The Value of Community

No one likes feeling vulnerable. We like to feel strong and in control. We may think by being so, that will lead to success or certainty. One way to capture those sentiments may be to act as an individual. Another way could be action through community -- becoming, as Merriam Webster puts it, part of "a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society." This is interesting to process as an American living in the U.S., one of the freest nations in the world. Some call America great because of our individual parts. Are we a great community? Should we care to be? What makes one so? Is this value something worth passing on to younger generations?

We're a country which prides itself on individualism. It's often called an American value and some say this reliance on ourselves is part of what makes us strong. You can see the notion of the individual notably reflected in our economic model and legal system. We have the freedom and responsibility to chart our own lives, set our own goals, make our own decisions. We cherish the self-made entrepreneurs who grind away solo, beginning with nothing, retiring with fortunes. We love and protect our individual freedoms -- to bear, to speak, to practice, to gather and to write.

As mentioned, an alternate path to strength is through community. When I'm on a team the last thing I want to be is an individual. Here, my definition of success encompasses much more than myself, than plainly coming in first. I believe in the notion that there's always room for more at the top. Personally, I prefer to be part of the core, steadily and reliably collaborating with teammates eventually passing the ball, the contact, the project to the superstar who goes on to make the big score. Separately, I relish the feeling of community that comes via the collaboration. The notions of dependence, communication and connection mix together to form a recipe for trust and fellowship and even the superstar gets a great big whiff of these values to their benefit.

Team sports, activities and clubs can all be nesting grounds of community. My first experiences with this theme outside my family were through Girl Scouts, orchestra class and sandlot baseball games. Community happened as such. First, I showed up, secondly I interacted, next I took feedback, and finally there was jelling and "I" became "we." In some cases I learned more unwittingly from my peers than deliberately from my instructors. In all cases my actions affected others, I was aware of what was expected of me, and I relied on at least one person.

Was I vulnerable? Yes. Did my mistakes hurt other community members? Yes. Was I ever let down by someone else? Yes. Am I weaker because? No. Am I less successful? Who knows? I don't feel that way. I feel satisfied from my experiences with community. Through them I learned of communication, accountability, trust, cooperation and patience. It's not that an individual cannot learn those values going it alone, but while we're all here together, why not be together and use the fruits from that labor to their fullest? We'll never have 100 percent certainty and this probably isn't the first time you've heard the suggestion that it's in our vulnerability where we find strength.