Saturday, October 1, 2016

What would real community look like?

What would it look like if our school were a real community--the kind humans are built for?

In his recent book, Tribe, Sebastian Junger argues that humans are built for a closeness of community that we rarely experience today. Early American colonists, for example, often ran away to live with native Americans, while the opposite almost never happened. Apparently, they craved the kind of intimacy and unity the natives had so much they were willing to give up the comforts of civilization to get it.

These days, this kind of community is very hard to come by. In fact, according to Junger, it only happens in times of disaster and war, when people draw together in a common cause of survival, and boundaries of race and class temporarily break down. But do we really need a war or disaster to get back to our roots?

I'd love to see this kind of community at our school, but how could we create it? Is there something we could rally around--a "crisis," or "survival situation"  that would give us all a common purpose? I was doubtful, but then this week, something happened that made me hopeful we can do it.

There was an incident. Some students messed up, publicly, and in such a way that I called everyone together for two restorative circles over two days. each time, we all sat around and passed the talking stick, answering questions ranging from "What happened?" and "Who was harmed, and how?" to "What can we do to make it good?"

There was embarrassment, avoidance, denial, apology, remorse, thoughtfulness, irritation and even anger as difficult topics were brought up, personalities and ideas clashed, and we tried to work this thing out together.

It was uncomfortable at times, difficult and tiring, but I think it was worth it, because as I reflected on this yesterday, I realized something: This is how it could happen. The community, I mean.

If our community is so valuable that we refuse to sweep issues under the rug, if we force ourselves to draw out conflicts like poison from a wound, if we wrestle with our mistakes and differences, instead of hiding them or turning them into walls between us, maybe we can achieve just a little bit of what those early colonists were looking for.

Maybe it doesn't take a war, or maybe the wars that are always between us and within us are enough. Maybe the disasters in our own lives and relationships, and the conflicts in our own minds and midst can be enough to unite us into the kind of community that's in our DNA.

It's worth a shot, isn't it?