sense of greater connection with people.

Thinking of these kids and their lives, school is a very isolated place.  Helping one another on tests or homework is considered cheating.  You’re all on your own.  There’s not going to be any sense of community in that place outside of friends they may make.  But even then, the only real quality time they can spend together is in extra-curricular activities, not so much school itself.  And many find these things wasteful, so schools struggle to keep extra-curricular programs funded.

It can be tough being young.  So much of your life is controlled and dictated by whatever life choices your parents have made.  If your home-life is a mess, you don’t really have any place to escape it unless your school offers programs like these.  But when programs like this sports team exist, kids have a positive place to spend their time, even if their home with their biological family is a terrible place to be.  Once they get old enough, they can go off to college and leave their messed up homes behind them.  It gives them options and a choice.  They can still go home if they want to, but there’s all these other things they can do if they want as well.  I think it’s much better for these kids to learn to play instruments in a band, or play sports, or participate in a science club, etc., than spend hours in front of their computers and Playstations.

When they graduate they’ll enter the corporate world where most people find themselves expendable, plugged into some machine where they are easily replaced.  The mindset isn’t, “you’re a seminal piece and valuable team member”, it’s more, “be thankful you have a job at all.”  Success certainly isn’t shared.  All the money goes to shareholders who they’ll never meet.  I guess they do share failures though.  They all get chewed out if things go south.  They can expect to be worked thirty-nine hours a week so that their corporate employer doesn’t have to pay benefits.  That sort of thing doesn’t make you feel valued.  You’re a cost of doing business, and if they can save money by cutting you out of the picture, they’ll do it.

I think one of the hardest things in life is to find these “pockets” of community, where you feel you’re a part of something.  And even if you do find them, they don’t last forever.  We all desire it, but I wonder how many people find it?  Finding it and making it all work out is difficult.  It requires people with certain values and commitments such as friendship, loyalty, a dedication to excellence, a shared vision, and other things like that.

2 thoughts on “What Does Community Look Like?”

  1. I always liked the simple statement of “Friendship is created through shared experience” – this shared experience is why places like the military, churches, sports teams, etc do so well producing the community vibe.

    The key, therefore, is to somehow create more of these “shared experience generators” for lack of a better way to say it 🙂

    Online just can’t do it. Ultimately everyone just ends up in a dark room staring at a glowing screen and they are ALL alone, even though they are connected. There has to be something more and it must be physical.

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