Community: A Place to Be(long)

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**For more information on the prompt that inspired this post please visit here**

I have never truly belonged anywhere.  Never has there been a single moment in my life among people in which I have thought to myself, felt in my heart, believed with every ounce of my soul that I was completely and utterly accepted for exactly who I was—not even in the solitude of my own head could I find a perfect sense of belonging, for I am most likely the least accepting of myself of anyone else.  And I am certain that I am not the only person who feels this way.

Nonetheless, I have felt an intimate sense of kinship among many different communities—especially in my own family, unsurprisingly.  What is surprising, however, is that I feel a greater sense of belonging among the communities that I did not choose into.  And I think this has a lot to do with what I mentioned earlier about acceptance.  Often when one chooses into a community, one must take full ownership of this choice in speaking and behaving in a way—as I have striven to do—that gains the acceptance of that community.  If a community has chosen you, then, even while you have given up agency, therein lies freedom.  To explain this, I return to my family as my primary community.  I did not choose to be born into my family, yet I cannot imagine that I will ever experience any other kinship stronger than what I have found within it.  I grew up under strict regulations, under the absolute authority of my father and the constant feedback of my mother; I grew up in fierce rivalry with my sister and burdened by the high expectations of my grandparents.  By these standards I had to conform, yet by these standards I have grown into the person I am today.  Rules and regulations are often looked at with increasing animosity, yet we often forget why they exist.  Rules are never the end-all, nor do they function as goals to aspire to; rules are meant to protect and guide.  Knowing that as a fact in my household community, I also understood that at the heart of it is love.  Love and acceptance (however imperfect) of me, not because of what I can do or say, but because of who I am—and who I am is not something that can be changed: it was ingrained from the moment I entered this world.  And what can be more freeing than knowing that?

I find this question very interesting: Is it ever right to impose conformity on people for the sake of kinship?  In order to answer this question, I must first define what is meant by “right”.  Especially nowadays, we often contend with the idea of even the existence of an absolute right and wrong.  Even so, applying the notion of “rightness” in relative terms to this question, it is indeed right to expect members of the a community to conform to a certain standard for the sake of the community as a whole; in order to maintain structure, functionality and balance, individuals cannot have complete autonomy in their actions—it is imperative that they look to the survival of the group, because if the group survives, then the individual is far more likely to survive as well.  We can see this idea illustrated in schools of fish that form bait balls as a final desperate resort when attacked by predators in the ocean.  Though often ineffectual when their pursuers are many, their only chance of surviving lies in conglomerating in a massive body that moves and flashes as one; predators must drive individual fish away from the bait ball if they are to succeed in making a meal for themselves.

Humans are, of course, far more complex than fish.  We have the capacity to think beyond the instinctual drive for survival and ponder the implications of our actions.  But would our complete autonomy make us feel more ourselves and push further forward in this freedom, or would we, without direction or limitations (and even oppression, in many respects), default into a passive state?  To put it more simply, would we prize a thing that we didn’t have to fight for or earn?  I think not.

I do not feel that being a part of a community in any way jeopardizes my individual identity.  Often I have seen that the cause of breakdown and disappointment among communities lies in an individual’s expectations toward it.  We come to community expecting to receive something of value—to be welcomed and given benefits for being part of the group.  It is seldom, however, that we come in initially with the desire to give to the community.  Much of my own discontentment with the communities that I am a part of stems from both my frustration with their shortcomings and my lack of motivation to do anything to rectify them.  I am quick to become embittered by the ways others in my community have failed me (and, when I can swallow my pride enough, the ways I have failed them as well), yet these observations that so quickly become words do not become anything more than just words.  If any change is to be made within communities, it must first start with me.

 

Post submitted by Michelle

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