The problem with the word ‘community’ is that is has, like an aerosol, been squirted onto so many concepts that it means everything to everyone, and thus nothing to anyone. ‘Community’ is supposed to give greater collective value to terms such as community schools, community work, community health, community policing, community businesses and so on – right up to what was once called the European Economic Community. But what it actually adds is never spelt out.
The concept of ‘community’ has been used to try to add some vague cohesive quality to residential settlements (a suburban community), particular localities (the Notting Hill community), social classes (a working class community) and religious collectives (the Muslim community). So can we make any sense of the term or should it be jettisoned as too ill-defined to be of any use?
In my page on ‘Community as a social reality’, I argue that the only way to give the concept of community the importance it deserves is to move beyond some of the facile uses of the term and acknowledge it is fundamentally about the power of feelings (and their morale-boosting potential). On that page, I highlight three fundamental communal feelings or sentiments – a sense of security, a sense of significance and a sense of solidarity (what I call the 3Ss). I argue that no social collective can survive without these feeling being present to some degree.
In this post, I want to stress again that community understood as feelings – the 3Ss – is vital to the sustainability and flourishing of every human collective – from the family to the nation state. These sentiments are the sentient bedrock of what enables human life to exist. If they are strong, humankind will flourish; if they are weak, civilizations will collapse. The urgent quest is for a sense of community which will enable our world to make it through the immense challenges of the decades ahead.
There is one proviso to this (sociological) understanding of community. The 3Ss must bring about open not closed borders, and foster inclusiveness not exclusiveness. Because openness and inclusiveness are rarely the default position for collectives, the latter need to promoted the motivation which can only come through a commitment to values and the beliefs which espouse a global vision of what community is all about. Only such values and beliefs have the potential to turn community as a power frequently high-jacked by self-centredness and hatred of ‘the stranger’, into community as a power which can create universal well-being and one world.