We are drawn to be in the company of others because of instinctive forces within us that make it clear we cannot live without them. It was Aristotle who held that human beings are basically social animals and thus the welfare of the many and the welfare of the individual are inextricably linked. Put another way, many species of animals sing to each other, only humans sing together.
Tribe, gang, family, friends, teammates, colleagues, the infinite multitude of circles circling, formal and informal. Belongings, walking around your neighborhood, going to a favorite bar, greeted by the waiter as an old friend, or simply being in a First Night crowd. The way we move in and out reminds me of those metal rings that magicians use, one moment locked in place and the next separate, unconnected. All of this background music is fine but it is not enough, we need something more, more than company, something that strikes a nerve and springs back out of ourselves.
What we need is community in a broader public sense, what Peter Senge calls “a field of shared meaning.” We have that sense sitting in a congregation where the liturgy, the prayer and the song, provide meaning. We have those feelings at a Bruce Springsteen concert when the singers’ passion for social justice becomes animate within the music. We have that yearning when being alone is not an option as it was not after September 11th.
We struggle with aloneness and loneliness all of our lives. Alone we face internal reflections, ruminations, speculations, anticipations, hesitations, doubts and fears. Spirituality is one kind of resolution. So is love. Community is another.
Pico Iyer recently wrote of the fast-moving mobile contemporary life where a “new kind of soul is being born out of a new kind of life” asking “What are the issues that we would die for? What are the passions we would live for?”
Those are hard questions and even harder to avoid. You cannot answer them alone. The questions and the answers only make sense when shared with others who have similar values and goals, with those who, like you, are willing to commit, are willing to act. You cannot answer those questions simply as a passive observer, as a sitting member of the congregation or an enthusiast in a rock concert audience. You have to become an actor. You have to act with others. You have to become part of a community of interest. It is the moment when, the “walk-by” becomes a “walk-in.” It is the moment when you stand up and are counted.
Imagine a community of solidarity as a powerful life force on a mission to do good works. When organized, it is virtually unstoppable. It is called many things. I call it philanthropy.