The word “community” is from the Latin word communitatem, meaning “community, fellowship,” and itself is from from communis, meaning “common, public, general, shared by all or many.” That feels good, sounds good. But what does it really do? In an obtuse way it has meant we shared responsibilities and burdens, rights and freedoms. In a practical way it meant we shared common burdens with our neighbors, so everyone paid some amount for the roads and the teachers and the sheriff and the court and so on. It meant we shared the village green and the sidewalks and the schools and the libraries and the town hall and all these spaces we all use everyday. Community meant sharing.
Throughout the 1970s, 80s, 90s and into the 00s there was a growing sentiment that those things we own in common could and should be hacked up and divied out to the few, in order for them to make a few bucks. We did this with roads, hospitals, parks, and government buildings; to some extent we tried to do it to schools, too. Running around were small herds of people who wanted to make money from the things we all have to use everyday, and to some extent they succeeded. Sharing was on its way out.
I’m not sure if we’re seeing a resurgence in sharing. But in times when we can’t spring for the big houses and new cars and fancier clothes and all the things we indulged in for so long, there must be some silver lining to these clouds. I look up and see this idea of community being reborn right now. A new value placed on everyone’s good, an understanding that we’re part and parcel of something greater than ourselves. I’m going to talk about that tonight at a community summit in the town of Sumner, Washington. I’ll post my notes tomorrow.