The Challenge of Community


    I belong to Lake Harriet Spiritual Community. We used to be called Lake Harriet Community Church. Several years ago, we voted to change our name from church to community. Church just didn not seem to fit with our mission statement which is to honor all spiritual traditions.

    The foundation of a community is respect for individual differences and unconditional love. Because our culture doesn not give us good role models to follow for community, we are pioneers and trailblazers.

    Being trailblazers means that sometimes a branch hits you in the face or you stumble on a root or you can’t see exactly where you are going. But you keep on going, trying to live in harmony. You get out of harmony, raise questions, adjust things, and come back into harmony again. The tool you use for creating harmony is communication.

    Communication gives us the opportunity to question things so we can learn and grow. We identify, challenge, discuss and create. If everything is always mellow and homogeneous, questions may not surface, and growth may not occur. All this communicating takes time and commitment.

    Community requires that we give up judgment and control. The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence. Perhaps this is why it takes so much time and effort.

    Living in community is not about winning a popularity contest. It’s about living our own heart and following our own Divine guidance, and allowing others to do the same. We need to feel safe enough to be vulnerable and tell who we are and what we want. Then with an open heart, we listen to others do the same. We avoid defending, withdrawing or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism. We focus our attention on observing, realizing everyone is us-who we are, who we were, or who we will be. We identify our own deeper needs and listen to the needs of others.

    Right now our community is in the midst of re-evaluating how we live up to our name of "community." Some people have found the intense questions and discussions unsettling. So I turned again to Marshall B. Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion.

    Rosenberg suggests that we talk "with" rather than "at" someone. He says that we reach our goal of connecting at the heart level by following several steps.

    First, we acknowledge the other person to be right. We see the truth from the other person’s point of view. People are right for their level of development at that particular time and space in their life. A person wants to be accepted. Our acceptance builds a relationship with them. Without a relationship, it is difficult to communicate and work together. When we make someone "wrong," they quickly put up their shields and have trouble hearing what we are saying or learning anything new.

    Next, we ask for another’s permission. "May I tell you something?" Instead of forcing our opinions on others or giving them more information than they want. Asking enables the person to respond out of choice rather than react to a perceived threat.

    Then, we create a peaceful context by telling our truth using "I" statements. We also take time to listen and understand another person’s truth. This truth is often understood by hearing that person’s stories.

    Rosenberg suggests we ask ourselves these questions to develop communication based on unconditional love and respecting differences:
    – What exactly do I want out of this situation or from this person?
    – What is the truth about why I want it? (If you have to justify or gather evidence, it is not your truth.)
    – Am I willing to make this person right even though I think they may be absolutely wrong?
    – Am I willing to wait for their full attention before giving my ideas or opinions or advice?
    – Am I willing to say it all, mindful of the consequences, and regardless of the consequences?

    The challenges of this careful communication are well worth the effort. It is the foundation of community. And community is the foundation of our planetary transformation and survival.

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