The View From Here – Our sense of social community should always be inclusive and never elite

Tom Henihan

There are many definitions of the word “community” but the Oxford dictionary offers one that is most commonly understood as defining social community: “A particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants,”i.e. ‘a rural community’ or a ‘local community.’

The term community normally carries the inference of mutual support and mutual endeavour and as the Oxford Dictionary suggests, in the context of small, rural towns that usually means the inclusion of all who live in the area.

Of course the word “community” can be a proverbial doubled edged sword: on the one hand applied faithfully representing the all-encompassing, but it can also mean exclusion on grounds of economic, social, and racial differences.

The latter use of the term is a betrayal of its higher meaning; with any kind of qualifier or exclusion it fails to be truly communal and instead becomes factionist, which is the polar opposite and enemy of the true spirit of community.

When a faction masquerades behind the term community it changes the all-encompassing circle to a line in the sand, as it is now used to alienate one sector of the community from the rest.

This is especially true when the term is co-opted by those who belong to the majority, those who assume some comfortable notion of being in the ascendency and as such only they get to decide what individuals and institutions get to be members of the community and which ones do not.

So, when the term community is used it is incumbent on everyone within that community to examine the spirit in which the word is being used.

Everyone should ask not only who is involved and welcome to participate but who is absent and why.

It is important for people to enquire if any group has been deliberately excluded or if a sufficient overture has been made to include everyone.

In is a common hazard, of which all communities should be aware, that very often people who have a divisive mindset put themselves in the position of decision-making on behalf of their community in order to subtly implement and promote their prejudices.

Either deliberately or subliminally the word community can be used as much to shut out certain sectors of society as it can be used to create a true and decent sense of community.

According to Coretta Scott King, “the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members,” and by that thinking, if we want a great community we need decent, just, inclusive and compassionate individuals making community decisions.

As Chief Joseph, the inspired, ledgendary and often quoted leader of the Oregon, Nez Perce First Nation said: “It does not require many words to speak the truth.”

Conversely, it doesn’t take many words to speak falsehoods either, and sometimes it takes only one such as “community” when that word is used to exclude any individual, group or demographic living within that community.


Share this post