Dreaming of Community

I’ve discovered I read some favourite authors (Maeve Binchey, Marcia Willet, Katie Fforde ) because of the dream of community that’s often a part of the story. Learning how a character moves from outsider, dispossessed of her old identity through circumstance or choice, and forms a new community, is a tale that never grows old. The community is the context for all the action. I feel silly even mentioning it in a way. Goodness it’s always there, that tension between the individual and the community, the dilemma of being in or out, the challenge of being accepted or winning membership.

How could I have missed this theme?

North American culture emphasizes the individual and individual relationships. The novels often have an element of romance. Family stories are sagas, or comedies, or tragedies with an individual at the centre. Shifting my focus to the community, I see the stories differently; learn new things.

In Vancouver, where I live, recent research revealed that many people in the city feel lonely and disconnected, and yearn for a greater sense of community. We have many immigrants who are far from family, are from across the world or across the country, drawn to the city from another way of life; sometimes people are disconnected from their family for other reasons.

On Monday and Tuesday night this week PBS broadcast Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The stories from the film are different from the tales told in women’s fiction or Vancouver newspaper articles on urban angst, yet they are about dreams shared by the characters in the books and Vancouverites: a woman’s desire for a better life for herself and her children, freedom from emotional and physical abuse, access to education, and a way to earn a living with dignity that will allow her to build a better life and a safe place to belong. The stories of these women are also about the dream of community. The women who take action in the film are able to build community.

Our idea of community, and how to build and maintain a community comes from our dream of it, our yearning for it, as much as it comes from experience.

In 2008 Peter Block wrote Community: The Structure of Belonging.

“Community offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to this place and are affirmed for that choice.”

He emphasizes the need for us all to take up this work, to move from longing to acting, and offers information on building local context and operating guidelines. One of the powerful questions he asks is

“What declaration of possibility can you make that has the power to transform the community and inspire you?

Join the conversation: Do you dream of community? How would you answer Peter Block’s question? What are the characteristics of the community you long for? Share a description of community that inspires you.



  1. I was talking with a friend about community today. We were in our swimming class at the YMCA -a group of people who have been meeting for about 25 years, some of whom have developed close friendships and some who remain passing acquaintances – the previous evening I had seen this same friend at a rummage sale in her church community – I go because she and her husband have invited me – even though this is their community of worship , I may run into other people I know from other parts of my own community – some of whom I connect with and others whom I might even avoid – I was relating this morning about how excited my daughter and I are to be moving into an intentional community within the city – we have a waited a long time and wanted to move into what felt like the right community – the common thread in this conversation was that we both felt that in order to be in a community there are things we have to do that we don’t necessarily want to do – serve as treasurer – go to a luncheon at an inconvenient time – do the gardening – but we do it to have community- and equally important is the realization that not everyone in your community is someone you would choose as a friend – but that diversity of interest and style and need makes up the complexity of the community – for those of us with distant family connections or deceased parents there is an imperative to create community and often we try to do that with our friends – friends are friends but they do not necessarily serve well the main structure of our community – because really its us our friends like – not necessarily our other friends – and that is something that many folks who wish and yearn for community fail to factor in – community can be intentional in that we choose to live with these people – but at its best it reflects a richness that cannot be planned – community is earned – through right effort and good intentions – and an honest desire to connect – and a sucking in of breath and a walking away when needed – the kind of effort we sometimes have to extend to our family connections – no wonder many are leery of committing to intentional community building – its not for the faint-hearted -wish me luck –

  2. Your comment made me think of Anne Herbert’s writing for The Next Whole Earth Catalog in “The Rising Sun Neighborhood Newsletter”. There are wonderful stories scattered throughout the newsletter entries. In one entry Anne writes

    . . . .I started thinking we should start writing, drawing, painting, singing, shouting what we notice about the neighborhood right here to each other every day and maybe it will help us start to learn to treasure what we can also touch.

    In another series of entries she tells the story of the “Amanda Madison Memorial Nonsense Box” and the local spinster who attended everything in town and wrote “alert” thank you notes to participants and how that practice morphed into a network of post card writers who write about where “they wish they were” if they aren’t able to write happily about where they find themselves.

    But the newsletter quote that really seems appropriate to the challenge of intentional community, is the question

    What kind of people would have to be in what kind of trouble before you’d change your life to help them?

    Thrilled to hear that you are going to have the chance to be in an intentional community and look forward to hearing more about your adventures. Bon chance!

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