What is it that keeps us separate and disconnected from one another?
As members of a society, we are more alike than we are different, yet somehow we more often than not only seem to focus on the differences — often to illogical degrees. The more irrational our comparisons become, the more fearful and uncomfortable we become with each other, and suddenly what once was a community is now a divided and judgmental group of strangers.
As evidenced by the events of the world today, this isn’t serving us. So how do we make our way back? How do we reconnect with each other as fellow humans? How do we repair our sense of fellowship and connection with each other? If I had to suggest something it would be nurturing a sense of community.
Community is a word that’s tossed around a lot but let’s take a look at what it actually means. Merriam-Webster defines community as “a unified body of individuals, a group with a common characteristic or interest.” It is a society built on a shared goal, hope, or vision. When community is functioning positively, it can create a strong sense of belonging, well-being, and respect.
Take an orchestra for instance; there are many different instruments which contribute to the overall musical harmony of a symphony — the strings, the brass instruments, the percussion — each and every one makes an indelible mark on the overall sound of a musical score. Each instrument is needed to fulfill the greater purpose no matter how minor their arrangement. How about sports? A baseball, football, or soccer team requires that every player, in a specific position to which they are best suited, perform to the best of their ability. Each and every player is equally as vital and beneficial as the next and together they literally create the power of a team.
Think about what the symphony would sound like without the percussion. Have you ever wondered? It would be about as damaging to the piece as it would be a soccer team without a goalie. There would be no beat, no structure. There would be no purpose.
Community is what we are all a part of — our humanity — we all add up to the sum of our parts and we share a responsibility to each other. We share the responsibility of making the world a better place, regardless of the G-d we pray to or the things we believe in. It is of the utmost importance that we understand how truly important community is and how vital every one of us is to our community, and in order to promote and continue a sense of unity, we need to appreciate and accept each person’s unique contribution.
You’ve heard the saying “you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” right? A saying which means “The more we stand together, the stronger and mightier we actually are. The more divided we become, the less strength we have”. It holds true in so many regards.
When one person feels excluded or uncared for, the entire fabric of the community begins to unravel. We begin to blame, divide, and isolate. This creates an illusion of separateness and, before we know it, we’ve said an unkind word to someone, or behind their back, when really that was unnecessary. We took an unkind action. We created chaos and pain. The good news is, the first step toward repairing our community is incredibly simple, it’s immediate and free and we can all do it at any time. That first step is practicing kindness. Giving the benefit of the doubt and allowing no room for judgment.
In fact, the kabbalists teach that if you can practice radical kindness in your everyday life, you will bring about every blessing meant for you, you will change your life, and you will change the world. And you will be happier and feel more fulfilled.
I want to try an exercise that recently opened my eyes to how closed off to others we really are. Close your eyes and imagine a dark street at night. You are alone in a big city, walking by yourself, then you hear it, the echo of footsteps behind you. You walk a little faster. The footsteps behind you match your pace.
Your heart starts to pound. The hair on the back of your neck stands up. Your mind begins to imagine horrific scenarios like this person is following you with the intention to harm you. You are living the Law & Order episode you watched the night before. You’re suddenly in Special Victim’s Unit!
Now imagine that instead of the person being followed, you are the second pair of footsteps.
You’re the one walking down that same dark street alone at night following another person down the sidewalk. Does the person in front of you have anything to worry about? Of course not, because you know you are not going to harm anyone!
This exercise is designed to show us how we are all afraid of everyone and everyone else is afraid of us. And almost always, it is totally needless fear. Every person is a stranger but when we realize that we are also the stranger it’s not so scary. We aren’t so different. The reality is that the great majority of us are not dangerous, we are friendly, warm, and really only want good things for other people. Fear tells us to not be open to anyone because of a very small percentage of violent people but this fear is a thief of opportunity and connection. It undermines our community.
I recently read the following quote in an article from the blog The Rules of Magic that drives this point home pretty perfectly:
“We all crave the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a community, the fellowship with others that results from sharing common interests and goals. These types of connections fulfill the human spirit; they feel good. Habitually, we’re driven to organize ourselves into these groups: by industry, religion, hobby, sports teams, even the television shows we watch. Therefore, to effectively share your ideas, it’s critical you recognize the importance of communities and how they’ve evolved.”
If you’re ever wondering what you could have in common with a total stranger, the answer can and will always be found in the desire for belonging, kindness, and connection. We really aren’t so different after all and when we’re able to cultivate friendship – maybe even over sports or music – we’ll be actively repairing and creating our community anew.
Thought into Action
We all see problems in the various communities we belong to and instead of blaming or complaining about what we think needs to change, instead, put that energy of discontent into being an agent of that change. Finding solutions instead of pointing out problems. Because at the end of the day, we are all responsible for the state of our communities and our world.