Tag Archives: Community

The Refuge of Community

What is the meaning of community for us; each of us, as individual persons? This question has been nagging at me since September when I attended Tamarack’s Community Change Institute in Toronto. It has come into sharper focus for me in the wake of the results of the U.S. Presidential election.

The institute’s theme this year was about the role of creative disruption in system change, which, of course, could also be an appropriate topic for a post-election blog. However, at the Institute, I kept running into people for whom community as refuge seemed important, even if they did not or could not name it as such. On Thursday evening of the event we went en masse to meet with a group of Syrian refugees and enjoy an evening of Syrian food, music, and dancing. It was not this experience, though it was powerful as well as enjoyable, that formed the question that has been nagging me. It was personal interactions with a couple of people at the event.

Prefer to hear and see The Refuge of Community video blog? Click on play button below.

One was a young black man from Florida, another American, who was attending his second Tamarack event. We connected early in the conference and shared a couple of meals together. As an act of remembrance, he wore a button with the picture of his friend, another young black man, who had been innocently shot and killed only a few months before. He was surprised to meet another American – especially a very white guy with roots in the Midwest – who did not hold the biases that made him feel threatened for his own life in his own country. He was finding among the Canadians a sense of community that did not judge him by the color of his skin. We became friends and together we experienced the refuge of community we had found at Tamarack and through our friendship.

The other was a young Muslim woman whose parents had emigrated from Iraq to Canada. It was not clear to me whether she had been born in Iraq, but it was clear that she was seeking community and had not yet quite found it. We also became friends at the event and had some nice conversations at breaks and between sessions. The night of the dinner and music with the Syrian refugees, I saw her and spoke with her again briefly. With a quiver in her voice and tears welling in her eyes she told me she had not known of this group that was so welcoming to Muslim people. “For the first time, I feel like I have a place,” she said. She, like the young man from Florida, was finding the refuge of community.

When I was at the Tamarack event in September many Canadians, and people from Denmark, Australia, and other countries as well, asked me what was going on with the U.S. Presidential election. I really did not have a good answer at that time. Now that it is, thankfully, over and I have had a chance to return to my musings about the refuge of community, a narrative has emerged that helps me make sense of the election. It is about the power of community and the need each person has for a community that offers a sense of refuge from the most troubling and disturbing aspects of life.

For American’s in the “fly over” states of the Midwest, this election was about finding the refuge of community after years of feeling like others had taken control of their lives and they had been left behind. I can appreciate that feeling. I am a native of Iowa in the Midwest and I have often heard – even my friends and colleagues here on the East Coast – speak with dismissive ignorance about the people in the middle part of the United States. (Does the same thing happen to people in the middle provinces of Canada, I wonder?) For example, people I know on the East Coast confuse Iowa with Ohio, even Idaho. They assume the geography of the Midwest is all the same – flat and bland – until you get to the Rocky Mountains. Even worse, they assume we Midwesterners are poorly educated, backward, and inconsequential. The 2016 U.S. Presidential election reinforced a lesson that we all should have learned a long time ago:

It is dangerous to stereotype and to allow our stereotypes make us believe others do not matter.

The U.S. Presidential election teaches us a powerful lesson about the need people have for the refuge of community. We all need to feel like we have a place in our community. Let me say that again. We ALL need to feel like we have a place in our community. This is true whether that community is a neighborhood, a city, a state, or an entire country. It is also true even when we consider micro-communities such as interest groups, sports teams, and places of worship.

Though I do not believe it is unique for our time, our world currently has many fractured communities in which some feel “in” and others feel “out.” Those who are “in” feel like the community is a refuge for them. Yet those who are “out” feel like their communities are not safe places for them. The young man from Florida has felt “out” of the U.S. community and the young woman in Toronto has felt “out” of the Canadian community. They remind me that as individuals we will be guarded and careful even as we seek the refuge of community for which we yearn. The U.S. election reminds me that when enough individuals who feel “out” of community finally come together they will disrupt the community and its systems. This is what I believe happened in the U.S. Presidential election. We experienced the disruption of people who have felt “out” of the national community coming together to re-establish it as a place of refuge for them.

The lesson of this U.S. Presidential election is a powerful one for those of us who work with communities. We must always be diligent to establish communities in which all can find and feel refuge. I know that is a very steep challenge; in fact, it may, in the end, be impossible. It looks impossible in the U.S. right now when one candidate, representing one vision of community, handily wins the Electoral College while the other candidate, with a very different vision of community, wins the popular vote by nearly three million. Nonetheless, we who work in community do so because we see a third way in which the whole community can come together to ensure a place where all can know and feel the refuge of community. Our unique gifts and abilities are needed now more than ever; and, so, our work continues.

Be greater; Do good; Everyday.

Tom Klaus

One Year Ago…

May 2015 was an exciting month for me. First, I discovered Red Nose Day, a poverty alleviation effort begun in the United Kingdom that had made its way to the United States. Second, I wrote a blog asking people to submit their Five Words of Gratitude to someone they would like to honor. Then, I got sick and spent a couple of months trying to figure out why; until I landed in the hospital in Philadelphia and met my new best friend, Jude (my pacemaker).

