Option 1: What are the important elements of building a loving, safe, and supportive community? How do you contribute to maintaining these elements in your community?
How to Define Community
Katie Levy, Grade 6, Sidwell Friends School
“Define community,” I hear my teacher say. All around me, students start scribbling furiously. Some run to the dictionaries, but my thoughts whirl around just two words: define community? How can you define something so abstract and complex? A dictionary alone cannot even begin to capture the essence of community. In fact, to really define community, you’d need to dive in.
Find a new community, one that you don’t already belong to, and observe. Watch how every member treats one another with respect and kindness. See the initial discomfort between the members begin to dissolve and melt away. Study the way that each small misunderstanding leads to smiles and laughs. Look closely at the feeling of security, that safeness, but don’t forget the struggles.
Scrutinize the flashes of the eyes, the forced smiles, and the strained laughs. Pay attention to the slightly raised voices, on the threshold of a shout. Keep an eye on those tense moments of rivalry, where the bystanders freeze and the participants pause, shaking slightly. Note how few community members go out of their way to avoid conflict. Realize that some conflict is inevitable.
Witness the moments when someone backs down. Mark the second when they suddenly realize it’s not worth it. Observe how they stop themselves, often mid-phrase, and politely agree. Recognize when they move along, ashamed, pretending that nothing happened. These moments are common yet invaluable to a good community.
“All right, you should be finishing up by now,” the teacher says. Students sigh and pass their sheets forward. I quickly jot down some notes about kindness and respect, and pass up my own. But my mind still revolves around those two words. I see myself trapping that word, that word community, and snaring its lifeblood to impose onto paper. I envision myself truly defining community.
Come to my school, walk into my homeroom. You will start to notice. Peek through the window of my math class; slip through the doors of my Chinese class. There it is again! Sneak into science; stay quiet in the library. Spot those glimpses, those tiny flashes, of something much, much bigger. The colossal idea again.
We all have that special part of us: that thrill at an inside joke; that feeling when you look up from a task and see someone else looking up too; that shared awareness when you’ve been working as one seamless unit for hours, tirelessly, never once considering giving up; that simple pleasure when someone finishes your thought exactly, and you both turn and smile because good minds think alike! We all have our communities, and that concludes my definition.
Periodic Table of Elements for a Community
Natalie Neumann, Grade 9, Westtown School
To create a loving, safe, and supporting community, there must be meaning in everything we do. Each person works toward a common, greater goal, and each person thrives off the others. The elements that create this kind of community are insight, optimism, communication, responsibility, acceptance for growth, commitment, honesty, cooperation, compromise, awareness, organization, unity, and resourcefulness. All of these elements connect with each other. The relationship between these elements is that they all bounce off of each other in a cause-and-effect way. For example, when communicating your ideas in a group, you learn to compromise and work toward one outcome.
In my community, I contribute to maintaining these elements by involving myself in the action. When the time is right, I voice my opinion, provide ideas to the problems that we try to resolve, and ultimately work toward a common goal with my fellow peers. When I do this, it helps keep the flow of the community going and helps provide support to maintain the goal and efforts of others. The elements of a community are crucial pieces to a place and experience where everyone works hand-in-hand. Community doesn’t function with just one person or thing, but is a collage of many different mixes.
Nature: The Community of God
Tony Chen, Grade 9, Westtown School
There are times when I walk into a grove in the forest and see all these creatures vigorously and robustly conducting their lives yet interacting with one another so peacefully and tranquilly. The birds are tweeting; the leaves are shuffling; the brooks are rolling. There stands a doe, fixing her impenetrable vision on me as if she is telling a story of the silent forest that grows around us.
There I have a vision of the far ancient memory of our planet. Back then, there were only trees and waters covering the surface of our planet, the mother of earth. It was primitive, rough as well as dangerous in the wilderness of nature. But, as I remember, it was not evil. No, no evil. Surely creatures consumed one another for survival. However, as I looked back, I saw no violence but harmony, like a symphony played by the orchestra of the grand nature. It is in this way that everything—all living creatures—survived and prospered infinitely without an end.
As I roamed about within those lofty trees so high that they plunged into the sky, there was a feeling, an emotion that sprung from my heart, from my very essential being that I am not alone again. I seemed to be in a river, a life stream where I was flowing with millions of millions of others like countless plankton, together toward the very end. Right at that moment, I felt that I needed defense no more but only trust, a firm belief that the stream all of us are in will carry us to the ultimate purpose.
It was the community of God. It was just exactly the community of God that weighed down all man-made artificial community, where conflicts exist but harmoniously. This must sound so strange but believe me, it is always possible for conflict to exist peacefully and harmoniously, only if we be a part of one another.
One Community, Many People
Reena Bradley, Grade 9, Westtown School
In a community, a group needs diverse and unprejudiced people in order to achieve unity and understanding. Without different ideas and opposing concepts, a community would not be able to move forward and grow like a garden to spread ideas or even understand other groups. Communities need to accept different and diverse ideas in order to agree, make decisions, and function. Although a community needs to have a variety of different people, it might also need a great deal of unprejudiced people, because we, as people, have different ideas, and we need to be able to understand those ideas without bias so we can have empathy and understanding. If there were to be a lack of open-minded people, the communities would be unable to grow. Without acceptance of different or diverse ideas, the community would be unable to function or make decisions that benefit the group due to lack of agreement. Therefore, a community needs both a diverse set of people and a nonjudgmental mentality, or else the community can never grow and make a difference.
- Option 1: What are the important elements of building a loving, safe, and supportive community?
- Option 2: What are some ways to support and care for each member of your community?
- Option 3: What happens when there are differences or conflicts within a community?
- Option 4: Share an example of a community working together to accomplish a greater goal.
- Thanks: Thank you to all of the participants of the third annual Student Voices Project!