The city of San Luis Obispo from Monterey Heights
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. Aldo Leopold
“The greatest lack in contemporary society is community,” someone at the SLO Soiree last Sunday said, and it struck me as true.
The setting in which the statement was made completely belied it: the guests at that gathering form a deliciously civilized community. At its heart is a group of friends who’ve been coming to soirees facilitated by Dr. David Hafemeister, physics professor and expert in nuclear policy and foreign relations, for many, many years. Now held at the Steynberg Gallery on Sundays from 7 – 9, participants enjoy wine and cheese before sitting down to a presentation of some sort and a lively Q&A session. Last Sunday a couple of retired lawyers debated whether America is in decline. They were wise and erudite and the discussion was both profound and very much fun.
The sense of community one finds in a group like the SLO Soiree is rare; it takes a rare human being like Dave Hafemeister to draw it together.
To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness. Bertrand Russell
Not so long ago, every neighborhood was a community. Small businesses served the neighborhood and kids went to the neighborhood school. A neighborhood was an ecology, a complex set of relationships, that took up the greatest part of our time, energy and attention.
Neighborhoods, small towns, villages, tribes, and families are all ecologies, for better or for worse, and more or less sufficient unto themselves. Cities are made of neighborhoods – fortunately, or they’d be cold places indeed – but all neighborhoods are not communities.
David Spangler says,
Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.
Today, though there are impressive exceptions like the cohousing movement, communities built on proximity are increasingly short supply all over the world. The oil industry, all those cars and roads to drive them on, is largely responsible.
In Monterey Heights, my neighborhood, community is on the increase. Neighbors are coming together the way they do when facing a disaster – or the potential of a disaster, as many of us view the new freshmen dorms being built on our doorstep. A clear indicator of community is how long it takes to walk the dog – everyone I meet wants to talk.
Together, we imagine seven four-to-five story buildings looming over our mostly one-story neighborhood. We agree on how hard it is to cross Grand Avenue already. “Can you believe the Environmental Impact Report didn’t take the intersection of Slack and Grand into consideration?!” We visualize roving gangs of 18-year-olds looking for parties on our already student-rental-ridden blocks. A series of meetings is being held, and neighbors, armed with a common cause, are getting to know one another.
Equality comes in realizing that we are all doing different jobs for a common purpose. That is the aim behind any community. The very name community means let’s come together to recognize the unity. Come … unity. – Swami Satchidananda
As climate change, continuing economic instability, shifting values and lack of a common belief system bring more chaos into our lives, finding commonality with others around us is more and more essential.
As Ganesh Baba says,
We must shed our fear of one another, not for some medieval ideal, but as the only practical course to continue as a species.
Let’s make survival of the human race our common goal and take responsibility – individually and together – for our part in preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of the planetary community by preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of our own small part of it, the neighborhood.
Creating harmony amidst diversity is a fundamental issue of the twenty-first century. While celebrating the unique characteristics of different peoples and cultures, we have to create solidarity on the level of our common humanity, our common life. Without such solidarity, there will be no future for the human race. Diversity should not beget conflict in the world, but richness. — Daisaku Ikeda
Thanks go to IdeaArchitects and Moon Magazine for many of the quotes.