In May 2016…

Jude is working just fine and I feel absolutely terrific. In fact, my golf scores have never been so low. Why, last week I shot a 77…on only three holes! (Just kidding, of course, it was on 18 holes – he wrote without a shred of humility.)

Red Nose Day 2016 - Cup

The Red Nose Day Coffee Mug for the Caffeinated Crowd

Red Nose Day (May 26th) is thriving. In 2015 it raised $23 million to improve the lives of children around the United States and the world. Red Nose Day supports meals for children; provides reading, educational, and after school resources; provides bed nets and drugs to fight malaria and HIV; supports access to medical care for low income and homeless children and their families; and pays for vaccines and clean water and sanitation. Red Nose Day is becoming a terrific cause-related marketing campaign in the U.S. This year Walgreen’s continues to be a major sponsor and not only can you buy Red Noses there, you can also buy accessories to complement it. The handsome guy in these photos is modeling not only the nose but a Red Nose coffee mug and lapel pin. The lapel pin is a particularly safe choice if you do not want to be caught in someone’s Smart-aleck phone photo that will be plastered all over social media.

Hey, if you are brave enough to wear the Red Nose, though, you will also want to check out the Red Nose Training Manual. The Red Nose Training Manual was written by my friend Howard Macy, a world class philosopher, theologian, and lover of the Red Nose. After seeing my own Red Nose photo last year, Howard sent me a copy of the Red Nose Training Manual. In his Red-Nose Manifesto Howard argues:

Your red nose is not a disguise, but an accessory. People will know who you are, but they will also recognize that, even more profoundly, you know who you are, too.

The little book is a quick, fun read with lots of great suggestions for making the most of the Nose. Be sure to read and let Howard’s Red Nose Manifesto sink in.

I am starting to carry my Red Nose with me when I travel for work. In fact, I am going to try to document its journey with selfies…now that I have figured out how to take one.

Red Nose Day 2016 - Button

The Red Nose Day Lapel Pin for the Faint of Heart

The Five Words of Gratitude continues to grow. My original plan had been to write a special 2015 Thanksgiving blog using the many contributions I had received. However, because I was still recovering from the close call with my health, it seemed like a good time to write my own five words. Since posting the original Five Words of Gratitude blog, people have continued to make contributions. I assume this happens as people “stumble” across the blog as they surf the web. Finally, a year later, I am able to feature some of the words that have been shared. I will not give the names of the people who shared them nor will I identify by the name the people for whom the gratitude is intended. Nonetheless, I think you will get the sense of deep appreciation that is being expressed.

Many offered their Five Words of Gratitude and let them say it all:

  • To my boss: She celebrates my unique gifts.
  • To those who share their wisdom with me: Your sharing matters…I’m growing.
  • To my spouse: I appreciate your steadfast loyalty.
  • To my colleague: Second mouse gets the cheese.
  • To my parents: Thanks for making me believe.
  • To my mentor: Your unrelenting curiosity and hope.
  • To my friend: Your wisdom, friendship appreciated always.
  • To my sibling: Thank you for graciously listening.
  • To my spouse: (Name), my love, thank you!
  • To my friend: Helping me navigate through challenges.
  • To my parents: Thanks for kindling my fire.
  • To my child: Grateful to infinity for you!
  • To my staff: You care! Mahalo nui loa (Thank you very much)

Others found five words were not enough so they provided some additional commentary:

  • To my spouse: Morning coffee, evening wine, joy.And everything in between!
  • To my parents: Support. Encouragement. Love. Humor.I do activities like this with the children and families I work with, but often forget to apply it to my everyday life.
  • To my child: Your smile makes my day!She is amazing and confident!
  • To my spouse: Thank you for being there.She has always supported me, no matter how crazy my ideas are.
  • To my friend: Go to your zen place...Love…Laugh…Learn…Celebrate

Some did not need the full five words, yet their words were full of meaning:

  • To my spouse: You make me whole.
  • To my mother: Inspiration to overcome obstaclesI remember her words whenever there was a problem: “We will just have to make do.”

One of my favorites was from a midwife, written to the mothers whose births she had attended: Honored by attending your childbirth, to which she then added: World peace begins with birth.

I hope you have enjoyed this slight deviation from my otherwise really serious blogs. My intention? To help you remember the joy in your life; to see kindness and appreciation in our world (in spite of the current U.S. Presidential campaign); and to put a Red Nose on your face.

By the way, I have decided to keep the Five Words of Gratitude site active for purely selfish reasons – I need the inspiration and the reminders to live my own life with gratitude. You are welcome to record your own Five Words of Gratitude and to cut and paste the link – http://goo.gl/forms/XT9OfgQI6K – to others as well. And, yes, I will be sure to share them with you in a future blog.

Be Greater. Do Good. Every Day.

Tom Klaus

© 2016 by Thomas W. Klaus