I have a pertinent question. How do individuals affect communities? It’s a relatively simple question, but my answer to my own question is anything but simple. It’s personal.
Let’s jump right into this. What is an individual? Well, to me it’s a single human being with his/her own set of beliefs and own consciousness. An individual has characteristics that distinguish them from everyone else and belongs to his/herself. “Individual” has a singular, but proudly singular connotation to me. An individual may be alone in their beliefs, but the need to have the approval of opinion of others does not resonate with an individual. Individuals can be role models for others and pave new paths against the roads of traditional thought.
So, what is a community? The word “community” contains both tangible and intangible implications. A physical community can be a group of people united by a common cause. The local Bingo club is a community.
Ok, Bingo isn’t the point, but the point is that a community exists when a group of people physically get together and interact in person. Communities that help the poor, play board games, read books, etc., etc, all gather at a central location. Communities spur human interaction and conversation. Communities, however, do not exist solely in the physical world. A community can also be an idea. The idea of a religious community is an intangible community, for example. Consider a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist- whatever religion you choose, community. All of these communities have boundaries that lie beyond the aspect of the physical world. A Catholic in California belongs to the same religious community as a Catholic in Rome. A Buddhist in Thailand can practice the same meditations as a Buddhist in Idaho. The intangible community is based on principles, ideals, and beliefs that supersede geographical boundaries and physical limitations.
Alright, so individuals have their own distinct beliefs and ideas. Communities are tangible and intangible places where people are linked together by the same beliefs and ideas. So how can individuals exist in a community?
Well, as we all know, the world is a complex place; what is defined can always be defied. Being part of a community doesn’t give a person all of their personality. Being a member of my local library (which is a community) doesn’t make me the same person as all the other members of the library. Being an individual is possible within a community, and it’s even more possible to be an individual in a community that is held together by a common activity such as Bingo, sports, or education.
Of course, this is no revelation that individuals can exist within communities. But I have to admit, analyzing the words “individual” and “community” separately prior to revealing that individuals can exist within communities does make the claim about individuality within a community a little more groundbreaking. But let’s stop talking theory and let’s look at some evidence.
I’m reading the Scarlet Letter for school right now, and I noticed that the principle of individuals within a community exists in real life because it was expressed in literature. Hester Prynne is the individual existing within a community that I’m talking about. All the characters in the book are part of the Puritan religious community, as well as the same geographical community. Hester was almost removed from both communities by means of execution because she broke the laws of the Puritan code by committing adultery. Through the years, however, Hester bore the weight of her sin by wearing a scarlet letter, “A” because of her impurity and was ultimately respected by the community after facing decades of persecution and ignominy. Her actions as an individual sent a shock wave of negative reverberations throughout the community. Her acceptance of what she had done, in turn calmed the tumult and her actions as an individual made the community a better place.
But we can look beyond literature. History is a great place for reflection upon individuals who changed the face of the Earth, as well as communities. The legacy that a person leaves behind lives on through their leadership. Every person who was moved by Dr. King’s words and caused other people to be moved all owe their revelations to Dr. King’s original movement for civil justice for African-Americans. As a member of the African-American community (a community held together by race) as well as a member of the civil reform movement, Dr. Martin Luther King shaped the social atmosphere of his time through his individual accomplishments. Traveling back even further in history than social reform for African-Americans is the Transcendentalist community that Henry David Thoreau was a part of. Stressing self reliance and individuality, Thoreau followed his own advice as an individual in his own community. The ideas that he stressed about simplicity caused communities to spawn off of his ideas. An individual created a community.
Now, I have two quick examples of individuals who have affected communities that I’m a part of. Recently, Father Dan, the priest displayed in the blurry photo that I took during church following one of his moving sermons, was transferred into my church.
The funny thing is, he preaches how I would imagine Dimmesdale would preach, but that’s another blog post. Anyways, he talked about showing more love in the community by acting kinder towards one another and always being present. I don’t always listen in church, but I listed to what he had to say that day. I’m sure I’m not the only one in the whole church who listened to him, so it’s safe to say that he changed our religious community for the better. An individual, changed my community through his words.
The next figure in my life that changed a community that I’m a part of is my coach, Steve Schultz. He’s not like any basketball coach I’ve ever had before, because I’ve never had a basketball coach also be my mentor; a person who points me in the direction that I need to go in. As member of the basketball program, all the players have to wear these “Brother Bands.” It’s a physical sign that we are part of a community.
This band is just one tangible piece of evidence that shows that Coach Schultz has made a positive change in the basketball community. It is very possible for individuals to affect communities and change them for the better. Throughout history, individuals have shaped the course of human events and enacted change in communities; whether it be for the better of the worse. I challenge everyone to reflect upon your personal experiences and try to find what individuals have made your community better. If you can think of someone in particular, let that person know that they’ve made a difference in your community. Make a difference in their life by letting them know that they have the power to elevate the lives of others.