Community Matters: Look for unexpected gifts in the midst of chaos
Every once in a while, as a writer, I discipline myself to write without a plan. To do this, I will provide myself with a prompt and then begin writing to see where responding to the prompt takes me.
I tend to do this kind of writing when I have an inkling of an idea yet fail to see fully the implications of what I am considering. Sometimes this kind of writing ends in disaster, with little to show for the effort. Other times, I have found, this kind of writing helps me to see or learn something that might not have otherwise emerged from a more structured or preplanned process.
For this column, I decided to enact this process, disciplining myself to respond to the following prompt: “The year 2020 has produced unexpected gifts.”
At first glance, this prompt might seem laughable or even offensive given the amount of hardship and destruction that has been wrought over the last 12 months. I certainly do not mean to gloss over such moments of genuine and widespread suffering. Lives have been lost, businesses have collapsed, families have been torn apart, and so much more.
By any objective metric, there is much about 2020 that is utterly lamentable. Keeping all of this in mind, I continue to believe that 2020 calls for a measure of disciplined reflection that looks beyond the suffering to discover what constructive lessons might be learned from this shared human calamity. Though it is easy to get lost in all of the turmoil of the preceding year, I am disciplining myself to dig through the chaos to uncover seeds of hope that are scattered just below the surface.
As 2020 draws to a close, here is a list of deepening insights about community matters that I will carry with me and continue to unpack in the coming year.
We are all inescapably connected to one another. For better or worse, 2020 reminded us that our individual actions have consequences for others. While this is always the case, the last year has shown us this in striking and tangible ways. The choices I make and the decisions I prioritize actually matter for the community around me.
Being physically present together matters. Though online meetings have been a godsend, we have all been reminded of the importance of physical connection. Humans are social animals, and being around others changes how we see ourselves, who we become, and what is possible. In new and striking ways, 2020 has taught all of us that community actually matters.
It is much easier to destroy community than to rebuild it. In recent months we have learned how susceptible our communities are to destructive forces. At their core, communities are a vast collection of beliefs, assumptions, and expectations. Communities emerge, in large part, as the result of an ongoing contract between individuals and institutions who, while never explicitly laying out the terms of that contract, work tirelessly on its behalf. Maintaining this tenuous contract requires far more work than subverting it, and it is the responsibility of all who care about community to work to temper such destructive forces.
Communities can be built and sustained with relatively limited resources. Throughout 2020, I have enjoyed the privilege of working with hundreds of individuals and organizations throughout Beaver County. Working together, these champions of community have planted a garden to feed struggling families, incentivized and created art about COVID-19, organized food pantries, worked to tell the stories of those helping others during the pandemic, started a new business, raised awareness about the Census, and much more. In spite of limited resources, the work of community building has continued throughout 2020. RiverWise, the organization I lead, has created a video that shows just some of these efforts in action. You can find it on our YouTube Channel.
I am hoping that you have experienced additional gifts in 2020. Perhaps they are gifts you have received from others? Perhaps they are gifts of insight or service? Maybe you have gleaned from the chaos of 2020 in ways that others have missed?
Often, whether we recognize the value of a gift has as much to do with us as it does with the gift itself. So, as this season draws to a close, and as 2021 looms on the horizon, it might do us all well to discipline ourselves to continue to look for the gifts in the midst of chaos.
Ultimately, this is best accomplished in community with others, beside and alongside those who can help us to see things that are easy to miss.
Daniel Rossi-Keen, Ph.D., is the co-owner of eQuip Books, a community bookstore in Aliquippa and the executive director of RiverWise, a nonprofit employing sustainable development practices to create a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County. You can reach Daniel at email@example.com.
Originally published at https://www.timesonline.com.