Community And Circles

We completed two amazing tours.

Community is hard. Whether it’s a bike tour/mission trip, a neighborhood, a city, a state, or a country, bringing folks together from different places, with different backgrounds and beliefs and different reasons for showing up, and asking them to work toward a common purpose takes a lot of work.

Classrooms can be communities. The common purpose? Everyone (theoretically) wants to learn as much as possible. I used this circle to explain to students how it might work.

We ask you to step into the circle, to accept responsibility for moving toward the goal. Clearly, though, we’ll work in unique ways. Some are smack in the center, perfectly aligned with the goal. Others might be closer to the edges with less straight-line paths.

That’s how community works in real life because people aren’t robots walking in lock-step formation. Each individual has rights and freedoms. The best communities find ways to celebrate that diversity and use it to keep everyone moving toward the common purpose.

Most students were clear, and often vocal, about the “rights and freedoms” part. My job was frequently to remind them of the other part: We ask you to step into the circle, to accept responsibility for moving toward the goal.

Most kids got it. The community falls apart when rights/freedom and responsibility get out of balance. Deprive folks of freedom and rights, and it’s hard to get them to buy in to the sacrifice required to work toward a common purpose. Demand “my rights, my freedoms” without accepting responsibility, and others feel like they’re doing all the work, taking the hit while someone else reaps the rewards.

An imbalanced circle will eventually collapse. Maintaining healthy community means the hard, messy, imperfect work of defending and advancing individual rights and freedoms while inspiring others to the sacrifice required to move toward a common purpose.

Teachers, if they wish, can avoid this difficult task. They can attempt to use use rules, coercion, and threats of punishment to maintain the illusion of “order and discipline.”

Society can try to do likewise.

But that’s not really a community, is it?

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