Community is the single most important social group in our lives. It can take us a lifetime to figure that out, because we are diverted and distracted by other social groups: clubs, religious organizations, political groupings, schools, gangs and so on.
But sometimes these other human groupings – or the prejudices they transmit – prevent us from really being a part of the community. Sometimes forever. In which case we neither contribute to the community, nor benefit from it. An example would be a religious group which believes that all non-members in the community are sinners with whom they should not spend time. Or people in a ‘threatened’ cultural group who want their children to retain certain practices which would exclude others. For such people, it could well feel like a huge sacrifice to become more bonded to the community. They may live in segregated ‘ghettoes’, avoiding integration into the larger community. Neighbourhoods that exclude such groups are being just as self-destructive or counter-productive.
Unfortunately many people spend a lifetime looking for a group of people to which they can ‘belong’. They think if they can just find the right formula-for-living, they will find others like themselves.
Ironically, the more our chosen social grouping is ‘like us’, the more we feel aware of our differences, which are often hidden. Yet we persist. Self-defeating, I call it. And it weakens the treasure of community. An alternative would be finding ways to integrate people around their commonalities, while treasuring and celebrating their differences. Oh, would that be Toronto? Sometimes…
Each of these other social groupings has relatively narrow commonalities: perhaps a set of beliefs (church), or a set of behaviours (a fitness club), or an ethnicity (e.g. Polish Association). What the broader community members have in common is their very humanity. With humanness consisting of an incredible variety of characteristics, there is no limit to how those members may act together, potentially in very creative and mutually supportive ways. The potential, as they say, is endless.
At the end of the day, it is not rituals or traditions that are most important. Bad things happen to people. What’s most important is that the community understands this, and pulls together to support any individual going through a rough time, in any way necessary. Such a community will thrive, enriched and strengthened by the experience.