Provision #607: Community Needs

Laser Provision

Our first experience of community, mother and child, is given not chosen. As time goes on, however, we have many opportunities to associate with others and to meet our needs for interdependence. No one goes it alone, even those who think of themselves as “self-made”. That’s always a misnomer. We depend upon others from the cradle to the grave. There are many different strategies for meeting community needs, but no one can deny those needs exist. If you’re looking for new strategies, this Provision might just give you a few new ideas. Enjoy!

LifeTrek Provision

Seven years before he died, at the age of 59, the English poet and priest John Donne wrote a meditation in 1624 that lives on to this day as a poignant reflection on mortality and community. Although I no longer appreciate the use of male imagery to represent all of humankind, I do appreciate the import of Donne’s sentiments. Perhaps you will recognize this tiny excerpt thanks to Ernest Hemingway’s use of the title, “For Whom The Bell Tolls”:

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. …As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. …Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

We are, indeed, tied together by numerous common denominators, of which birth and death are only two. The whole concept of universal human needs works with the idea that people have much in common by virtue of nothing more than our being human and being alive. If we grant that recognition, then it becomes much easier to accept our needs for community. Donne was right: No one is an island, entire of itself.

At the outset of life, of course, we have little sense of or need for autonomy. Our egos have not yet developed and we are happy when others comfort and care for us. I wrote about that two weeks ago in my Provision on Comfort Needs. Our first experience of community comes from the primordial, biological bond with our mother and significant others. When that experience is positive, whole, and life-giving, then we have a good base for experiencing community throughout our lives. When that bond is compromised, then we may have to work harder to find, accept, enjoy community as adults.

Either way, adults make choices regarding how best to meet our community needs. I recently watched a video biography of Thomas Merton, a renowned Trappist monk who was particularly outspoken as a poet, social activist, and ecumenist during the 1960s. He spent the last few years of his life living in a hermitage at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky. He chose isolation not to abandon the world but to connect with it more deeply. Living alone was, for Merton, a way to meet his community needs.

We all have stories to tell as to how our own needs for community have been met. At different points in time, we may have chosen, like Merton, radically different approaches. I know I have. That’s OK because strategies are always expendable. They are never the needs themselves; they are rather experiments designed to meet the needs themselves. We inevitably move from one strategy to the next, as our feelings and circumstances change. But the needs themselves don’t change, and we can see how they express themselves on many fronts.

Nominal Communities. We probably all have some in-name-only associations which provide different levels of comfort and identification. We sign a petition or add our name to a list, for example, but we may do nothing else to help the cause or organization to which we are subscribed. They may even be such passing fancies that we forget all about our involvement. They connect with our values and intentions, or we would have never subscribed to them in the first place, but they fail to evolve into something more meaningful and supportive. Nominal communities come and go throughout our lives; there’s nothing wrong with them but they do not satisfy our deep needs for community. They are stepping stones at best.

Geographic Communities. I currently live in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA for example. Throughout my life I’ve lived in six other places. I’ve also visited a great many communities and countries around the globe. I clearly feel more connected to the places where I have lived than to the places I have visited, but each has provided me a sense of geographic community. The more we travel, the more we extend our sense of geographic community from the local to the global. I find that valuable. It’s great to meet someone I know at the grocery store; it’s just as great to know someone I could meet in Hong Kong. “Think global, act local” is not just a slogan; it’s a good way to express our sense of geographic community.

Interest Communities. To the discovery and proliferation of special interest communities there is no end. Recently, for example, I received an email from my high school alma mater. The alumni association wanted to update its records. That email has unleashed a torrent of communication between people who grew up together in Brecksville, Ohio before 1972. The outpouring of sentiment and memories has been surprising to one and all. It’s even led to a new Facebook group. Who knew there were so many untapped emotions! That’s the way special interest groups work; they meet our community needs in special ways. People often feel very passionate about their special interest communities, because they give people a sense of “power with”. As long as such communities do not become hate groups, they represent an important part of what makes life worth living.

