What does it mean to belong to a community? More and more I am convinced that we need some form of community tie that binds to feel whole. I think we were created, designed, fitted, for community. But the landscape for community has changed. As the link above clearly demonstrates younger people have very different expectations for community. Those of us in positions of leadership need to be conscious these changes and if we choose to ignore them we do so knowing our community may well have a limited shelf-life.
David Brooks lays out the contradiction that many younger people bring to community. On one hand these folks desperately want some form of connection, preferably in their own communities. On the other hand these are people who have been raised with technology that gives them the power to choose what they want, when they want it. These younger people have also been raised to believe that they are brilliant, amazing and capable of all things. I affirm this shift away from a time where my parents and grandparents were raised with very different assumptions. Thank God we no longer raise our children to think of themselves as inferior to others; either because of their race, their gender, their orientation, their social demographic. But there are ramifications for young adults who have been told by their parents, their teachers, their mentors, that they are the next Mark Zuckerberg. It’s tough to be a community when its members all think they should be in charge and the outcomes of this community ought to suit their needs, all the time.
Still younger people, often raised in homes that have experienced divorce, many moves, dislocation and transition, do have a hunger for community. How do we harness that hunger and move it to a place where the participants see that their own needs and the needs of the other are intimately connected, that it is OK to admit that we don’t know everything and that others may in fact know more than ourselves? What gives me hope and joy is that for the first time we now have communities where people are open and enthusiastic about the leadership and contributions of people who worship in different ways, girls and women, gays and lesbians and transgendered people, people from backgrounds that are not Scottish, Irish, Welsh and British, people with mental illnesses. Community today has the potential to be more vibrant and diverse than ever before. That fills me with hope.
But to get there we will need one other very important ingredient. We will need fiscal security. One thing that troubles me is the lack of attention to the fiscal security in community. There is still a lingering assumption that governments will in the end support and even rescue any and all community groups. That assumption betrays an arrogance that says that everyone outside that community somehow owes each and every community the means for permanent existence. I believe communities need to demonstrate to themselves and to others their raison d'être, otherwise we fail to understand that throughout time we have seen that communities serve a purpose but sometimes evolve into other communities with new and more dynamic needs. Holding on too long to a vision of a certain community can prevent the evolution of something new.
One way to see that a community is still filled with life is whether it has the sustainability to continue, which includes its finances. Communities that leave this matter too long, let things get out of hand with debt, will run into this challenge sooner than later. Further, the challenge of meeting these goals provokes an entrepreneurial spirit which can only help deepen the ties between community and larger community. Keeping expenses in check, providing a sound and secure financial base, will give the creative and dynamic part of the community the freedom it needs to grow.