By Jim Kempton
What does “being a good community” entail?
America’s first governor might give us a clue.
An election convention makes a great time to consider America’s view of community.
Disputes abound incessantly about the responsibilities of ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for our common defense and promoting the general welfare. Although Americans generally consider themselves an independent lot, we hold the concept of community in very high esteem. Yet, in many ways, “community” is the antithesis of “rugged individualism”—a concept we also embrace with near reverential regard.
So, how did our American forefathers see the argument—were they for the colony of beavers or the proud lone wolf? By their writings, the original forefathers seemed to consign community ahead of individuality. One reason might be the challenges they faced. The early European settlers of the American continent suffered from both religious and political persecution. Under constant threat from violence, tyranny, disease and starvation they needed each other just for survival. Understanding that “United we stand, divided we fall” victim to Redcoats, Grizzlies, blizzards, Iroquois and crop failures, our forefathers likely viewed community much more favorably than we might today.
North America’s first governor John Winthrop, the Massachusetts Bay leader (whose “city on a hill” admonishment was quoted by both Presidents Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy) inspired generations of Americans to see our country as a model for other nations. As the elected head of the first North American settlement, Winthrop understood America lay not in greed and individualism, but in a place built on community and cooperation. The rest of Winthrop’s famous sermon said this:
“For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will delight to dwell among us…so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth than formerly we have been acquainted with.”
That doesn’t much sound like social Darwinism does it? It hardly sounds like Wall Street, Citi Bank, or Halliburton either. For that matter, it doesn’t sound like anyone in Congress or the presidential nominees today. In fact, the only person it sounds like is the Prince of Peace himself. I’d like to believe we have these qualities in our own community. Despite our proud illusions, it has never really been about the “me”; it’s been about the “us.” Common good. Communal life. Community commitment. That’s how this great nation has really been built.
Jim Kempton is an author and surfer who believes community is the best way to form a more perfect union, establish justice, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. And increase your number of friends on Facebook.