Why is community important?

Submitted by Multicultural C... on August 27, 2013 - 3:39pm
A conversation with an arts group in KW

A group of artists gathered together in the Multicultural Cinema Club for an intentional conversation about community as part of Tamarack’s 1000 Conversations to Shape our Future campaign.  What follows are some highlights from what proved to be a rich conversation.

Why is community important to us?

By nature and social practice we are wired to live in groups, to feed on each other’s energy and love.  We get satisfaction from serving each other, just ask anyone who volunteers.  At the same time we are scared of loneliness.  This causes a dependency on each other.  We are meant to be part of a group of people serving and caring for each other; we call this a community.  Evolution has shown us that this is how we can best survive and thrive. 

If a community does not recognize you then you are a nobody.  You need the recognition of the group to function.

African Proverb: “I am because we are”


Even as we become individualistic, there is a need for sharing with each other.  Even as we push to be free from social structures we can’t escape our need for each other.  You are now seeing a big move back to community as people thirst for something they feel they are missing.

In Lebanon there is always an extended family.  It is much different then how we think of family here in Canada.  There, a family unit will include a few hundred people.  When someone needs to do something, say the garden, they can easily get people to help simply by letting people know.  When the time comes people just show up to help because that is they do.  One distinction, though, is that people stick to their own family and villages.  You are clearly part of this family and not part of that one. 


Coming here to Canada you notice a stronger connection across cultures.  The extended family feel now can be found everywhere.  You build new ties and a new family that replaces the blood ties that you left behind.

As an international person, you are always trying to fit in in some way.  It is one of the first things you do when you come to a new place: you try to plant roots and find a place where you belong. 

One person shared their experience building community in a new place through the WCURI co-op residence for students at the University of Waterloo.   There, everything was based on the volunteerism of the residents.  Much of the rent is invested back into building community.  This place also draws in a real diverse blend of people from different cultural and academic backgrounds.  As a grad student it is hard to find time to connect as most of your work is very independent.  All of the potlucks and other social events that were organized by the resident community made it easy to feel like you fit in with the community. It became a new family.

But not all community is positive.  One person shared a negative experience of community that she had with her new house.  When you are surrounded by a good healthy community, it can make your home a place of happiness.  At the same time a negative community can serve to isolate and alienate you.  This woman is now currently in a situation where she feels bullied by her neighbours.  Home is no longer a safe place.  These negative experiences make her fearful to reach out, she is afraid of making mistakes.  Despite the fact that she has worked hard to be helpful to her neighbours, she feels underappreciated.

We often look at community with rose coloured glasses; community can sometimes be a tool that hurts people.  It is important that we recognize this as well.

The thorns of community...

I'm glad this conversation highlighted some of the difficulties that can arise within neighbourhoods and amongst people in communities- so is entirely human and inevitable.

My wondering- how to we invite peace and reconciliation into difficult community epxeriences? What tools or methods can be helpful?

Also- how can these difficulties be used as opportunities to deepen community amongst members?