Creating Community :: Shared Experience

Recently Sarah (my partner at BTCKE) and I have taken to running the streets of Nairobi together. A word should be said about running in Nairobi. This is not your stroll around the lake or jog through central park. We’re talking dodging carts of donkeys, exhaustion fumes from lorries and massive craters in the sidewalk.

In the hopes of avoiding yet more conversation about work Sarah and I usually run with our ipod ear buds jammed  into our ears. Occasionally we’ll share a slightly awkward smile that sends a sense of encouragement and more importantly, solidarity. Yesterday, on one of our runs I noticed my affinity for Sarah growing as we puttered up a hill behind her house.

Why? Why despite the hours working on the same project, countless phone calls, hundreds of gasps of exhaustion did that moment mean so much? In reflecting I have come to understand that moment as this beautiful minute where we completely got one another and one another’s experience.

I’m learning more and more that it is those precious moments, where two people some how get one another that build community. These moments can have their  range:  sharing a meal at a dodgy restaurant, taking part in a retreat, surviving a close encounter with danger, witnessing the beauty of nature, enjoying the humor of a slapstick movie, finding your perfect apartment … there is something you both ‘get’ in a way that can’t be defined or told … only experienced.

That definition isn’t anything remarkable but what it does for me is starkly contradict the way we attempt to ‘create’ community. I’m thinking in particular of this intentional community I joined in 2009. We came together and  poured out our precious secrets in the hopes that careless vulnerability would “make us feel closer.”  But those were just words. We had nothing real that brought us together.

I think of Public Narrative – learn more about narrative here. Part of Public Narrative is creating a community by telling a story of ‘us.’ A story of  ‘us’ is purposed to transform a group of individuals to an ‘us.’  Often in the practice of Public Narrative we try to create ‘us’ through expressing shared values. We are a community because we believe in truth. Sometimes we get closer, I remember when Jacob shared about truth, then I identified with him. Again, these just words.

Community necessitates experience. Therefore, when telling a story of  ‘us’ it’s essential to share experience. We must tell of the experience we shared. Tell of the moments when you looked at one another and thought, he gets me.

It’s those stories that will hold us together. At Be the Change we’re trying to find a new way of dealing with child poverty. I initially thought this required teaching people to approach child poverty differently. While I still see the importance of that I am seeing the vitality in creating a community that will approach child poverty differently.  For Be the Change to work the directors, young adults, volunteers must ‘get’ each other. We must transcend words and experience the struggle and more importantly, the victory, as one.

My mind leaves Kenya and I start to think about the chasms that haunt us: the tea party and 99%, the Palestinians and the Israelis, Catholics and Protestants. I think of all the peace talks the negotiations that remain in the realm of words and wonder (without solutions) what it would take to move from words to experience. In that sea of wonder I hold onto hope that we could one day experience victory as one.

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