The Value of Community, Illustrated by War

The Value of Community, Illuminated by War

The war on Ukraine can rightly be seen as a defense of Western civilization, which is why and how it seems to loom larger than the world’s other conflicts over the last few decades — the potential for nukes obviously matters and even more obviously, if you are in any conflict then comparing the scale of conflict and suffering is not really relevant. Existential risk is personal, always.

But this article does not seek to compete with the deluge of commentary on Putin’s open aggression. We should all do what we can to oppose that with our time, treasure, and talents. Rather, there is something more subtle yet fundamental hidden inside the conflict that we as Americans would do well to recognize and learn from for our own future and for the future of places like Ukraine.

The conflict shows how important it is for healthy societies to build community at different levels. Sometimes when the worst things happen, people can become the best versions of themselves, both as individuals and in cooperation with each other – i.e., community. That’s one thing we can see from those defending a country and their ideals against Putin’s attack on Ukraine.

Examples abound…

  • Ukrainian citizens feed and calm a captured Russian soldier, and give them cell phones to call their families to tell them they’re ok (and no doubt to counter propaganda at home as to what Putin’s “special military operation” really is). We can hope all (Russian) captives are treated this way, but it’s war.
  • Russian citizens themselves have put their own safety and future at risk trying to hold their own government to account. Thousands of protesters took to the streets at real risk to themselves and their families. A member of the Russian media, Marina Ovsyannikova, stepped on a live Russian news broadcast in protest of Putin’s attack on Ukraine. Given how I grew up and what I did not have to fear or deal with, it’s hard to imagine the moxie needed for that.
  • From further away AirBnB hosts (and customers) have donated living space and funds on the platform to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing a war zone. Many people are coming together to do things large and small.
  • And last but not least, the EU, NATO and “the West” in general are re-invigorated and reminded that, for all their self-flagellation over their socio-political warts and, at time, hypocrisy (alas, all systems and government are corruptible but it is relative), there is a real reason why our values and culture draw the love of many…but the hate of others.

In all cases, many of us are equally reminded that there is in fact a better way when it comes to how societies arrange and govern themselves… and that’s worth fighting for. At the end of the day community – the kind that abides and keeps individuals and group afloat – derives from several factors. Among them are three that stand out, in particular:

First, there is personal and group “strength” – Like a life-guard, you must know how to swim and deal with distress first before you can help anyone else, lest you drown yourself. Strength comes from exercise of various sorts – emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical – and you must train up to be ready for whatever comes. Well-off societies, like the U.S., struggle to remember this. Success does not beget more success, but rather largess and entitlement.

Then, there are “relationships” between and among real people (not Facebook bots) who can really listen to and hear each other. Understanding leads to trust, which opposes hate, cross words and killing. As far as human interactions go there is a spectrum, with thought and speech on one end and raw violence on the other. We all know how that gap can get closed way too fast.

Last, there is “service”, which means supporting others by being willing to do things with and for people because you care about their well-being in addition to your own. Service is not about charity, so much as responsibility. Serving others is, in fact, serving oneself in that it makes for stronger individuals and groups all the way around.

These three virtues support real community and also represent what it means to have an active, advanced citizenry.  And to switch the lens from Ukraine to the U.S., these are three areas where we could use some help here in our own country. So, while this story started off and will end on Ukraine, this is really about community in America.

How countries get to be in the predicament in which Ukraine finds itself are the direct result of how individuals, communities and governments handle their civic virtues. Ukraine represents the best of those virtues in its struggle to be free of Russia. It is also suffering because the history that led to this event is notable for the absence of those same virtues.

As with other times in U.S. history when our civic virtues have been tested and strained – the Civil War, the Gilded Age, the 1960’s – many of us are radically divided. Some would go so far as to say that our republic is at risk, and the future of our children less certain.  As Americans, we sometimes assume that progress is a given.  Travel the world, and history, and we know better. The war on Ukraine is a warning.

And yet after years of political division and economic disruption, worsened by an unending pandemic, many Americans have come together in their support for Ukraine, which is under daily siege by Russian forces. We all see and understand the tragedy there in much the same way.

Can we use this shared impulse to get our act together, keep hold of our civic virtues, and grow them to make the “land of the free and the home of the brave” a more assured reality for more people, ongoing? (future Americans, whether you are yet to be born or an immigrant, this message is for you too!)

To reverse our own current decline, we need a movement and a plan that promotes the idea of advanced citizenship to match up to all the other ways in which this country is so advanced, all while the pace of social, political and economic change, along with the disruptive effects of technology, aggravate the rifts among us.

It is a law of social physics that there is no such thing as a free lunch, so the important question then becomes, ‘What could and should be required from any one of us to be a part of all of us?’, as a community of citizens with shared interests and values, which is what I believe we are, despite that the latest FaceBook post or news story may have seen today.

After Ukraine declared independence in 1991, the phrase “Glory to Ukraine” became a common patriotic slogan. This brings another one to mind from my own country:  e pluribus unum (out of many, one). This is the aim and purpose of Community Corps, which is all about empowering people as individuals to be an effective part of the whole without losing their identity, and ultimately increasing our sense of shared identity and community as Americans.

To learn more please go to www.community-corps.com.

You can “watch the movie” here (just a quick PDF show). Then take the brief survey and tell us what you think:  here. It all takes about 5 minutes.

We also pull a name from every 100 respondents to receive $100 gift card or a donation to the charity of your choice. Given the cause and what’s at stake, Ukraine comes to mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply