Here's one way to get together
If you look up “intentional communities,” you’ll find groups of people sharing a common social ideal, an ecological way of life, perhaps living together. That’s not the kind I mean.
There’s a different sort of intentional community, a collaborative, goal-based sort that may have lasting impact on social divides. When people of all sorts of persuasions come together to accomplish the same intent, say on a nonprofit board or a volunteer committee, that’s a kind of community with a shared intent. And a great way to reconnect with people on the most important level: The human “heart.”
When people join a cause or a project they’re passionate about, serving veterans, abuse and children’s charities, homelessness, or job and literacy coaching, no one asks about politics or divisive issues.
That’s not the point of volunteering and charity work. We come together with the same intent: To work together to help. Leave your politics at the door, please. We’re here to accomplish a goal.
I’ve seen political opposites in such groups work well together, even become friends. I’ve seen them cry tears of shared sympathy, and tears of shared joy when they see the fruits of their efforts shine in someone they helped.
Much of what we’re told to reduce the anger and divisiveness we’re seeing in our culture is to be better listeners. To be open toward personal growth and look for common ground (Pew Research shows there’s more than we think; we just differ on how to reach the same or similar goals).
That all makes sense, but working together on something more concrete is faster and gets something accomplished here and now.
Forging unexpected relationships along the way.
Focusing more on that kind of intentional community (which can apply to work projects too) may better bridge the rising divides we see in American society.
It reminds us that “love thy neighbor” does not mean only neighbors who see things the same way. That deep down, we all love our kids and care about others, have health and work worries, and need the same things out of life, regardless of perspectives on how to secure it all.
Joining intentional communities of this kind and working side by side toward the same goal activates that humanity in us all. When you know someone better and watch them work to accomplish the same lofty goal as you, especially when it helps others, it’s hard to see them as an enemy. It becomes counterintuitive to treat one another uncivilly.
Intentional mini-communities such as these, built across generations, political labels, or personal and professional identities, foster trust and common good. In them we stop talking at, past, and about one another and instead come together with a shared devotion.
In them, instead of knocking heads we can stand shoulder to shoulder again. That’s not only practical, it’s hopeful.
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email Sholeh@cdapress.com.