People have been gathering together in communities for a very long time.
But the way we do this gathering, as well as the dynamics actually at work in communities, have changed over the years.
We can safely guess that certain things were always present as catalysts in the forming of communities – the meeting of human needs (often around security issues) for instance, or the attempt to benefit from available resources.
As well, the members of the new community had to answer, either for themselves or through allegiance to a leader, their own version of the following questions- in our community what do we all more or less agree to as guidelines for conducting our daily lives together? What values and beliefs do we share which will inform the expectations we have of one another and how we settle our differences?
If we were to go back a thousand years in our Western history it would appear communities were in fact primarily expressions of racially alike people’s need for security – in essence what we would call today institutional racism.
Exclusion was a defining feature of all communities at that time – the exclusion of those who did not belong on the basis of race, and who it was necessary to keep out.
As communities developed they came to base belonging on ideologies, often religious, as well as race and exclusion.
In more recent history communities have based belonging- now called citizenship – not solely on race and beliefs but on processes of governance – things like law and the parliamentary system, the existence of human rights, and the idea of democracy etc for example.
And that brings us to where we are today – communities are still being organized by blood, belief and law – with the market and consumerism putting new ‘spins’ on old ideas of inevitability, absolute authority and the experience of mass behaviour.
But the basic questions for any community still remain- how will we live together and establish basic guidelines we can all agree to and which will bring every member of the community the opportunity to pursue a meaningful life?
The expectation of a meaningful life is a relatively new addition to the questions and actually makes answering now very difficult – difficult because pursuing a meaningful life is about more than meeting our needs or spending all your time with like-minded people – difficult because very few societies are one race anymore- and difficult because of our experience in history with great causes and different religions that lead to much bloodshed and/or ongoing acts of terrorism.
The issue in creating a functional community is made even more difficult because of the erosion of the political dimension to life with the constant discrediting of politicians and the political process that is happening in many societies.
Little more than 50% of people in our society usually vote. Many citizens, especially the young, think politics is corrupt, irrelevant, or boring. And this makes the difficulties I spoke of previously, and the lack of a coherent answer to how and why we organize into communities not just difficult but dangerous – since many are more than willing to fill the vacuum the lack of an answer leaves for personal or corporate gain.
So it is with this brief history and set of situations in mind that I will talk about the idea of Peer Leadership in a community in the next blog.