The Power of Community

I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. In fact, my husband Dan will tell you, I actively resist making them. 

Have you made some New Year’s resolutions this past January? 

How’re they working out?

Have you stuck to your resolutions thus far?

Have you already given up on some of them?

At the gym I go to, they warned us in December to expect more crowded classes come January, but not to worry, the class sizes will return back to regular levels within a few months.

I doubt the 5 little words “the gym I go to” jumped out at you as something incredible – that “I”go to a gym– but believe me – IT IS! This same husband, Dan, spent the first 10 or so years of our relationship trying to get me to exercise. And the more subtly and cleverly he tried to cajole me, the more determinedly I dug my heels in and resisted. I was only going to exercise on MY TERMS – not HIS! So, over the years I dallied with this or that type of exercise for brief stretches, but nothing stuck.

Then, a couple of years ago Dan and I both independently decided to start working with a personal trainer. We went to the same place, but at different times. Next, I started participating in “boot camp” with some co-workers, and finally, last summer, Dan, another friend, and I joined a gym. And we’ve been going at least 3 times a week for over 6 months.

I was personally mystified why this time it “stuck” – until last December, when a mindfulness teacher said five not so littlewords that rocked my world: “community is stronger than willpower.” Now I know that this is not rocket science, and maybe you all know this already and I’m the last to the party. But let me say this one more time: “community is stronger than willpower.” This strikes me as the explanation for why I have gotten over the hump and now actually enjoy – and even look forward to – working out. I’ve been doing it with a community– specifically my husband and our friend. We don’t necessarily go together, but we talk to each other about going. I also have a friend at work who’s crossed a threshold with exercising and she attributes it to the fact that she and I share with each other our plans and accomplishments. I’m her community and she’s part of mine. 

Like I said, I’m sure many of you had already figured this out. I mean, think of Weight Watchers, or 12-step programs. How much willpower does it take to quit an addictive behavior, or turn down that bacon cheeseburger? A LOT!! But with a supportive community to which you feel some accountability, you don’t have to rely only on willpower. In fact, in 12-step programs, you are striving to surrender your will to a higher power. For some people, that higher power is God. For others it might be the love and support of their community and/or sponsor. About 32 years ago I had an experience that left me believing that community and God are actually one and the same. 

I grew up in a fairly observant, Conservative Jewish home. I went to Hebrew school, Sunday school, Jewish summer camp. I was Bat Mitzvahed and continued to attend Hebrew school until I was 16, when I was “confirmed” – essentially a group ceremony celebrating graduation from Hebrew school.  By then, I was becoming more cynical about religion, and as a science/math kid, I questioned the existence of God. At my confirmation, I sang a song from Porgy and Bess: It ain’t necessarily so; it ain’t necessarily so; the things that you’re liable to read in the bible, it ain’t necessarily so.[1] At the time I thought that if you didn’t believe in God, then the whole house of cards fell down. You had to be either all in or all out. Of course, now I know that Judaism is much more about what you dothan what you believe.

Fast forward about 10 years. I went to a weekend Inner Quest workshop – to “find myself” – at a yoga retreat center.  One evening, we were singing, chanting, and dancing – for a few hours – when I had a deeply spiritual experience that I hadn’t been seeking, nor expecting. I entered a state of consciousness in which I FELT and KNEW that we are all connected. I experienced this connection in a way that was not logical or intellectual – it was a deep understanding. Though it was relatively brief, the power of that moment has remained with me ever since. I don’t remember if it was right away, or sometime after, that I decided that this essence or spirit that we are all a part of, that connects us, is what I consider to be God. The Quakers say, “there is that of God in everyone,” and Hindus say “Namaste” – the God in me greets the God in you. Jesus said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Jewish mysticism teaches that there are sparks of divinity in everyone – and everything. Tikkun Olam is the act of gathering those sparks to repair the world – in a sense putting God back together. Community IS a higher power.

The power of community is that we are all part of one community. And to me, what follows logically (yup – still a math kid!) is that we must help, protect, serve, educate, heal, fight for, and liberate each other – since in fact we are all one.  As the song goes: None of us are free, none of us are free, none of us are free if one of us is chained, none of us are free”

Last month will mark the one-year anniversary of Parkland. It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since we witnessed the truth that those young students spoke to power when they took their shared experience, their outrage and their passion for change and organized one of the biggest, and most well-crafted marches in recent memory.  I think you can see where I’m going – it’s not news – that by coming together, forming coalitions, relying on each other, becoming a community, we have the power to create the change we want to see in this world. 

So I have 3 messages I’m trying to convey:

  1. Community is stronger than willpower
  2. Community is a higher power
  3. Community is stronger than the powerful

To drive home this last one, I’d like to share this compelling poem by Marge Piercy, called “The Low Road”

“What can they do

to you? Whatever they want.

They can set you up, they can

bust you, they can break

your fingers, they can

burn your brain with electricity,

blur you with drugs till you

can’t walk, can’t remember, they can

take your child, wall up

your lover. They can do anything

you can’t stop them

from doing. How can you stop

them? Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse, you can

take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

But two people fighting

back to back can cut through

a mob, a snake-dancing file

can break a cordon, an army

can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other

sane, can give support, conviction,

love, massage, hope, sex.

Three people are a delegation,

a committee, a wedge. With four

you can play bridge and start

an organization. With six

you can rent a whole house,

eat pie for dinner with no

seconds, and hold a fund-raising party.

A dozen make a demonstration.

A hundred fill a hall.

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;

ten thousand, power and your own paper;

a hundred thousand, your own media;

ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,

it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.”[2]





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