AP Lang and Comp
16 November 2008
Females. Volunteers. 16-year-olds. Sisters. Singers. Catholics. Students. Oglesbians. A single person may belong to many belong to many communities at any given point. These just happen to be a few of mine. There are infinitely many more, that change on a daily basis.
Community is one of those words that has both a different definition and connotation for each person who hears it. For me, I would like to believe that we as people don't necessarily need communities, but we tend to like having them around. I think there is a big difference between society and community, though oftentimes, the words are used interchangeably. I see communities as smaller, more individual and you have more of choice on whether you want to belong. Society is a large compilation of communities, and you have very little choice but to belong. In Amatai Etzioni's The New Community, the author cites the work of German sociologist, Ferdinand Tönnies. Tönnies differentiates between community and society by using the German words for each, gameinschaft and gesellschaft, respectively. In this context, gesellschaft was used to describe "people who have rather few bonds, like people in a crowd or mass society." I consider this definition of society to be fairly accurate, but in contrast to Tönnies, I do not see this as a good or beneficial thing. He "depicted small towns and villages as backward places that confined behavior" while large cities were seen as a more favorable habitat. In my opinion, a person's surroundings do influence every aspect of life, but that is not to say any particular environment is better than another.
A community is only as good as it its members. It is for this reason that I suppose people are drawn to volunteer work. We as people have an inborn desire to strive for betterment. I know that I am among the ranks of those volunteers, the ones that wish to enrich the lives of those within my own communities and others. I think that if we have the means to help individuals in need, we should do what we can to relieve their struggle. That is not to suggest, as Peter Singer did in his work, The Singer Solution to World Poverty, that we should not allow ourselves any luxuries. We work hard for what we have. It will solve no problems if we allow ourselves to go into poverty, like those we are trying to help. That sad situation will only create larger and more complex issues that cannot be easily solved. Though I consider myself a great advocate of volunteerism, I am no so naïve to propose that people never take advantage of the system. I know they do. I don't need a lesson in 'Lifeboat Ethics' from Garrett Hardin to know that some people will never be happy with the help they receive, they will always come back to milk it for all it is worth. But as long as at least one person benefits form my work, I rest easy knowing that my sacrifice has meant something to someone.
Family is perhaps the most important aspect of any community life. Everyone, needs a family in some form or another. Jane Howard, author of In Search of the Good Family, shares my sentiments. Family bound by blood alone is weak. There must be some element of choice involved in the formation of familial bonds. Howard makes the argument that all over the world, 'new families' primarily made up of friends are being formed. These "may consist of either of friends of the road, ascribed by chance, or friends of the heart, achieved by choice." A family will understand both your hurts and needs. A family will not judge you based on your mistakes. A family will tolerate you, even when everyone else cannot. A family will always be there for you, in good times and bad.
Every community is comprised of various components, each of which plays a major role in its daily workings. More often than not, we take the existence of our communities for granted. If we don't take care of them, they will collapse. What would happen to us then?