Close Your Eyes and Envision Your Ideal Community


At a large meeting I attended a few weeks ago, all in attendance
were asked to describe their ideal community.

Close your eyes,

she said.

Forget about money. If all it took was wishing it, what would it

Housing for all.

At a large meeting I attended a few weeks ago, all in attendance were asked to describe their ideal community. “Close your eyes,” she said. “Forget about money. If all it took was wishing it, what would it contain?”

“Housing for all.” “Lots of public green space for recreation.” “Adults who care about all children.” “People with enough to eat.” “Excellent public schools,” were some of the answers.

Then the facilitator asked us to use one word to describe the core values of the community. “Love,” one shouted. “Respect!” said another. And so it went.

I sometimes trip out over how people with very divergent views of the world and of people live together and among each other in the same community.

Personal histories and experiences color how we come to our respective views and choose to spend some of our best energy working toward the ends we each believe are best.

It makes me think of the old Gary Larsen Far Side comic.

God is dressed as a chef, standing over a roasting pan that contains Earth. In back of him is a pantry shelf lined with jars and boxes with labels that read “medium-skinned people,” “dark-skinned people,” “light-skinned people,” “reptiles,” “birds,” “insects,” “trees.” He’s holding a jar over the world, like he would a large salt-shaker. The jar is labeled “jerks” and the caption is “and just to make it interesting ?”

With people disagreeing on values as great as those that address the core of who we are, such as interpretation of the Bible (literal or in historical context?), sexuality and orientation, reproductive rights and even more so on education (pick your theory); how one’s person’s spur is another’s threat to a local economy, and whatever drives our group’s or our own self-interest, how do we get anything done at all?

I’ve been involved in my share of conflict resolution and consensus building lately.

With a head hung in disillusionment, I turned to Rose Barry of St. Mary’s for counsel, who sent me to the letters of St. Paul as he wrote to people who were divided among themselves, exhorting them to come together in Christ.

This led me to the work of Hans Kung, the Catholic theologian, long exiled from the church for his challenge to the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope.

Kung, who is working to achieve global peace, has taken the world religions and proposes a global ethic based on what we have in common. For example, each of the religions has a version of “The Golden Rule.” In Hinduism, “the is the sum of duty; do nothing to others which would cause you pain if done to you.” In Jainism, “A person should treat all creatures as he himself would be treated.” In Chinese religion, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” Judaism: “Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” Buddhism: “A state that is not pleasant or delightful to me must be so for him also; and a state which is not pleasant or delightful for me, how could I inflict that on another?” And in Islam “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

Kung recognizes that there are four things we cannot agree on: anti-conception, abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia.

But there is a great deal we can come together on around the things on which we do agree, such as every human being should be treated in a very human way, that everyone deserves to be dealt with honestly and fairly.

We don’t need a specific ethical system, but an ethic: a moral conviction, attitude or mindset.

Kung’s (and Paul’s) models aren’t just global, they are also local.

We see our neighbors struggling (or maybe we are ourselves) to grow in a health way, we see non-profits struggling, schools struggling, our small businesses, and we have witnessed time and again an inept attempt at fixing problems by throwing money at them without a good guiding, generally-accepted ethic. I’m tired of the same old same old, aren’t you?

I close my eyes, and envision my ideal community. And I want you to, too. And let me know what you see, what you want.

And if it doesn’t match mine, is it possible for us to see one thing in common? How about two? Could we get to three? And what could we build with that?

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