Some people find building community to be difficult work. Other people seem to have no problem at all creating a wide network of people who have a mutual flow of support, connection and love. What might be the difference between these two types of people? Perhaps it is the way they view the world — and through their view of the world, they attract people of like mind.
We live in a culture that has elevated individualism to an iconic value. Overcoming and overriding the tidal wave of individualism in our culture is one of the central tasks of creating community. We are taught to believe that we are skin-encapsulated egos (to borrow a phrase from Alan Watts) with little need for others in our world. Most of us have been exposed to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with the pinnacle of human development terminating at “self-actualization.” Under the myth perpetuated by our culture, once a human has developed into a self-actualizing person, he has reached the apex of development. However, what we don’t learn in school is that in the later years of his life, Maslow recognized there is another stage beyond self-actualization: the stage of self-transcendence. Self-transcendence is the recognition that each one of us is part of something bigger — that there is a force greater than any single individual life. People who are good at creating community around themselves know self-transcendence and live within that knowing. People who remain in the illusion of separateness often struggle with creating a loving community around them.
How might we begin to shift out of the dominant mindset of individualism? There are many ways, but all of the ways take an intention to change toward a more expansive, inclusive view of the world around us — and all of the ways take practice.
The following two suggestions are offered as a start towards shifting into community consciousness:
Â´ Recognize that living in community means finding one’s place among people who are different. Our society has trained us to place value on difference. We are encouraged to find more value in how “we” are than in how “they” are. This dynamic creates a hierarchy in which we elevate ourselves and our characteristics above people and characteristics that are different. Recognizing difference does not require placing value on it. Just because one snowflake is different from every other snowflake that has ever existed does not make it “better” or more valuable. Variety is what gives richness to life and difference is to be celebrated, not assessed. You may have a favorite food, but if you had to eat it every day for every meal with no variation, you would grow tired of it quickly.
One thing that difference helps us do is to know ourselves better. Difference provides us an opportunity to reflect on the way we do things, the priorities we set and the values we hold. In your neighborhood, notice the life ways of people who are different than your life ways. Some you may find appealing and some you may find irritating. Both the appealing ones and the irritating ones provide an opportunity for you to reflect on how you live your life. The appealing ones may be a signal to you that there is something you have left out of your life ways. The irritating ones indicate that they are inconsistent with your values. With what values do the irritating ones collide? Are these values important to you? If people have values different than yours, are they necessarily bad people? A move from judging differences — and beyond simply tolerating differences — to a place of celebrating differences creates a mindset that fosters the growth of community.
Â´ This suggestion takes a little more creative thinking: Pretend you did not choose to live in the house you live in, but you were placed there by divine will for a divine purpose. In other words, you did not make the choice at all, but it was made for you, and you are an agent of this divine will. If this were in fact true, you would attend to your neighborhood and who you are and try to match up the two.
Here are a few questions to help you along the way: What would be your purpose in being placed in this particular neighborhood? What lessons are you there to learn from the circumstances around you? What gifts are you being asked to provide to this community? Living in community requires both giving and receiving. If we are only interested in one of those, we are practicing something other than community.
Creating community takes expanding an individualistic mindset into a transcendent mindset. The transcendent mindset recognizes each of us is part of something greater. There are many paths to this more expansive view, and the two suggestions offered here may aid in creating the conditions for community to flourish.
Reference on self-transcendence:
The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, by A.H. Maslow (Viking Press)