Professional Communities. All other communities are, in some sense, special interest communities. Apart from biological and, for most people on the planet, geographic communities, all other communities are chosen. Will I join this group or that group? Will I major in this subject or that subject? Will I pursue this career or that career? In my own case, I have had two primary careers: pastor and coach. Each has connected me with countless others and community circles. When I made the transition from one to the other, my professional communities • and the letters after my name • changed. But the dynamic of having professional communities did not change. I sought them out, and they sought me out. I have always found professional communities to be important ways for meeting my community needs.

Residential Communities. Many geographic communities are residential communities (we are where we live) but there are far more intimate expressions of residential communities. I’ve already mentioned Thomas Merton’s participation in a Trappist monastery. That was a residential community, even when he lived alone on the grounds. Today, with growing economic pressures, many are choosing to co-locate their housing with others. My wife and I did this for more than seven years when we were first married. Our incomes were small and our challenges were great in the inner-city of Chicago. By living with and sharing our resources with another couple, we could make ends meet, provide important emotional support for the work, and share the load of child raising.

Spiritual Communities. The residential community we had in Chicago was also a spiritual community. My guess is that most residential communities touch the soul more deeply than nonresidential communities. But spiritual communities are neither necessarily nor typically residential. People seek out those places and groups that will uplift, encourage, and nurture a sense of connection both to other people and to common values. Spiritual communities are not necessarily religious or even called spiritual. A case in point would be the monthly gathering that my wife and I facilitate of those interested in Nonviolent Communication. Whenever people gather to enhance their quality of life they are forming a spiritual community.

Virtual Communities. I’ve already mentioned the Facebook group that has formed around my high school graduating class. A growing expression and strategy for meeting community needs does not take place through face-to-face encounters. It takes place in the virtual world, with social networking sites exploding across every generation and special interest. If it hasn’t touched you yet, it will. Wherever people hang out, and whatever people do, they form communities to support and challenge them along the way. Want to run your first marathon? Want to go green? Want to learn Arabic? Whatever your interest, there are abundant virtual communities to choose from.

All of these communities • nominal, geographic, special interest, professional, residential, spiritual, and virtual • form and reform as people seek to meet their needs for interdependence, cooperation, inclusion, trust, mutuality, and power with. No one is an island, and if we think otherwise we are fooling ourselves. All of life is a web of communities, from the cradle to the grave, because all of life is forged in communities. There really is no other way to go. Community is a universal human need and I encourage you to find ways to more fully meet that need in life and work.

Coaching Inquiries: What communities enrich your life and make it better? What communities stress your life and make it worse? How could you more fully meet your community needs? What communities are you curious about? Who could join you in the quest to find out more?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

I’m sitting here in India and I feel really inspired by your Provision on Activity Needs. I feel like I failed in my life due to mistakes and laziness. I can feel your Provision. Everything is correct. Keep in touch with me. I want to do something very clear and big in my life, but I’m failing to take the first step. What’s the reason? How can I change myself? (Ed. Note: Accept yourself, clarify your vision, develop a plan, and muster the support of others. In community you will find ways to move forward.)

I feel compelled to write in response to your Provision this week. Your article about understanding that sometimes life is work is something my mother taught me. I have just spent the last week at her bedside in hospice care. I spent time thinking about all she has done for me. The greatest gift was her gift of faith and second that life is not easy and you might as well get up and get on with it. Many times you will have to do things you do not like to do in order to reach your goal. That means the way is not always going to be easy, but the rewards are great. When students have to learn their multiplication tables, for example, there is no easy way, they just have to learn and memorize them if they are ever going to be successful in math. I would suggest that is why it is called “work”. Sometimes work is fun and sometimes not, but it still has to be done.

I just signed up for LifeTrek Coaching with one of your coaches and I have already gotten 1/2 my money’s worth just from getting the articles you’ve written 1/2 read. Thanks!

The weekly Provisions on human needs are both inspiring and thought provoking. Thanks!   

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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