The measure of a life well lived is arguably one that was at least aimed at rendering something constructive in the wake of the numerous sacrifices that the larger community of life has had to make for us to have lived at all. This delivery of something more than what is taken from the community that we collectively depend on to nourish us is the very essence of “bearing fruit”. This lesson is well crafted and clearly communicated through the structure of nature in so many ways – that we can count the seeds in an apple, but not the apples in a seed, as long as those seeds are cultivated in a nourishing environment to their mature potential. Fruit, in many forms, including social, can pay endless dividends that are greater than the sacrificial investment that must be made to bring them to fruition. Recognizing, and tending to these opportunities is the essence of life.
Some few of us humans get recognized as monuments of constructive contribution (whether deserved or not). Still others of us are also well known, but for another reason; because we have left a notorious wave of destruction in our wake. The overwhelming majority of us also get to express significance, either fruitful or notorious, in another way – not as individuals, but by way of participating in something greater than ourselves – by being part of some collective effort that either strengthens our chances to remain coherent and to thrive as a community going forward, or that threatens that hedge against chaos we must maintain so that we do not get swallowed by the antagonists that would destroy the ordered economy of relationships that renders integrity that we all depend on.
The significance of what we do in these larger bodies of influence, and the fruit they bear upon maturity, is not necessarily understood by those of us that participate in them as individuals. We may be completely oblivious to the significance and power of our contributions, constructive or destructive, yet we still play our roles. We can be an example of one of these collective efforts that has the capacity to pay constructive dividends, if we passionately search out and cultivate that opportunity over time. We can also be thankful for thousands and millions who have played roles in making our potential future little more fruitful by way of discovering and cultivating these opportunities.
Our preparedness, and in some cases, our willingness to bravely face and adapt to the challenges the environment places upon us as a species will determine whether or not it will endure, or sink beneath the threshold required by nature to maintain our integrity over time. Part of nature’s inherent demand is that we we find and cultivate the routines that produce the fruit that nourishes us. Part of facing this challenge is a willingness to face the unknown – to be explorers, and make this effort part of what drives our flexibility to turn the formerly unknown to an advantage, rather than continue to fear and avoid it until it devours us in our ignorance. It is this blend of flexibility and rigidity that we are best prepared to endure the waves of chaos that would otherwise erode our integrity.
We owe a committed debt of gratitude to those of us who make the sacrificial effort to illuminate the darkness and make it part of where we can dwell – those willing to search for and cultivate these undiscovered fruits. This ode to the many unsung heroes among us that are the lifeblood of our strength and vitality may not be praised in song often enough, but they nonetheless deserving of our thanks. Thank you to all you who are out there doing things to give back to this community we share and depend on for life.
At a fundamental level, the strength of social systems is built on built on individuals collectively acting in the interest of what nourishes and strengthens the entire community. This doesn’t mean self denial. To the contrary, it is critically important for each of us to be open to receive the things we need to stay strong, but this strength must be converted to something that enhances the entire community in order to produce real value. A mutual stake in each other’s success that extends outward to protect the sustainable flow of essential nourishment is the foundation of a solid community.
Collectively, we wield the power that crafts the idea of what is acceptable and what is not in our community. When we behave toward each other as if we all matter – when this is expressed through behaviors that demonstrate that we care for our streets and homes – when we educate by example and take an active stake in our community – these kinds of things are as contagious as a street full of security bars and trash is to generate the idea of what is acceptable and what is not. Leadership always flows from the bottom up. Community minded people at the bottom is what makes community minded action a priority at the top of any social order.
Generally speaking, there are those that lead and those that follow, but each of us, no matter what our station in life has the power to participate in cultivating the common wealth that flows from community. Sometimes this is as simple as holding a door, smiling, bringing a meal to a sick friend or picking up some trash, or painting a bench. For a business owner it might mean doing responsible things to make the lives of all the workers and the community better in tangible ways. Whatever we have to contribute to the community is ultimately sets the level for what that community is capable of doing. When a mutual stake in each other’s success erodes, so does the community’s capacity to carry the weight of it’s inhabitants. It’s as simple as that – and as complex.
Some of us erroneously think our wealth comes from competition. While competition is necessary to engage at times, cooperation is primary driver of wealth. Our value is rooted in how much we collectively translate what the community has to offer us as an investment that returns even more value back to that same community. This is the seed of real wealth.
Please share your thoughts on building community.
We have to be very careful about the invisible friends we make. The invisible friends, made with words and ideas, stitched together with faith. These abstract concepts that live inside us and yet are, by nature, separate from objective reality because they are only real by virtue of our belief in them. Depending on their nature, they can guide us to cultivate a nourishing relationship climate and elevate us to the pinnacle of ecstasy, or drain us of all vitality and leave us gasping for life. We make them coherent and breathe life into them through our individual collective belief.
The ideas that become real when we respond to our belief in them would die without that breath of life we breathe into them. They ride the thermals of our faith and we put them in castles made of stories. We allow them to govern us as monarchs that must be trusted feared and worshiped to wield the power they do over our lives. Once believed, these abstractions form a lens that bends what we see into their image. A mixed lens of fact and fancy shapes the currents that steer our experience of life.
