Like many old concepts, the idea of community is being dusted off and revamped for the new millennium. The word is in everyone’s mouth, and yet it seems everyone has a different idea of what it means. Having just been burned by several years in false community, I have a few of my own ideas.
Community comes from the idea that we are all interdependent; that none of us is really living a life completely self-sustained. It is supposed to recognize our common needs and to honor our individuality while creating a group connection. That is far easier to write about than to live. Jungian therapist Helen Luke cautioned against “the false peace that engenders violence in the unconscious”. I have seen this much too often lately: an attempt to “keep the peace” by covering over conflict, by not saying what one is truly perceiving, as if that might make the perception disappear. Of course it doesn’t, and like a sore tooth, its poison seeps into the blood. Soon there is a noticeable tension between the two people (or groups), and little details get tinged with “this is more of your crap” resentment. The urge to forgive gets swallowed up by the urge to “even the score” or “right the balance“ (depending on how honest you are being with yourself). There is a slim possibility that you can truly become conscious of your resentment and let it go completely (as the New Agers assure us is the “right way“, ignoring any accountability of the other person), but it’s much more likely that the relationship becomes strained and eventually sours, and often by the end there is a confusion as to what exactly ended it. I would say “dishonesty did”. False community is no more healing or supporting than empty calories are nourishing. The form is not the substance. Better to be alone than to be surrounded by false friends.
And as helpful as it is that one person own their own shadow, it is still a two-way relationship -- eventually it becomes obvious the other person (or group) is in denial, is unable/unwilling to see their own falsity, and then there is no more honesty in the relationship. Unless the conscious person accepts the burden of understanding and “holding” the unconscious person(s) (thus creating an unequal relationship), there will be continued conflict, defensiveness, distrust, resentment, until it becomes unbearable. And falsely, blithely “forgiving” (which I see a lot in well-meaning people) is just more of the falsity: you can’t forgive a hurt until you experience and acknowledge exactly how you’ve been hurt. And that’s too painful for many people; they try to skip right over to the forgiveness, but it “doesn’t take” -- the resentment is still there with the hurt, and now it’s even harder to go back and discuss that problem. The proof of whether there is honesty and accountability in a relationship (whether in a two-person relationship or a community) is in how open, honest and trusting the actions are. No amount of verbage will cover the actions, the instinctive defenses that we all put up when we start to distrust. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” But what is very obvious from the outside may take quite a while to recognize from the inside.
Conversely, solitude is also a very popular topic; the need for solitude to renew and recharge, the value of being alone in nature, etc. Yet for all the discussion, I believe that it’s a very small part of the society that actually spends “quality time” alone. Many associates and friends tell me how much they want to, but “can’t find the time”. Yet they spend hours watching tv or shopping. I find it puzzling, when it’s easy to turn off the tv and take a walk or even sit in a room alone (if you’re a parent of young kids, that’s a bigger challenge, to be sure). I sometimes wonder if those who have a reluctance or fear of solitude, of getting away alone, have that because they are already living so “solitarily” in their groups, in their false communities. They already feel isolated by this “stranger culture” where we see more strangers each day than people we know, and perhaps this causes the subconscious sense that no more solitude is wanted or needed. It is a paradox that in some ways we can only be honestly in community or relationship if we can stand alone, if we understand solitude. And most of us may only be able to stand solitude if we believe that somewhere there is a community that embraces us.