“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.” – Simone Weil
If I would have written this entry just six months ago, I would have probably titled it, “The Value of Community”. Given my more recent spiritual, relational, and academic journey, I have chosen something different, and for good reason. The popular definition of value which would be implied by such a title would generally be received as meaning, “relative worth, merit, or importance” (ripped from Dictionary.com). The significant part of the definition of value is that it is understood as being relative. How value is generally taken to be relative is in a subjectivesense: that values are compared to other values (relative to) and that since each individual possesses different sets of values, objectivity cannot be claimed. Values held by individuals and groups of people are seen this way in modern societies (including ours) and they become problematic when applied seriously. They become problematic because the ‘worth, merit, or importance’ inherent in a value statement is treated much like indigestion or a delicious piece of steak. Regardless of whether or not it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, painful or enjoyable, the significance of a value claim is often restricted to the opinion of the individual and can easily be crossed off as irrelevant to anyone else.
In this post, I wish to talk about my experience in community more seriously than the modern conception of ‘value’ can allow. For if I was to use the term ‘value’ here, it would be assumed by most that I was meaning ‘what I, and some people like me appreciate about living together’, instead of what I really mean, ‘what I believe is good for everyone about living together’. This is why I decided to title this post, “The Good” rather than ‘The Value’ of Community. What is meant here by ‘the good’ implies that there exists a non-subjective conception of ‘the good’ that can be understood along with certain ‘objective-values’. And further, it is not only our duty as people to pursue ‘the good’, but that in doing so we are journeying towards what is best for our very being. The element of ‘the good’ that I wish to touch on here is commitment.
“The word ‘commitment’ brings up notions such as a ‘binding’ course of action, allegiance, dedication and loyalty… re-committing ourselves to respecting the personhood of others by overcoming any ways we have slipped into unthinking habits…” – Fr. George Morelli (Antiochian Orthodox)
It would be worth first to make clear what I mean by commitment. One can say that they are committed to a job or to a cause, but this is different than the context from which I wish to speak. Being committed to something obviously implies a one-way orientation or act. Someone can be committed to a job, but the job cannot be committed to the person. The commitment that I am referring to is one between people. This type demands support and investment from both/all individuals involved. Without a multi-partisan element to commitment within a group of people its fruits cannot be realised. It is a mutual, relationship-based type of commitment that I believe is objectively good for anyone to pursue. The most important part of being committed to others has to do with our willingness. Often what causes conflict between people, groups, organisations, and even nations is rooted in our tendency to be willful. When we hold above all else our own will, our own agenda. When this is done at the very least people are hurt and at the very worst people become inhuman objects. We must first strive to become people who are willing rather than willful. When this happens we become open to others and their concerns. We keep our own perspectives in check and we more immediately understand how we affect others. To be willing is to be open to recognizing the other.
“Some people flee from commitment because they are frightened that if they put down roots in one soil they will curtail their freedom and never be able to look elsewhere. It is true that if you marry one woman you give up millions of others–and that’s a curtailment of freedom! But freedom doesn’t grow in the abstract; it grows in a particular soil with particular people. Inner growth is only possible when we commit ourselves with and to others”. – Jean Vanier
A perfect manifestation of willingness can be seen in Christ. He was willing to do what his father required of him and die on the cross. Both in the garden and while being crucified he expressed that he did not want to be there, but of course he would be faithful to his father. Even throughout his life he did not force or manipulate others to accept his own will, but instead he called people to follow him. The willingness of his people to consider something outside of themselves, to pursue their father’s calling, was of utmost importance, and a first step to a divine relationship.
In a similar way, willingness is an important part of how we are to be committed to each other. First, willingness to engage in a relationship. If the bottom line was whose will took precedence, then God would not have called us to be in relationship with him, but instead to just accept his will and end it there. Willingness also requires us to meet each other where we are at. God met his people in slavery and Jesus met his people in sin as tax collectors and prostitutes. Our willingness to meet with each other is a not only a starting point, but something that is continually done as we learn more about each other and grow as people.
My own experience living at ‘the hotel’ has been one which can be characterized by commitment. Often, how I have committed to others and vice versa has been part of a process of willingness. However, it has also been a more forced reality. Living here, so close and so involved, often demands that I commit to working through things with others. If I choose not to, it can become very awkward and sometimes even a painful place to be. I have had seasons here where I have chosen not to hold my side of the covenant, and trust me when I say, that those times were the hardest of my entire life. Either through being willing or being forced to stay (because this is my home) here and face my demons I have experienced more healing than if I were able to simply retreat to a tiny basement suite or apartment.
In closing, commitment is not a given. Becoming a resident and member of this community has not allowed me to take it for granted. Commitment is a mutual agreement between people, which cannot be realized if it is not pursued by all. But, if it is taken up by those involved, I believe it to be something that transcends the idea of modern ‘values’, placing itself firmly in what is good.