Et al. presents: The Philosopher's Flaw

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“Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don't talk about it; they are the ones who make a community live.”

― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

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This semester, I’ve had the honor of sharing my thoughts on community with all of you readers. And now we’ve arrived here, at my final entry. Before anything else, I’d like to first thank you from the bottom of my heart for your readership. Community is an important idea, and being able to talk about it with you has been a wonderful opportunity. I want to encourage you to keep the discussion going beyond the pages of this paper. Keep a corner of your mind warm and furnished for your thoughts on community to lay root and flourish. Maybe one day, they’ll come in handy.

Of course, thinking about community is only the first step. You see, understanding does not necessitate application. In fact, one of the hardest things about handling an important idea is sometimes just putting it into practice. This isn’t really an epiphany – it makes a lot of sense. We often think, write and talk about good and beautiful things without actually reflecting them in our actions, because it’s easier that way. But if something is good and beautiful, shouldn’t we want people to see it in more than just our words?

Yes. The answer is yes. In fact, wisdom paired with unwise behavior is far more reproachable than ignorance paired with unwise behavior, for the (hopefully) obvious reason that the former has no excuse. A major struggle in Christianity is taking your beliefs and finding ways to demonstrate them in the things that you do. 2 Peter 1:5 urges to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge” and James 2:17 warns that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” But how does one go about making the jump from thought to action? There are many ways, but I’ve got some suggestions.

First, be organized. Make a short list of people you want to connect with. Brainstorm good ways to gather with others in meaningful ways. When you make plans with somebody, put it in your calendar or write it somewhere you look every day. Organization implies thoughtfulness; thoughtfulness is a key ingredient to good community.

Second, be consistent. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once asked, “Who can really be faithful in great things if he has not learned to be faithful in the things of daily life?” Valuable community doesn’t just materialize out of nowhere – it takes work. Check in on your friends every week or so with thoughtful questions about their lives. How are they doing? I mean, how are they really doing? Showing consistent interest and care encourages the same in return.

Third, be accountable. Ask a friend or family member to check in with you about your progress keeping up with your commitments to community engagement. It’s easy to make excuses when you’re the only person you’re responsible to. Find someone besides yourself to hold you accountable to the person you want to become.

Fourth, be brave. This is probably the hardest piece of advice to implement, at least speaking from personal experience. Often, good community is located outside of our comfort zone. Stepping out of that zone can be difficult, uncomfortable and scary. It takes bravery to reach out to those around us in ways that make us vulnerable to rejection or criticism. But, at least in this case, great risk accompanies great reward.

Well, one semester and 13 columns later, this is it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey as much as I have. To keep updated with my personal writings this summer and beyond, please follow my blog at benjamingotchel.wordpress.com.

Thank you.

Questions for further pondering:

1. Are you happy with your community? If not, what is keeping you from changing it?

2. What are some other ways of pursuing good community?

3. Challenge: Text one friend, right now, and schedule a coffee/tea meetup. I mean it! I dare you.

et al-Ben Gotchel