November 22, 1963, I was a Sophomore in college. My campus job included making trips to the bank to pick up change for the men’s dormitory offices. I was three blocks from the campus when a red sports car pulled to the curb beside me, and a man I had never seen before or since, rolled down the window and said, “They’ve shot the President.” Stunned I asked him to repeat himself, which he did. We exchanged a few more words, and he moved on.
I arrived at my destination three minutes later, and the news was being “pipped” over the bank’s public-address system. No usual chatter about the weather, or ball games, or the hype about opening a “Christmas Club” account. Everyone focused on the broadcast and his or her internal reflections of what this was going to mean.
In that shared tragedy, the customers and tellers became a community. No one was anxious to get back to their regular activities; we lingered, listened and shared shock and grief.
By the time I got back to campus, classes had been canceled, and everyone was gathering in the recreation rooms of each dorm, where there were TVs. We didn’t have smartphones or internet, but word traveled from one end of the country to another in the matter minutes. For the next few days, we became a national community.
The same can be said about September 11th or the many towns and neighborhoods that have experienced a school shooting, or other acts of violence. The same happens when there are fires, tornados, hurricanes, floods, and devastating snow or ice storms. When there’s trouble; people help. Helping one another makes us into a community.
There can be positive experiences that create a community: Neal Armstrong stepping on the moon, or your team winning a championship. While the achievement may live on; the community formed around it seems to be more short-lived, or self-selected (as in the case of shooting events).
All the examples I’ve used involve a “shared experience.” Sharing experiences with others tends to create some lasting memories or even long-term relationships. Another key to community is focus. If you were in a coma during the week of 9-11, you likely wouldn’t have the same intensity of response years later, as one who experienced it moment by moment as it happened.
So, if Community is to be one of the focal points drawing people into a positive future, where do we look for a sense of community other than tragedy or chosen focus? In the mind of the characters in The Doorkeeper’s Secrets, my book about a possible non-dystopian future, a sense of Community is an essential element.
These are Foundational Principles. The absence of any one will create instability in the philosophical underpinning of the culture. We will continue our exploration next time by looking at the barriers to effective community. Understanding the barriers to community will give us a starting place for creating a “better version of ourselves.”