In his introduction to the chapter called “The Intentional Community” in The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony, Bhikkhu Bodhi points out the fundamental difference between natural communities and intentional communities. Natural communities are our neighborhoods, the group of people that shows up at the pool or the gym, or in the dog park, or at school or work. It’s the regulars at the local bar, the people waiting in line for coffee or for attention at the Motor Vehicle Bureau or welfare office. It is the people who land in any prison or hospital.
An intentional community is one that we have a choice about joining or not: a church or other spiritual community, a sports team, a book group, a bridge club, a choir, the Parent-Teacher Association, the Lions Club, a fraternity or sorority, or any other social or support group. With intentional communities, we make it a habit to show up in person, to participate, to accept and support the others in the group. Generally, a common goal or interest binds members of an intentional community together.
We humans are herd animals; sometimes we go mad if we are isolated. We are all members of natural communities, however temporarily. Most of us also belong to at least one intentional community, and these can be overlapping circles.
For some of us, our families are our primary community, our tribe. If we are lucky, our relatives are also our friends. Some folks work in places where interpersonal bonds become deep through shared purpose. Occasionally friendships made in school or university last a lifetime. But of course, if one is not so lucky, one’s primary commitment will be elsewhere, and may move from one group to another at intervals. There’s a lot of scope here to choose communities that are supportive of what’s best in us, and also groups that bring forth our lesser qualities. In some locations, violent gangs can seem an appealing form of community.
On-line communities have become a reality in recent years. Particularly for people who are shut in for one reason or another, these modes of communication can be life-saving. It’s unfortunate that most of what we hear in the world media from on-line communities are extremist views and vitriol. Let’s not forget that for many people who can’t get out and about or live in sparsely populated areas, an on-line community can be essential and positive.
We’re going to be considering characteristics of communities in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, we might benefit from reviewing where our commitments lie; what groups are we currently involved in or identified with?