In These Chaotic Times, Deepening Community the Promise

In many ways our world is at a crossroads. Deep community formed around vision rather than the fear is one of the most promising responses. Canadian community builder Paul Born explores these and related ideas in this recently released book, Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times. Photo credit: Rachel Brnjas

In These Chaotic Times, Deepening Community the Promise

Canadian author Paul Born hopes to help turn tide on growth of fear-based communities

One projection is that a billion people will be displaced over the next 50 years. Already nearly 1,500 families a day are moving to the City of Mumbai from rural India.

These are some of the phenomenon signaling the increasingly chaotic times in which we live. The global economic system is wonky and under threat. Some people feel collapse is imminent; others have less of a sense that it’s that bad, but agree it’s not working, especially in North America.

There is also obviously the environmental threat. As sea levels rise due to climate change, the number of people vying for territory and water is likely to grow.

All of this creates fertile conditions in which to hone in and create strongly connected communities — perhaps like never before. But while this offers much promise, possibly the greatest promise, there are also cautions to keep in mind.

Paul Born has worked in the field of community building for about three decades and co-founded an organization to strengthen community, Tamarack, based in Waterloo, Ontario. Paul says looking ahead he’s  worried about the growth of what he calls fear-based communities.

Communities organized to protect their space and centred on a common bond of being against outsiders can in fact manifest as being deeply connected. The trouble is their volatility as that same fear can also crumble them from the inside.

  Paul Born presents at a recent book launch in Waterloo. Photo credit: Rachel Brnjas

"The communities we're looking for are those that are both connected within and also reaching outside of themselves in a positive way through acts of collective altruism," Paul says.

“We often call it the Habitat for Humanity effect."

"People are creating a better community, but they’re actually creating their own deepening sense of community, by working together in that way, (to care for others).”

As a member of a Mennonite refugee family that fled Ukraine during the Stalin regime in the 1940s, Paul grew up in a community in Abbotsford, B.C. that manifested a constructive bonding. Both of his grandfathers were executed in the purge of Stalin, his family lived through incredible famines during that era and many horrific things happened to people.

“The deep sense of community that I grew up in was formed primarily because of the healing that we had to undertake,” Paul says.

The community of about 300, many of whom had gone through similar difficulties, chose to come together, to pray, sing, eat, work and play together, trying to make sense of the suffering. They supported one another: If one farmer learned something innovative about raising chickens, he passed on that knowledge and before long many others were raising several thousand chickens.

Collective giving back was an important part of the healing process. Families would make massive kettles of borscht and fresh-baked goods, for instance. These were sold at an annual sale to raise funds for an organization that helped other Mennonites around the world in need.

Of the 500 people surveyed by Tamarack on the phenomenon of community recently, 82 per cent of them said that they had experienced their deepest experience of community when they worked together with others on behalf of something greater than themselves.

So if the urgency is strong around the need to deepen our communities, not from a sense of fear, but a sense of vision, what are the paths to take to do so? In his recently published book, Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times, Paul outlines four pillars of the deep community:

• Sharing our stories
• Taking the time to enjoy one another
• Taking care of one another
• Working together for a better world

“The needs of our families, neighbourhoods and countries are great — and in these chaotic times will become all the more so,” Paul writes in conclusion in the book. “But we know what we must do as a community.

“We must keep dreaming and sharing our dreams and hopes with one another. And we must keep making these dreams come true by acting them as a community but never against another community.

“Acting in this way will be challenging but will be done with a lightness of being if we look out for and include one another. It is in the work of restoring our neighbourhoods, cites and beyond that we will see the result of dreams that are dreamed in deep community.”

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Michelle Strutzenberger

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