I must have been in kindergarten, or close to that age, when I made my way through the neighborhood, building community. I knocked at doors and had my question ready for the adult who was sure to answer: “Do you have anyone here I can play with?”
The word “community” comes from the root words, common and unity. We humans learn long-held patterns adopted in our common-unity, through socialization.
The process of learning to adopt the behavior patterns of the community is called socialization. The most fertile time of socialization is usually… between the ages of one and ten… during which individuals develop the skills and knowledge and learn the roles necessary to function within their culture and social environment. But socialization also includes adults moving into a significantly different environment, where they must learn a new set of behaviors.If you grew up, as I did, in an all-white (or all-black or other “all”), Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim, or etc. community, our early childhood socialization “trained” us to see anyone outside of the comfortable norms of our surroundings as “different,” and “other” than “us.” The bigger our community (majority rather than minority), the less inclusive our norms are.
The degree to which the norms of a particular society or community are adopted determines one's willingness to engage with others. The norms of tolerance, reciprocity, and trust are important "habits of the heart," as de Tocqueville put it, in an individual's involvement in community.*
In order for the world (our expanding community) to get along, we must learn new norms. Flip the script and take a look at how we are alike, and what we have in common—in our humanity—rather than focusing on how we are different, and what sets us apart. From this viewpoint, we can choose to form connections that lead to community-building in our now global society.
My own learning about this was tested when my American Catholic daughter fell in love with and married a Bangladeshi Muslim man, each retaining their own belief systems while accepting one another’s. They currently live, with their children, across the planet in his home country.
It’s hard to learn to let go of our own closely-held beliefs when we bump up against an unfamiliar way of life. But learn we must, because rejecting new ways shuts down relationships and forms hurtful gaps between us. Acceptance and a willingness to learn bridge us closer to one another.
My role with the Humanities Center, as well as my M.A. in Human Development focuses on the process of learning that we adults face in our changing communities. I’ve outgrown going door-to-door looking for playmates, but I continue to invite connection.
At the Humanities Center, the foundational understanding of the purpose of our work is embedded in our course Increase Engagement through Absent Narratives. In a nutshell, it is about learning from and with others in order to adapt our behavior patterns and fully engage with one another in common-unity.
*Cited at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community