Part One- The Basis of Togetherness and Common Identity

William R Collier Jr

Community is a word that is bandied about like a panacea for all our woes. The problem is that talk of community rarely ever leads to community. Community, like marriage, requires work.

We can’t have real community until we have created a sense of community within and amongst the people we want to have community with.

Do we want community with our neighbors? If we do, then we need to create a sense of community with them, a little neighborhood togetherness and identity goes a long way towards inspiring and motivating people to DO the things that a community does.

Take away togetherness and common identity of some kind and you have no real reason for people to act in unison for anything. People need these two things, first, as a basis of having community relationships together.

Community includes a common identity, a feeling of commonality, things that are held in common, and people who are in fellowship on a regular basis for specific common purposes. A community can have most of these things at different levels, but the more deeply these things are experienced and the more of them are experienced, the more cohesive the community will be.

Creating a sense of community is all about identity and affection. The other elements of community can only follow these two things- identity and affection.

This holds true for every kind of community.

The first question to ask is, “what is the purpose of your community?”

In a neighborhood your purpose might be to clean the streets, to watch out for children, to reduce crime, and to help people through economic hardships.

In a business, you want to provide a high quality product or service to your customers so that you can earn a profit and make enough money to prosper both owners and workers.

In a church you want to meet one another’s spiritual needs, care for the needy, reach out to the lost with the gospel, and support the work of the ministry.

Whatever it is that you are doing, you have to be clear about your goals. These goals will not inspire or motivate people if they aren’t based on real needs that are also felt needs, if they aren’t realistic, and if there are not really clear action items that, if carried out by enough people, are likely to acheive the desired result.

The next thing to determine is who will be asked to be part of your community. If it is a neighborhood, then it’s all of your neighbors. If it is a business, then it is the people who are part of the business and the people who are its clients and customers. If it is a church, then it’s all the church members.

Communities are exclusive: that means that not everyone at any one time is “qualified” to be a member. People from outside your neighborhood are not qualified to be members of a neighborhood focused community. People who neither work in nor are served by a business are not qualified to be members of that business’s community. People who are not members of a church are not qualified to be members of that church’s community.

Being exclusive does not being closed- while not anyone IS qualified to be a member of all communities, an open community accepts everyone who is qualified. Moreover, anyone who wants to become qualified, by moving into the neighborhood, becoming a customer or worker to a business, or joining a church, is free to do so. The only condition is that the potential member shares the goals of the community and has a stake in the community.

Moving beyond goals and who are qualified to be members, we move into affection for fellow members.

While the community has a common goal, every kind of community must also care for its own members.

In practical terms, if community members suffer then they cannot function and if they can’t function then the goals of the community will suffer. To care for member’s needs is self-preservation for a community.

Members care for one another on the basis of “my good and your good are of equal value to me.” This is affection- to care for the good of others as you do for yourself. This is practical, it isn’t just a feeling, and it is extremely powerful. When people have such affection for one another, they are not easily divided by jealousy and strife because they see that what is good for one is good for all.

Affection need not be reciprocal, although reciprocal affection is best and should be nurtured. In fact, as community emerges, standing within the community should include a requirement of demonstrating common affection for fellow members.

Not all qualified people will participate in community- standing within a community, the right to speak and have influence, should be extended only to people who are qualified, who share the goals of the community, and who demonstrate this common affection.

After affection comes identity. Identity is more than a commitment to goals and people, which are very important, it is a commitment to a shared way of life, a shared destiny, that says, “the fate of this community is MY FATE, my success and happiness is equal in value as the overall success and happiness of this community.” When someone takes on a shared identity, it’s like adding a name to their own name, like the family name (last name) or the old Latin “cognomen”.

When you say “I am a Bethesdan” because that’s the name of your neighborhood or an “IBMer” because that’s the name of your business, or a “River of Lifer” because that’s the name of your church you are saying something powerful- you are saying that this community is now as much a part of you as you are of it.

To obtain a shared identity you need a name that is unique to your community, that is rooted in your goals and the people who are qualified to be members, and that you make the “brand” of your community.

Shared identity cannot come without common goals and common affection, but a community that stops at goals and common affection can only go so far. Only people who take on the shared identity as part of themselves will be willing and able to contribute to your community in a sacrificial manner that truly makes a difference.

Status, which is authority as a stakeholder who can make decisions, should be determined on the basis of demonstrable commitment to a shared identity, demonstrable skills, and meritorious conduct and contributions to the community itself. The most important of these three things, however, is shared identity.