We are social creatures designed to live in community. We understand that it “takes a village” to raise a child. And once raised, we spend time searching for our “tribe” of like-minded people, intently pursing a shared passion that is hopefully intended to result in a common good.
Down through the ages, there have been three practices that helped us develop our shared passions and achieve a common good. They were explained in a book by S. D. Parks entitled “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams” as being the Practice of the Table, the Practice of the Hearth, and the Practice of the Commons. And they each played a critical role in thriving societies.
The Practice of the Hearth, the Practice of the Table, and the Practice of the Commons are all part of building a supportive community. The Practice of the Hearth creates an environment that invites conversation around a fire that warms the body, mind, and soul. More importantly, much like a fireplace hearth, it does serve a purpose: making it safe to spark dialogue that could otherwise prove to start a fire that could burn out of control. The hearth invites us to explore conversations - sometimes controversial ones - that allow us to learn from each other in a safe place without getting burned by each other.
The Practice of the Table may be called by different names in different societies. When we share food, we can share unhurried conversation where people can agree, or agree to disagree, hopefully without being disagreeable. Figuring things out is more intimate around a table. Time with others spent lingering over a cup of coffee or a meal allows for a more complete picture of an opinion or position. The Practice of the Table is an opportunity to exchange ideas in the supportive circle of an open-minded, if not like-minded, group of people who are striving for a common purpose: understanding.
The “commons” or the “crossroads at the center of the village” is a place where people used to gather for a sense of community. The Practice of the Commons not only refers to a physical place, but the “commons” also refers to “consciousness of participation” and an “anchored sense of shared community.” The concept of the commons also refers to the inter-dependence humans have with each other.
That is what makes social distancing so difficult. We need each other, and physically being together is critical because so much can be detected about our thoughts and feelings through a knowing look, a gentle touch on the elbow, or a hug. All these social gestures say, “I see you, and I care.”
The most important outcome of all these communities is meaningful relationships. Interactions with other people foster trust for us to engage, explore, experience, enlighten, and encourage each other during times of opportunity and during times of uncertainty. In any meaningful relationship, trust is foundational. And experiencing each other in person is important to establishing and building trust.
As we continue to move forward in a new normal that none of us has any idea how to approach, my prayer is that we remember how it felt to be isolated from each other. That when the freeways are less “free” in terms of the number of cars that transport us to those spaces of togetherness, that we are a bit more patient. And that when we return to our “work families” we are more tolerant of the little habits that used to drive us crazy about each other. And that when the day is done, we still make time for walks with the families that held us together and kept us somewhat sane during a time of unimaginable craziness.