Wednesday, August 8, 2012

a newspaper column about 'community' (no ... not 'Community')

Been in a bit of a quandary recently with my columns for the St. Clair Times: I have ideas in my brain that don't make it to paper, and I can't allocate the proper time to making them coherent. Which is how you get stuff like this. If you care to discuss this further or offer me advice, you can comment here or on Twitter.
More to life than ‘community’

Among us media types, there are a number of overused phrases.

We tend to tack the word “-gate” onto the end of every scandal. We enjoy using the word “gaffe” a lot during political seasons, which is odd because no one uses it in any other setting.

Here’s one you’ll hear way too often: the word is “community.”

In its purest definition — according to, anyway — “community” can refer to a “group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage” or “a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.”

The word “community” usually comes up on television or in the newspaper as a term to divide people.

“That policy is a slap in the face to my community.”

“What you just said is deeply offensive to the members of this community.”

“We have to create jobs, so our community can be healthy.”

The word has uses beyond simply referring to a city or town; it can refer to a neighborhood, a race or religion or a political movement.

When one of these groups is aligned with us, it’s (obviously) much easier to take pride in representing the interests of our “community.” Usually it’s fighting with the interests of another community; we like to call these “special interest groups,” because we’re pretty sure those types of groups are bad.

(Note: I have a number of special interests, though I’ve not yet found a group that supports them specifically. I guess “football nerds who also enjoy Broadway musicals and think both major political parties are embarrassing themselves daily” is too specific.)

Whether it should or not, the word often has a darker connotation: a certain “community” is a term that divides us, more often than not. Discussing “the importance of (a key issue) to my community” is how a leader sets cities, social groups and neighborhoods against one another.

The worst thing that happens: Too often we’re content to stay only within the boundaries of our “communities,” meaning we never see anyone but people who look like we do, live where we do, believe like we do. When you’ve never met or interacted with anybody from the other side, they become unknowable, so you have to imagine how they must walk, talk and think. And we have great imaginations.

In extreme cases, some of these “communities” wind up fighting, and eventually going to war with one another. And that’s bad for everybody’s community.

Maybe we should just be regular folks.

No comments: