Saturday, May 15, 2010

'All morality, like politics, is local'

I’ve thought and written a lot about being involved in my community of Hillsdale.

So I was curious what others would write about community as I settled into the chapter of readings devoted to the topic of “Building Local Community” in my “Sense of Place” course book anthology.

The “group-guided” course is offered by the Northwest Earth Institute and is centered around discussion of shared, stimulating readings.

All the readings were excellent in this chapter, but one essay by the clinical psychologist Mary Pipher provided me with new insights into community.

“Home,” Pipher writes, “doesn’t have to be where you were born or grew does have to be a real place that you have committed to over time. I has to be a place where you have friends and know the names of many people you meet....It’s where when you sit down to talk, you don’t have to discuss Tom Hanks or Benecio del Toro. You have real people in common.”

That’s what Hillsdale, a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, has become for me, and I’ve lived here “only” 20 years.

Pipher continues, “Communities are about accountability, about what we can and should do for each other. People who live together have something that is fragile and easily destroyed by a lack of civility. Behavior matters. Protocol is important. Relationships are not disposable. People are careful what they say in real communities because they will live with their words until the day they die.”

Because of this need for community civility, Pipher adds, “We behave better with people and places we will see again and again.”

Bad behavior, like “road rage” and war, happens between strangers who will not meet again.

And so Pipher says, “All morality, like politics, is local.”

A lot of the connection between neighbors is sharing our stories and our space, she notes. What is our shared history? What are our civic events and celebrations? What are our public spaces — trails and parks, plazas and markets ?

Pipher writes, “Those communal places are needed now more than ever.”

And increasingly, with the lure of “virtual worlds” and fabricated "television" neighbors, we have to consciously make our communities and commit to them.

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