Friday, 9 October 2009


The useful thing about communities is that they can give rise to shared values and a consensus view of reality. This is also the dangerous thing about them: communities under stress can produce really scary norms and values (Jonestown, Nazi Germany, Cambodia under Pol Pot, etc). So we need individuals to balance this out sometimes, and produce new paradigms (it's a bit like Kuhn's theory of scientific advances). Examples of such individuals triggering paradigm shifts include the founders of religions and great collective surges of conscience (early Unitarians, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, early feminists, etc.)

But assuming for the moment that a community is going to tend towards sanity... whom should a community include? If it is going to call itself a community, should it exclude the "walking wounded"? If its collective values are strong enough, can't it include (and help to heal) the damaged people? OK, some people are too damaged and need professional help, but we ought to be able to help the "walking wounded".

How do we create and nurture community? By meeting regularly in large and small groups; sharing our feelings and thoughts. By discussing and negotiating our shared values. And by developing collective ways of putting those shared values into practice.

I've just been reading On Forgiveness: how can we forgive the unforgivable? by Richard Holloway. In it, he talks about the radical change that can be brought about by forgiveness (for example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa). Forgiveness is one of the practices that a community needs if it is going to function effectively. It is not something that can be done lightly; it's not about just forgetting what has been done. It is a radical act, and not one that you can command people to do - but it can be developed as a spiritual practice. Another important factor in the development of community is compassion (for ourselves as well as others, and for all living things, not just humans). Compassion can include empathy, love, pity, and mercy. And finally, a certain amount of humility might be useful. Humility literally means "closeness to the Earth". By humility I mean a willingness to accept our own shortcomings. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I do not mean that we should only focus on our shortcomings; compassion requires that we and the community should also celebrate our strengths; and if the community celebrates our strengths, it can also benefit from them.


Anonymous said...

There are a number of good points -- some of which probably deserve their own posts. I'm going to try to touch on a few that jumped out at me.

On "Walking Wounded:" I'm all for community including and even helping the "walking wounded." After all, one of the great benefits of community is mutual support. And when you're trying to heal from wounds, you definitely need all the support you can get.

However, there's healthy support and unhealthy support. And if support is unhealthy, it's unhealthy for everyone involved. Which is why it's important to still maintain healthy boundaries in community and recognize when someone needs the kind of help that the average person in the community is unable to provide. At that point, it's time to say, "You need something that we can't give you. You need to find someone who can." Of course, a well-connected community can hopefully help them find those that can help them.

And of course, it's not an all-or-nothing thing. A person doesn't have to choose between the support of the community and professional help. There's still a lot the community can do for that person. Again, everyone just needs to understand the boundaries. "We can help you with this. Your therapist can help you with that."

On forgiveness: In reality, are you talking about forgiveness or reconciliation? They're two different things. Of course, I also believe that both are appropriate and necessary in a healthy community. But they are different and have to be approached differently.

Forgiveness doesn't require any action by the person being forgiven. I can forgive a person who hurt me even if they're not sorry. I can forgive them even if they would continue to hurt me if I gave them the chance to do so. Forgiveness is merely a matter of moving along the healing process. By forgiving, I let go of the pain rather than clinging to it. I don't allow the hurtful actions of another to define me, dictate my life, or hold me in place. Forgiveness isn't easy, but it's possible. And it's entirely up to the person doing the forgiving.

Reconciliation is much harder because it relies on everyone. It requires the person who hurt me to desire reconciliation. It requires them to demonstrate remorse for what they did, a desire to set right what they did wrong, and a desire to rebuild relationships. It requires me to demonstrate a desire to rebuild those relationships too. It requires both of us to work on earning trust and learning to trust again. It's well worth it when done right. And as I said, I think it does have a place in community. But it's harder, even harder than mere forgiveness.

On humility: To me, humility is about the realization that a person's relative strengths and weaknesses are not an indicator or determiner of that person's relative worth and dignity. Or to put it another way, it's the realization that "it ain't all about me."

I can cherish my ability to write decent fiction without lording it over Paul, who had trouble making it through his creative writing classes. I can also read Kit Whitfield's books and appreciate that she has writing skills I have yet to develop -- and may never develop -- without feeling lesser as a person as a result. To me, that's humility.

-- Jarred.

Yewtree said...

All excellent points Jarred - regarding your point about maintaining healthy boundaries, I completely agree, hence my attempt to distinguish between the walking wounded, and those who are too damaged and need professional help.

I also agree with your distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation.

I hope you will write a blogpost about this.

Maybe it's time for another blog carnival on Pagan community - does it exist, do we want it, how can we bring it into being?

Broomstick Chronicles said...

Thanks for hipping me to this, Y. You've introduced important topics we, as Pagans and as an emerging, growing subset of the broader society in which we find ourselves, need to explore.

I'm intrigued by your notion of the need for certain individuals to trigger paradigm shifts. You see, one of my big concerns is that a thriving community (with its peculiar characteristic 'traditions') be able to sustain itself when there is no longer a single charismatic leader.

Also wanted to mention the heart project of an old friend of mine, Bob Plath, founder of the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance. As Jarred implies, forgiveness benefits the forgiver.

I appreciate Jarred's thoughts on forgiveness and reconciliation. Also about healthy support and unhealthy support. Unfortunately, I've been discouraged more by what I see as enabling/codependent kind of 'support' instead of drawing gentle but firm boundaries.

At a meeting of my local interfaith council's justice advocacy team, one of the members spoke of repentance. To me, that implies remorse without restoration/rebalance. And maybe because of my personal baggage, it also implies something that''s accepted, practically granted, by others, and less something that comes willingly from within the repenter.

Well, I ramble. Lots of interesting food for thought.