What Does It Mean to Live in a Community?

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Women Living Well - 2004

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What Does It Mean to Live in a Community?

Paula Arboleda

It is important for all members as individuals to belong to a community and to be active within it. "Living in community" and participating within a community is a responsibility. As discussed in class, every community has its own beliefs, norms, and expectations, and as such, community can be both empowering and disempowering. As a result of the different norms and values that a community can hold, there are many spaces for tensions and conflict. These tensions arise precisely because one community's norms, beliefs, and expectations are commonly accepted as "right" than another's or many others. Furthermore, other communities' sense of self and worth, which may differ from the wider community, feels threatened and undermined by these accepted norms. Dominating community norms, by nature of their acceptance, strength, and generalizability, are not perceived as dominating because they are widely accepted. It is almost as if "a community" (x) and its values becomes representative of "the community" (z) and its values, while all the other communities (t, u, y etc...) are being unrepresented or marginalized. Community X does not have to question its values, norms, or expectations precisely because it has the power and privilege not to have to think about them. With the notion of what is "right" and accepted (us) comes the notion of what is different and not as right (them). In the meanwhile, Community Y, which is part of the larger community (z), whose values are different is aware of the "dominating norms" and must justify and prove that its community's values are not only unrepresented and undermined by the larger community (z), but that they are valuable and essential to the over health of the wider community.
Tensions exist and are exacerbated because smaller communities do not feel that they are being engaged or asked to participate in discussions, projects, decision making etc... by the larger community. Rather, the perception is that the larger dominating community (norms) is asking the smaller communities "to learn and to play the game." They are not being asked to reshape or influence the game. This process can be represented by the following statements: "This is what we are playing and this is how we play it. Vs. This is what we usually play and this is how we usually play it, but how can we do it differently or what other game would you like to play." These types of tensions are always present. The question is how can it be managed better and how can these communities engage in dialogue in a productive and constructive way? How can we reconceptualize the "game" so as to think of the problems and solutions differently? I would argue that the existence of these tensions or of other ones must be acknowledged first before they can be tackled and dealt with appropriately. These tensions are not negative per se, but they can become destructive when they are not addressed. Smaller communities within the larger framework of "living in community" must be engaged and must be perceived as valuable to the health and vibrancy of the larger one. In order for these various communities to come together and engage in dialogue and action, there must be a discussion of these dominating norms and some recognition of the game, its existence, and its prevalence.

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