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When we have community, we live longer, healthier lives. The research is undeniable. A recent webinar titled THE BROKEN BRAIN reminded us that isolation is a toxin that makes us more vulnerable to breakdown and disease. “Community” declared Dr. Mark Hyman, is one of the pillars of good health—in the brain and throughout the body. But exactly what is “community?”
Definitions seem to stall on a cold, technological level: “…a small or large social unit who have something in common…” No wonder violence, suicide, and depression are so rampant. Having something in common may bring people together, but it doesn’t create the kind of community that lifts and enriches. Coming together is only the beginning. What’s next? Caring. Supporting. Bonding. Safety. Community is a choice that requires commitment.
At its best, community is often labeled “family” or “tribe.” In war it’s characterized by buddies willing to die for one another. A true community is a safe place where you are important and accepted. You stick up for one another regardless of differences. Who would you name as someone who didn’t have to stand by you but did? Who have you spoken up for even when speaking was a risk to you? If you can name more than one, you have/had community.
Technically, family is biology and not always a safe tribe. We choose our community members and sometimes they choose us. The recent Women’s March was HUGE, but not entirely examples of community seeking concrete change. Some marchers hedged, not wanting to offend anyone. To them the march was an emotional potluck.
If you’re more afraid of offending than of leaving a community member to the vampires, you aren’t really a member. Take, for example, the recent revelations of years of sexual assault by a U.S. Olympic Committee approved doctor on scores of vulnerable young female gymnasts. The girls were community for one another, but they were certainly not defended by the so-called responsible adults around them. Image was more important than young psyches. Winning trumped soul. The raw courage of victims and a “small town” newspaper pulled back the curtain on the shame.
When I was young, my mother took me to the doctor for what turned out to be advanced bronchitis. She stood by as he listened to my heart and then as he fondled my newly developed breasts. I looked to her, sure what he was doing was wrong. An expression in her eyes told me she was conflicted, but she said nothing. I grabbed up my bra and shirt as quickly as I could. The doctor’s authority had silenced my defender and me, as well. That violation was trivial next to what the Olympic gymnasts endured, yet I remember it today. It was the first time I felt betrayed by my mother. My sense of community with my family was cracked. I understood that women could be meat.
One friend of mine was Brule Sioux. She performed a ritual to make me coda. When I asked her what that meant, she told me it meant she would die for me. I was there for her before she died. We were totally unlike but community, nonetheless.
I’m a fairly introverted person, so the communities to which I belong tend to be small, but that may be changing as my sensitivity to offenses against humanity grows more irritated. I understand that there are other people who not only have concerns in common with me but who would also make me feel safe and loved. I will stand up for them, knowing the love we share is making us all more resilient.