Deepening community

Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times is the title of a wonderful book by Paul Born, executive director of the Tamarack Institute.

It’s been out for a couple of years but we just stumbled across it on the suggestion of a new friend (Thanks Jenny!)

It’s one of those wonderful books that sound so simple. As you read, you find yourself nodding and thinking “Yes, of course.” Then you realize that these “simple” thoughts are the basis of an entire way of life.

Paul himself makes this point eloquently in describing “the most important thing people can do to make a difference in the world.” Simple, he says. Bring chicken soup to a neighbour. Too easy? Not so fast. It requires real work, says Paul:

It requires that you know your neighbour.

It requires that you know they are not vegetarian and like soup.

It requires that you know them well enough and communicate regularly enough to know they are sick.

Once you know they are sick, you must feel compelled to want to help and to make this a priority among the many calls on your time and energy.

Your neighbour must know you well enough to feel comfortable in receiving your help.

And you must have enough of a relationship to know what they prefer when they are sick, whether it is chicken soup, phochana masala, or even ice cream.

Taking the bowl of soup is simple in itself, but a lot of time and effort has gone into the relationship first.

Paul suggests that our “chaotic times” — marked among other things by  economic disruption, terrorism and the threat of global climate disaster — lead us to seek community in one of three ways.

  • Shallow Community, in which we continue to act primarily as individuals and consumers, going from one interaction or experience to another. “These experiences are shallow not because they are fun or entertaining but because they do not require ongoing connection and mutual caring.”
  • Fear-Based Community, in which our sense of identity becomes linked to the rejection of the other. “A community based on fear is a dangerous place,” writes Paul. “These communities are real and they are growing. They are built by people who are trying to make sense of changes outside their control and their comfort zone…. Fear-based communities derive their sense of reality from being against community; they exist only on the basis of creating a ‘them against us’ narrative.”

    Prophetic words, written well before the rise of Donald Trump, and yet offering perhaps the most succinct and insightful description of his appeal I have seen.

  • And the third alternative, Deep Community, in which we create a place of strengthening mutual bonds and emotional resilience.

    Four practices lead to deep community, says Paul. Sharing our story, so that we know each other’s pain and joy; enjoying one another by spending time together; caring for one another (again with the chicken soup!); and then, turning outward, working together to build a better world.

“Community is not so much chosen for us as by us,” he concludes. “It is not a Pollyanna choice. It is a choice made in the midst of very real struggles in our own life and in our world.”

It’s a wonderful book and you should read it. (Full disclosure: I had the privilege of serving on the board of a charitable organization a number of years ago with Paul.) Order the book and find more resources at


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