Community is top of mind for many of us these days. That’s in part because we’re feeling its absence. As the pandemic rages on, we’re unable to gather with the friends, neighbors, classmates, and colleagues who make up the communities we’re used to experiencing in person. Out of necessity, we’re not even bowling alone. Yet even before this period of physical distancing, our ideas about community had begun to shift and expand. People are creating social ties and finding belonging through new forms – both in person and online – and are coming together around a countless variety of interests, causes, and shared identities. Companies and brands dangle the promise of “community” in ways that often seem patently superficial. At the same time, even with high rates of loneliness among young people, they are building authentic community in creative ways that are less reliant on traditional institutions.
Another headline right now is the dark side of community, with people finding connection and common cause in a toxic stew of dehumanization, misinformation, and rage. Community anchored in the idea that those other people don’t belong is a pernicious and persistent force in American life. We’re a long way off, in other words, from creating a society in which all of us feel like we belong and feel bound together by our shared humanity.
With community such a timely and expansive topic, the arrival of Beloved Community to WeWork: American Community Today is a welcome contribution. Written by social sector leaders Jeffrey Tiell and Seth Linden, the paper is part research synthesis, part conceptual inquiry, and part call to action about community in America. Divided into three parts, the first asks searching questions that problematize the concept of community in our current context, the second provides a window to the various ways people are building community today, and the third offers ideas for where we go from here in crafting the communities we want to inhabit. It’s a worthwhile and illuminating read for all of us who appreciate the importance of community in our own lives and in our life together.