Abstractions are neither good nor evil, they simply are what they are; the verbal currency we use to give form and substance to our values, whatever those values may be. Hate is one of the fruits of abstraction. Belief in hate can lead us to exact the violent worst from ourselves and spread it like a virus, to beget more hate. The idea that humanity can be carved up with abstractions used as justification to artificially divide the “worthy” and the “unworthy” when the real truth is closer to poverty spawned by apathy dressed in self-righteous abstractions.
Much of what we call religion and politics is built on the currency of abstraction floating on faith. The battles to control the abstract narrative by manipulating the cultural winds of faith can ensnare us in the crossfire of heated poverty inducing battles that are founded on faith and made real by our actions. These invisible friends that ride the thermals of faith and give birth to behaviors can be the source of freedom or enslavement.
Some ideas can combine to become thought stopping prisons made with bricks of abstraction, others can be the source to freedom and greater depth perception. They can help us to know our nature and navigate more effectively through these murky waters of reality. We can use our invisible friends to form nourishing social bonds, bring vitality to community, protect us, and help us weather the storms and cope with terrible circumstances that might have otherwise been unbearable. They can enable us to embrace beauty, truth and many other heights and forms of intimacy and ecstasy.
Let’s choose our words wisely with an eye toward how they collectively serve to bring about constructive and nourishing behaviors that help us grow and realize our full potential. Our words, combined with our faith in them, are the currency that powers what we do to and for each other. They powerfully shape the nature of the waters in which we all swim.
Ceazer Shallah is part of a growing number of people in the Philadelphia area and beyond who are turning a passion for community into practical and transformative action. In this interview Ceazer talks about the “House of Initiative”, an organization dedicated to empowering Communities through education & positive interactions. He also talks about the challenges related to building community in a stressed social climate. It’s people like Ceazer who are changing the world one relationship at a time.
When we consider the journey from infancy to whatever equilibrium our mature state of being finds, we must pay due respect to community. The availability of nourishing physical and social resources in the environment we develop in profoundly affects us. Environment is the crucible in which the elements of our identity form. While none of us walk alone, along with communal influence and dependency there is something very personal that must take place in the progression from what we were to what we become; that is if we are to transcend environmental influences to exercise intentional choice.
Our mature state of being can exist well beneath the threshold of our full potential. We can leave opportunities unrealized for many different reasons. One way is to acquiesce to the cultural imposition of self from the outside in – to never discover our inner self. In this case we can certainly ride the cultural currents from cradle to grave. In order to become a voice in the choir of influences that form our state of being, we must take an active role in our own development.
There is an element of yearning to connect with our self that is part of our nature. Adolescent angst with all its furious trying on of various hats and acts of subversive rebellion is really the birth pangs of individual identity. This critical period can be the birthplace of our personal role in our lives, but without the oxygen that flows from gasping breaths, we can become stillborn. If for any reason we suffer an environmental challenge we can fail to become viable. Like any birth, the umbilical cord wrapped around our adolescent neck will suffocate us. If we don’t use this tumultuous time to cultivate a relationship with ourselves, our sense of self can degrade into the darkness of apathy or habituate a hopeless surrender to external influences – we can become spectators in our own lives rather than shapers of it.
Some of us move from one to another social group to another during adolescence and simple reestablish conformity to that group as a means of deceiving ourselves that we actually formed an identity. These and other types of surrender to avoid the courage and determination it takes to actually forge an individual identity comes with a bitter side dish of frustration and isolation since we become a food source for social parasites who drain our native state of being to serve as an extension of themselves. This wasted potential is also a heartache to those who recognize we all lose when one of our own drowns in suffocating mediocrity for whatever reason.
To discover who we are and perhaps, over time, to maximize the nourishing yield from our personal fields is not a passive activity. We must work hard to get to know who we are with any depth. In addition, self-knowledge is a first and necessary step to cultivate intentional choice, but it is by no means the only step. We must personally sort through the values installed on the winds of cultural traditions and local environment and find those that we ourselves might embrace as noble and desirable to be in order to establish real choice. We must also take that information derived from serious exploration as use it as the seed that must be cultivated to maturity over the discipline of time in order to move from mere knowing to the full flower of being.
The process of participation in our own lives also requires a firm understanding of both the context of community and self in relationship to community. We cannot quiet the fires of self-discovery with the cold water of social rejections by those who desperately want to hide their own forays into suffocating conformity. Neither can we use community as the source of our pleasure without returning something of equal or greater value back to that community without becoming an agent of poverty.
Forming a relationship with our self and the active cultivation of our being is a difficult journey. It requires the full plate of persistent discipline spiced with unapologetic honesty. It requires a cultivated capacity for inward reflection and a practice of using this as the driver for our outward expression. This is the only way to move toward being a creature of choice. The alternative is to be a reflection of environmental chance, never present, asleep for the whole journey.