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Community -- Why is it hard?

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The answer, "You can." That's what community offers you the opportunity to heal and to be healed without having to pay exorbitant fees (or any fees). This is our notion of healing circle or hocokah, which is people getting together for the purpose of being healing for each other without hierarchies, experts, or money exchange. We encouraged our New York City friends to start their hocokah so that they could experience healing camp every week, or at least, as often as they wished.

Immediately questions arose. A colleague wondered how we felt about the autistic young man who had been present. Occasionally he was disruptive. Should such people be allowed? Or what about the young man with the penetrating stare who seemed like he could be a little creepy? Or what about the woman who came to another presenter's workshop and stared at each person in the circle for a minute each before rambling for 10 minutes?

"You can't exclude people if you're going to have community," I answered. "That's why people in New York are having such trouble finding community (this is what all my friends had told me). You want only perfect people in your community, so you could switching groups, thinking that you will find the perfect match with only people with whom you resonate. If we're serious about community," said, "we have to accept all comers. We have to accept the autistic people, the crazy people, the annoying people, the irritating people. We have to understand that these people are part of us, that whatever they have that we don't like is shared with us. We can't exclude the annoying and the nuissances because that exclusion breaks down community."

I suggested that rather than roll one's eyes at the woman who stared and rambled, and then find ways to exclude her from future gatherings, it would be preferable to accept her and to tell her that she stared too long at people and that she had to talk less, than to exclude her. I told her about a member of my healing circle who carries a label of schizophrenia and can sometimes act objectionably. "We tell him to dial it down," I said. "We tell him he's acting inappropriate. We tell him that we love him, but he can't act so weird if he wants people to react normally toward him (which he desperately wants). We give him the feedback he needs to be part of the group. It's that problem with confrontation," I said. "It's hard, but it's necessary. It's easier to just leave and find a new group, than to confront the annoying and irritating people in old groups to give them the opportunity to change or at least to share that they find us just as annoying and irritating." I'm well aware that I can be annoying and irritating. I can stubbornly insist that I'm write (like about where to find a cab in the New Orleans airport) when I'm completely wrong. I don't have all the social graces quite mastered, especially when I'm tired. But, I try to make up for it in other ways. We are all irritating and annoying at some time to some one and we need the feedback when we are and we all need to be accepted anyway. That's community, and that's healing through community. It's how "Melvin Grey Fox cured a schizophrenic", a story in my book, Coyote Wisdom.

So community is hard because confrontation is hard. Community is hard because we have to accept and embrace annoying and irritating people. Community is hard because we have to stand up and tell people who care about us and who love us that we won't do what they want, sometimes. Community is hard because we are all continually accountable to each other, and, like a monkey troup, have to continually worry about whether or not we hurt Phil's feelings, or whether we offended Nancy, or whether we asked too much from Ralph, and the like. When we're anonymous, we don't have to worry about other people's feelings. When we're anonymous, we don't have to worry about accountability. We've heard stories about people coming to the city to become anonymous because of the burdens of community life, and we understand those sentiments, but suspect that they're not compatible with long-term sustainability. When we're accountable to each other, we don't need police or policing. When we're anonymous, we need a strong police presence. Crime is less in small communities because of that accountability factor (in part).

Community is hard because we can't escape. And, when we can't escape, in order to make community work, we have to strongly advocate for our point of view and allow others to disagree and to be annoying and irritating, just as they allow us that same privilege. People who are being abused in the presence of strong power differentials can't do that, and do have to flee community. A woman in our Toronto workshop told her story of being a woman in a Taliban family and having to flee Iran in order to survive. This is the point of our friend, Thomas Vietoricz' new book (still being written) that hierarchical, power-dominating communities (like that of the Taliban, for example, or those of some polygamist, LDS families reported in the news recently) are not sustainable. Sustainability requires low power differentials. Highly structured power hierarchies are doomed to collapse under their own weight, be overthrown through revolution (or strike or financial collapse), or be conquired by a neighboring more powerful hierarchical entity. Excess power differentials are not sustainable; people do need to escape.

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Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and (more...)
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