Community and Conversation

Submitted by MaxwellKennel on October 18, 2012 - 2:06pm

I had an interesting conversation with some friends yesterday about community. I think that often, in circles whose concern is social justice, the term ‘community’ can become very idealized. And yet, on the other hand, I feel that perhaps we don’t have an adequate theory of community or even a vision of what a concrete human community would look like.

Throughout our conversation several ways of being-in-community came up, from living in close proximity to others, to collaboration on small and big projects, to sharing values with those around you. This last point gave us some trouble. There is a tendency, I think, to gravitate towards people who think similarly to you. Convergence makes sense, and it makes sense that those who share our priorities and values are those with whom we would be in healthy community with.

On the other hand the tension is such that if we want to learn and grow and educate ourselves then we must engage with those who are different than us and we must seek out experiences that are unusual. This is difficult to do because we have no impetus to ‘get out there’ when we are in a community that is homogenous or a ‘monoculture’ (not that any community is truly homogenous).

The next topic that came up was the tension between having sufficient self-consciousness (or ego) to be a leader or to initiative real change in the world, and the hubris or pride that comes with that (necessarily) high level of self-confidence. In order to speak or write or organize regarding community I feel like one must think highly (enough) of oneself to actually act over and against the actions of another. In a way, being a leader in a community involves placing oneself above others in a position of authority. In yet another way, being a healthy leader in a community requires humility and the tact to know when you have overstepped your bounds.

Returning to the tension between theory and practice, I have observed that our idealization of community can get in the way of it actually happening. Rather than meeting with people in our own already-existing contexts we often decontextualize ourselves and others in the name of grand initiatives. My frustration with this is that if even the majority of people intentionally built community in their own contexts then the world would indeed be better off. This in-context community building doesn’t involve rallies or events, but involves helping people move, taking care of people when they get sick, lending people possessions or money, helping raise children, and sharing in meaningful conversation.

Any thoughts?

(Cross Posted at


Great blog Max, I want to focus on the second paragraph on leadership.  We had an interesting conversation about this.  I agree there seems to be some tension between the high level of confidence that is required of leadership and also the humility.  It is interesting a was reading an article (or maybe it was a conversation) that talked about Canadians view of leadership in who we idolize and American views of leadership.  The article suggested that in America they focus more on the confidence side where as in Canada we seem to focus more on the humility side.  In Us they have lots of great heroes, yet in Canada we seem to downplay our heroes.  It was interesting the article also refered to hockey players and how we expect our hockey players to cary themselves humbly (just look at Gretzky or Crosby and how they carry themselves in the media).  

How does this tension between confidence and humility play out in our communities?


Thanks Derek,

I appreciate the distinction between Canadian and American views on leadership, and the tension between humility and confidence. I feel like the tension between these two forces is like any other tension in life... I think we have a tendency to want to choose when we are presented with two options, and I think this tendency is really unhealthy. Every human being is capable of balancing the need to be confident and humble and I think that communities should try to reinforce both aspects of leadership and social being.


The next step



Thanks for sharing your thoughts/reflections! I believe this was on the conversation I was present for, yes?

I especially like your last paragraph- we DO idealize community. The truth is, we cannot avoid community. Everyone exists within community either physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. It is our choice HOW we engage with our community. I think you have done a great job of pointing out ways we can care for each other and community as a collective action--- this is so exciting! Once we beging to take action, we take ownership and responsibility. This can lead to great things... to changing our world!

What are ways you have seen community develop in your own context that fits within your idea of what constitutes community in your final paragraph (either living, faith community, family...whichever!)?



That was indeed the conversation you were present for, and sorry for the late response here (things have been busy). I appreciate the point that we cannot avoid community and that everyone exists in a community. I do think, however, that this idea has its limits. There are a lot of very isolated people out there living fragmented lives without the support of friends or family.

I feel like the ways in which I have seen community play out in my own life are very ordinary (having dinner with my family, worshipping on a Sunday morning). I think that what's a bit more productive is thinking about the ways that I have seen community not work. The assumption that I had, growing up in the church, was that everyone had a nice supportive family and group of friends. It was a revelation to me that this was not universally true. I feel like the Christian community at least needs to become more aware that those around us who appear to be living a nice middle class existence may really be caught in cycles of addiction and abuse, and that it is the responsibility of true communities to address these issues.