I love to think of the space between us as our gathering space … our agreement space … our community building space. It’s where the paths belong. This community building stuff is intense, hard work and wonderful. Defining the space between us is the work of community building.
At odd moments as I think about community building, Thornton Wilder’s classic and timeless play Our Town springs to my mind. There’s the scene in Act 1 where Rebecca tells George about the address on a letter a friend received:
It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.
GEORGE: What’s funny about that?
REBECCA: But listen, it’s not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God that’s what it said on the envelope.
We might dismiss the story as hearkening back to a way of life that no longer exists. I find the story’s meaning in the intricate understanding of community and our place in it, unique or not. There’s also the clear message that this life isn’t all about me.
From Act 3:
EMILY: I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back up the hill to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners . . . Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking . . . and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. She looks toward the stage manager and asks abruptly, through her tears: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?
STAGE MANAGER: Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings . . . There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.
Stop and Breathe
At this moment in time, my deepest desire is that we all could take time to breathe and take a look around us – to see those things we don’t see in the hustle and bustle of everyday living. Stop and breathe. Take a look around you. Find something in your world that you are grateful for. Name it. Do this at least once every day.
Stop and breathe. Deeply. From your gut. Focus on someone or something outside your own self. What is their gift to the world?
Listen to Each Other
As I observe and participate in our current political situation, I am frustrated that we refuse to take time to engage in these behaviors and really listen to each other. We don’t take time off from sharing our own thoughts and opinions to listen to others’ views. Listening to someone doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they say. Listening is a sign that we RESPECT each other as human beings whose world views may differ from each other.
Of course, listening to the other means we must also be open to being changed by the other. We might have to engage in compromise – which has somehow become a dirty word in politics and policy making – a sign that you’re selling out.
In our current political situation, I am heartened by people engaging and making their voices heard. Even if they do so without listening, at least they’re paying attention.
We’re only selling out if we believe we have a corner on truth. A little true humility can go a long way in fixing this hubris.
We each have an obligation, a responsibility, as citizens and community members to engage in shaping public policy. If we choose to be disengaged, we are not entitled to the benefits of citizenship. That citizenship must come at the same cost to every person. It is not appropriate for people of means, either monetary or influence, to have access to more benefits than people without those means.
These are basic tenets of democracy.
Choice comes with responsibility. Responsibility comes with choice. The one cannot exist without the other. Finding balance in this paradox is critical.
Please join Laura Baker Services Association in ensuring that people whose voices can’t be heard are a part of the conversation. See our public policy positions and requests, and add your voice. Contact us if you have questions or concerns, as conversation and dialogue move us forward.
This is community at its best. The voice of one, the voice of many, continuing to adjust one to the other, to allow for both the individual and the all.