There was an unusual stillness in my room, the hectic and unbridled swirling milieu absent, and only patient, slotted sun rays lay across empty blue chairs. The beginning edges of September, with assignments barely assigned and quizzes yet given, yielded peace and hope, before the churn and grind of another school year descended upon us all.
Yet, here was Arman and Edward after school, working and plotting. Sitting at a table with Mr. Johnston and Ms. White, they were planning the student council retreat, and finessing the details and schedule. Chief among their goals were bonding time and building community. Schools and organizations hew to this goal regularly, almost reflexively. After all, don’t we all want places where we feel a sense of belonging and connection?
But maybe we’ve got this community thing all wrong. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” Or, another way to put it, as it’s been said, “Everybody wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes.”
Relationships can be marred and broken when expectations are held high and expected, and when unmet, a sour bitterness could easily follow. I’ve seen it play out in my classroom when students have an expectation of a certain level of success, or a certainty about what they are allowed to do, and unhappy conflict arises when those expectations fall by the wayside. We may dream of community, of what it looks like, of the vision of what it should be, of how people behave, but if these aren’t realized, then the ensuing disgruntled dissatisfaction counters what we wanted in the first place.
Beneath our wishes and our expectations lies the crafting, the cornerstone laying, the get out of bed when you don’t feel like it part. Ankita missed the first couple weeks of school due to family concerns. But she landed as a whirling dervish, doing this, ordering that, checking and rechecking, and determined to create the necessary supports for a community to stand upon. Talk is easy and free. But the moulding happens as we happen.
Sometimes, the greatest community builders are in the unplanned, the unspoken, in the sudden welling up of being part of something. Will and Yufei were sharing honestly and thoughtfully in front of their grade, with barely any notice to prepare, about stress and stereotypes. Mr. Bohnen chimed in about overcoming labels and reputations. Spontaneous, yet it was connecting and intertwining. It’s like an unexpected wave came in saying come see these people, raw and real, and be part of this.
I’ve found students sometimes push back against mandatory fun type activities. I’d rather study is a common refrain. It’s true, an organized game or activity can’t force you to like each other or enjoy being here. But ask any player on a team, supporting each other, pushing each other, gathering strength as a whole rather than as an individual, are what truly creates a kinship, a we’ve gone through this together mentality, an outspring of collective work.
No, I don’t think we need to strike community building off our list of goals. We should strive for it. But clinging to the dream, or merely thinking about it doesn’t cut it. When a farmer grows crops, the hard, sweaty work of planting comes first, then the patient, enduring wait for growth, and then, finally, after a full season, the realization of the bounty. There’s no shortcut to the end, to an all encompassing community. Maybe it’s not truly reachable after all, but the journey is satisfying nonetheless.
So, go start your revolution, and go create your community. Just be sure to do the dishes first.