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Power of Community

Miss the previous reflection about my year at the leprosy community? Read it here.

I’ve been reviewing (and editing heavily) my past writings about all the activities I was involved with at the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh in India.

Doing so has been source for a bit of cringing and wincing because there was so much "trying to" in what I was writing, as well as over story telling and over explanation. It wasn’t necessary to do, and as I edited out all the excess, I saw that the plain story was more than good enough to share.

If you simply share the essentials of your story and life from the heart, others will derive meaning from it on their own. And if not, not. The extra spin gets in the way of the truth and can come across as unflattering.

As I mentioned in a previous reflection, through no design or purpose of my own, I grew to be a leader at this leprosy community with a certain degree of influence. This was a result of living there for so long, being hands on with many of the members, initiating the activities I did, and just generally clicking with and loving the way of life there.

The best example I can give of this is with the sanitation day I started, which I wrote about in greater detail here.

The basic idea was for the entire community on a Saturday each month to get together and clean up the compound. I especially had the children in mind. To foster community togetherness, get the children active in upkeep, and for overall cleanliness.

The day we launched was a success way beyond my expectations and people who I thought would not be involved, got involved. I overheard comments such as, “Why haven’t we been doing this before?”

Launching a program like this would have been difficult for a native resident of the community because, honestly, people are generally not interested in community service of the sort. Even trickier for a non-native resident, from a different country! The reason why I had success was 100% about the family like relationships that formed.

I learned something important that day and from being in the position that I was in. How easy it is to create healthy, thriving community. All people need is a little push in the right direction from leaders who have earned trust and respect through honest, loving service.

What’s hard, I realize, is creating the kind of community, if you can call it that, we’re living in today in the more developed world—where members are solely concerned about their individual welfare, and perhaps the welfare of a few members of their extend family, where concern for community matters is generally outsourced to paid government entities.

I remember falling off my bike somewhat violently on a busy street in Santa Barbara once and how not a single person around stopped to ask if I was OK(!). I contrast this to the outpouring of love and assistance I received the times I got ill in the leprosy community.

It’s not that people lack care, it’s the cultural context we’re living in that does.

We are naturally compassionate. Naturally concerned about the welfare of others. Naturally giving. Naturally moral. And we are designed to live in communities based on these kinds of altruistic values—it’s the secure and sustainable way to live.

I want you caring about me as you do yourself because what happens if I get really sick and am unable to care for myself, and don’t have the advantage of a family? Why pay an insurance company to care when we have each other?

Communities can be designed to care, easily. If it’s possible in a not so well off leprosy community in a slum area of India, it’s definitely possible elsewhere.