Keep Looking

Photo by Emily Slofstra.

It is wise to be skeptical of the term “community,” especially at Laurier. Too often, “community-building” translates into the squashing and forming of individuality into some sort of bland and bound groupthink. It doesn’t particularly matter where this happens – it could be while yelling color-coded chants during O-week or while signing onto a cause just for the sake of being involved in something. We are exhorted to become a part of the university community, and become a part of it we should. For four, or five, or seven years, WLU is the locus of our lives.

We must ask ourselves, though, what this sense of community is built on, and thus, what kind of communities we are creating. Too often, university gets a free pass from the right sort of introspection. Four years have many times taught me that the sort of community that even the most high-minded student will often find shares little with the ivory-tower ideal of respect for diversity and dissention. Instead, we find the sort of bond that comes on the first page of the human recipe book: take a couple thousand students, insecure and away from home, add some group activities, a dash of booze, and stir.

This is a recipe for community, to be sure, but only community of the first order. First-order communities are those that form by circumstance – perhaps you and I believe in the same things, perhaps we share a cause or an enjoyment of getting rowdy in a funny hat. These communities are by no means bad; meeting people based on common interests is a damn sight better than by the accident of a high school seating plan. Many of my best friends have been made this way, and I don’t regret a moment of it. The key, though, is to recognize that this is only a step along the road to a much deeper community.

Political philosophers like to toss around the idea of “communities of shared values” as something to owe allegiance to. You and I might believe in a package of ideas about human rights, for example, or about football. This, though, seems to me a tenuous bond at best; I’m no longer comfortable judging people ideologically. If we are to have communities of shared values, they must be much more basic – based not on what people think, or what they do, but how they do it. That is the strongest bond I’ve yet found with the people around me; a deep respect for how they engage with the world around them, looking at their means rather than their ends. These are communities of intention, not action.

Of course, these two communities can (and should) overlap. The critical point is not to rest on our laurels when we find ourselves amongst the like-minded. If we look outward, both outside of our philosophical comfort zone and (especially) outside the few city blocks that too often define the boundaries of our social universe, our four years go far from wasted.