THE ROAD TO TRUE COMMUNITY
Wouldn't be nice if, when people came to work or live together, they could form themselves into true communities-groups in which "if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (I Corinthians 12:26), groups in which people love their neighbors as themselves and serve one another. Why is it that some attempts to form communities fail, and some succeed?
The Persian author, Saadi, wrote, "I fear that you will not reach Mecca, O Nomad! For the road which you are traveling leads to Turkestan!" lf a group of people would reach true community, they must travel a road which heads in that direction. In order to discover such a road, we will start by examining the true community itself, and then work back along the road step-by-step to see where that road came from. Then, perhaps, we will be able to recognize the road and to travel along it whenever we wish.
A true community is one in which people love one another. What is love? It involves more than just smiling at one another, hugging one another, and being polite to one another. Dr. Scott Peck defines love as "The will to extend one´s self for the purpose of nurturing one´s own or another´s spiritual growth." "One´s self" is included because only as we nurture our own spiritual growth can we help nurture the growth of others.
What can lead us to wanting to nurture not only our own spiritual growth, but also the spiritual growth of others? The answer is compassion. When we come to understand the problems of others and sympathetically to feel their pains, hurts, and frustrations, then we will be moved to want to help all to growth spiritually so that the problems can be overcome.
What can lead us to understand one another and feel compassion for one another? lf we were clairvoyant all we would need to do would be to attune our minds to one another and we would instantaneously know all about each other's feelings, thoughts and hopes. But since most of us are not clairvoyant, to get to know what goes on inside of one another we must use the more mundane method of speaking and listening.
Not all speaking and listening leads to understanding of and symnpathy for one another. Many words tell nothing at all about the feclings, thoughts and hopes of the speaker. In fact, many people put great effort into hiding their feelings, thoughts and hopes. Why? Because they are afraid. Because they fear that they will not be liked, or accepted, or respected if their true inner being is revealed. They may also feel that others would try to force them to change parts of their inner nature which they, themselves, do not wish to change.
What can lead people to give up their fears so that they can openly communicate with one another? What can lead people to feel safe? To enable people to feel safe, people must commit themselves to unconditional acceptance of and unconditional respect for one another. This means that acceptance and respect will be given to all regardless of waht they say or do - however ignorant. This means that no one will be threatned with exclusion from the group, whatever they say or do. Nor will people try to control one another with anger or ridicule. Rather they will treat one another gently.
At this point the reader may be saying, "that all sounds nice and idealistic. But if we stop trying to control one another with anger, ridicule, and threat of exclusion, how then are we to deal with evil? Do you really expect us to respect evil?" Max Heindel states that, "There is but one sin -Ignorance; and but one salvation-Applied Knowledge." People do evil out of ignorance. Unkind words and deeds are the result of ignorance of the feelings of the victims and ignorance of the cosmic law which, in time, requires that people reap (themselves feel) the suffering which they have caused others. Foolish actions are done in ignorance of the consequeces. When sin is confronted with anger, ridicule and threat of exclusion, what happens? Generally, the sin just goes underground and hides. But it has not bcen eliminated, because the ignorance was not dealt with. A more successfui way of dealing with sin would be to gently bring it in contact with the light of knowledge. We can't conquer darkness with darkness; we can only conquer darkness with light.
Concerning the matter of giving unconditional respect to people, even when they do (what appears to us to be) evil: Everyone has a divine essence hidden within. Thus everyone is worthy of our respect. Because we respect the divinity within does not mean, however, that we need to agree with what the person does. lf a teacher in school hears a child say, "Two plus two equals five," she does not cease to respect that child or cease to have hope for that child. She simply gently traes to show the child bis error, and hopes that next time he will add correctly. In life, "There is no saint without a past, there is no sinner without a future."
Once people feel safe enough to cease hiding and to speak openly, it still takes good listen- ing to complete the comrnunica- tion process. Good listening involves not only paying attention to the words spoken, but also keeping the mind open to new ideas and points of view. Dr. Scott Peck states, "Until such time as we can empty ourselves of expectations and stop trying to fit others and our relationships with them into a preconceived mold we cannot really listen, hear, or experience." When listening, we must provide a blank space in our mind into which to put what we are hearing, so that our own thoughts do not so distort what we are hearing that we cannot distinguish the other person's thoughts from our own.
Since the type of love necessary to form a true community involves "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth," will is involved. What we will cannot be mandated by law. lt must come from within. Each member of a community must be a willing participant, committed by his or her free choice to the community.
The road to true commnunity may thus be sumrnarized as follows: A group of people willingly commit themselves to not trying to control one another with anger or ridicule or tbreat of exclusion, and to giving one another unconditional acceptance and respect. Then the people in the group feel safe and are willing to speak openly and honestly with one another. As people empty thernselves of expectations about what the others should be saying, they begin to be able to really hear the others, and understanding and sympathy begin to develop. Then, in time, the hurts of one become the hurts of all, and the joys of one become the joys of all. Then true community has been attained. Forming a true cornmunity takes commitment, hard work, and time. The road may be long and rough. But if the group as a whole and each person in the group individually continuously examine themselves and their relation to the ideal, the road can be traveled and a true community built.
- Elsa M. Glover