The Dark Side of Community

by Karen Tibbals
Rahway Plainfield Meeting


As we fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we could say that the dark side of community is that we are each disease vectors, spreading the virus through handshakes and hugs. Hopefully, we will get past this mess soon, and be able to experience one another in person again. There is something special about seeing people in person. While I like seeing people I know on Zoom, it doesn’t really compare to the experience in person.


But a different dark side of community is the type of belonging that doesn’t feed our spirit, that doesn’t feed the spirit of God in each of us.  It’s the type of community that needs an enemy to bind it together.


It is called “common enemy belonging.”


It is not real community. It is fake, and it fades easily. It’s the fast-food version of belonging, the same as gossip. It feels addictive in the moment, but it doesn’t elevate you. Such belonging is tainted and impure. It does not provide the same benefits of community as real belonging.


Twentieth-century black poet Langston Hughes articulated the effects of hatred on a person when he asserted, “Ever’thing there is but lovin’ leaves a rust on yo’ soul.”


In the US, we have been socially sorting. We don’t spend time with people we disagree with, except to protest or yell at each other. Even we Quakers socially sort. Several other Religious Society of Friends Yearly Meetings have split over cultural issues.  When we do that, we don’t learn about each other from talking to each other. Instead, we become frozen.  Why?  Because we don’t know how to talk to each other. We are out of practice. So, we need a new way.


I believe there is a solution, a way for people to learn to talk to each other in a new way, a way that honors that spark of God in each one of us. And in doing so, we can learn about each other and form a different type of bond.


Peter Rollins talks about the creativity that was unleashed when the Protestants and the Catholics in Northern Ireland got together to come to the Good Friday Agreement there.  If they can do it, when they were killing each other, so can we. Quakers want to work for peace, this is one way we can do it.


I am scheduled to run a virtual workshop at Powell House on June 27 on how to apply this new way of thinking and talking and relating. And to practice it.


Please join me in this new way of being with people we disagree with.


Karen Tibbals is Communications Clerk of Rahway-Plainfield Meeting (NJ) and the author of the forthcoming book Persuade, Don’t Preach: Restoring Civility across the Political Divide.