Who is a Part of My Community?
Who makes up my community?
Who do I accept into my inner-circle? Who do I learn from? Who do I teach? Who do I ask for help? Who helps me? Who do I distance myself from? Why?
When I ask these questions of myself and my friends I get wildly different answers. The people I keep closest to me look nothing like the people I distance myself from. Or do they? Does the conservative republican struggle to pay the bills? Does the liberal democrat have a hard time getting his child to school on time so that he can get to work? What encourages me to make the distinction between lover, friend, acquaintance, and enemy? Does this distinction serve to protect me and my family in any way?
All of this information has been studied at length by social psychologists and none of the findings seem to really answer the underlying question: Does distancing myself from certain people do me a disservice? In essence, would I be a better person (more knowledgeable, likable, employable, etc.) if I respect and learn from those I distance myself from the most? More importantly, is my community weakened by this distance?
Before the Internet and telephones people were forced to get to know the individuals around and the communities were relatively small. They needed each other in almost every daily task. The butcher and farmer provided their food. The builder repaired their home. The mailman provided them with communication. The garbage collector cleaned up the mess. These tasks are still done by individuals but the tasks are now so separated from our daily life that we don’t know the people who provide these services. Our world is so big that it is hard to keep track of everyone around you. There are a hundred farmers, dozens of butchers, carpenters galore, and a different mailman on every block.
I don’t even know the name of my mailman and I don’t have to. Why don’t I have to know the mailman’s name? His life isn’t of significant importance to me. If he dies, he is replaced by another mailman and another and another. I don’t know how you feel about this, but this feels wrong to me. I feel that my life is important. I feel that I am useful. I feel that I provide an important role in my community. If I feel that I am important I should also feel that those around me are important. At least important enough to know the mailman’s name.
Our community is comprised of all kinds of people. Democrat, Republican, Independent, Radical, Conservative, Liberal, Anarchist, Urbanite, Ruralite, Farmer, Patriot, Trekkie, Ypsilanti-an. Who are the people that are “acceptable” to do or say anything valuable to our community and who decides that? We’ve been separated from each other by labels for far too long. When we distance ourselves from each other I believe that we do a disservice to ourselves and to one another. I want to rely on you and I want you to rely on me.
We are trying to build a community of inclusion and that begins with accepting everyone for who and where they are right now. Our bias does serve its positive purpose (to warn us against predators), but it also prevents us from the genuine openness that we so desperately need to build a robust and strong Ypsilanti.