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  • Writer's pictureBrett Simpson

In my experience…community creates unity

I grew up in Troy, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.  It was a great place to grow up because there were lots of people, lots of diversity, lots of things to do, lots of places to go and lots of new cars (being the Motor City and all).  Upon graduating high school, I went to Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa for my undergraduate degree.  The contrast between Troy / south-east Michigan and Lamoni / south-central Iowa was pretty stark.  Not a lot of people, diversity, things to do, places to go or new cars.

In Lamoni it took creativity to find fun things to do.  In Troy there wasn’t as much creativity needed because nearly everything you could want was readily available.  Fortunately, Graceland had been around for a while and creativity was part of its DNA.  As with most institutions of higher learning then and now, students come to campus from all over the country and around the world.  Sometimes there’s massive culture shock and other times there’s none.  Graceland had fewer students than my high school and Lamoni was literally 100 times smaller than Troy in population, not even including the surrounding area of Detroit’s other suburbs.  Many of my peers also came from places with similar number disparities.

The powerful thing Graceland did though was to create community.  Graceland was and still is masterful at creating community.  In my experience, community creates unity.  I felt like I belonged from day one.  The social house I belonged to was my community, the soccer team was my community, the professors were my community, the campus was my community.  I learned then, and continue to find examples of this today, that community is not dependent upon large numbers of people.  In fact, I believe community is more easily attained in small groups.

Types of Community

Not all communities are equal.  There are communities that we’re a part of mostly by circumstance.

  • Family: It’s not possible to choose all members of your family

  • Neighborhood: You can choose where to live, but generally not who lives around you

  • Work / School: See Neighborhood comment…

  • Concerts / Sporting Events / Movie Theaters / Restaurants: Temporary communities of people with common interests that we rarely actually interact with

There are other communities that we have a lot of choice about.

  • Friendships: We choose our friends and engage in many overlapping communities

  • Volunteering: Based on passions we volunteer or create communities for specific purposes

  • Social Activities: We choose which social gatherings or activities to participate in based on the communities of people they’re comprised of

  • Subsets of the communities mentioned in the ‘mostly by circumstance’ category: Whether within families, neighborhoods, work, school or temporary communities, we more often than not create our own subset communities

There isn’t a clear delineation between these two groupings of community types and they certainly aren’t mutually exclusive.  The point is there are communities we’re a part of because they're a means to an end and then there are communities we’re a part of because the ends validate our personal means.

Communities Exist to Fulfill a Purpose

A few examples…

  • Neighborhoods exist to provide housing and leverage a common infrastructure (electricity, water, sewer, etc) for economies of scale for the people who live there

  • Work exists to fill a market need, create opportunity, generate income and occupy time, by providing jobs, goods and services

  • Friendships exist to provide support, build relationships and have fun

  • Volunteer opportunities exist to improve the world, develop relationships and create community

Communities change constantly.  Some can be sustained over long periods of time while others are fleeting.  Regardless of time in existence, communities are evaluated and remembered by their impact.

Benefits of Community

I’ve found the benefits of community to be very personal.  My experience with the Graceland community significantly shaped who I am today.  The communities I’m a part of provide…relationships, challenges, growth, learning, collaboration, belonging, opportunities, friendships, discouragement, fulfillment, giving, taking, heartbreak, satisfaction, etc. Not to mention the good to society and the world.

There are more communities today than when I was younger simply based on the fact that there are so many methods available from which communities can be created.  Sometimes it’s actually challenging to sort through the noise to find the community (or communities) we want to be part of.  Interestingly, it’s that reality of nearly endless options that makes finding the right communities so much more important.  Community done well is unifying and powerful.

Special thanks to Greg Kratofil for the communities he intentionally creates for the greater good of the larger community, and to Lori Kelleher for communities of empowerment she builds that result in opportunity for those impacted.

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