The word community shone boldly in my CSPE book. Rights and respect for all people is a core theme of the Junior Cert subject. Outside of grandstanding ideals, however, what does the word really mean? And how can we in modern Ireland help to create and sustain positive communities?
In a general sense, we are all part of several communities. Whether old or young, migrant or emigrant, sports fanatic or arts enthusiast, we will all have shared experiences and aspects of our nature in common with others. It’s how much we invest in this sharing that makes the difference.
Over the past six weeks, I have come in contact with a variety of communities in different areas and created with different purposes in mind. I have volunteered for a mental health arts festival, helped run a local road race, taken an active interest in modern poetry and become part of Dublin’s chapter of the Online News Association.
Each of these movements bring people together in a physical sense: offline. They foster conversation, empathy, passion and activity. They have helped give purpose and motivation to people in a positive sense throughout the cold winter months.
Social media and online technologies help make the world a smaller place, bringing us closer to people from once-distant places and creating a shared recognition of cultures across the globe.
However, it seems to me they are best enjoyed in tandem with a vibrant life offline. If we were to abandon participation in pursuits and gatherings, after all, of what would we speak with our friends online?
As Naomi states in her article “Are you living a perfect life online?” , “we portray the aspects of our lives on social media that we want to be seen, but there’s a major flaw with that”. When we communicate from the safe position of behind our screen and keyboard, we can say what we like and so can others. Who’s to know what’s real?
When we engage and work with others in a ‘real world’ community, in contrast, our true emotions are more likely to come to the fore. We can go through exhausting evenings, triumphant weekends and defeat too. Our full spectrum of human experiences can be shared and our difficulties lessened.
Communities create change
Change can be created in practical and lasting ways through networks of people working together. Laughs along the way are a necessity! This year I was driven to explore my area in greater depth than I ever had previously.
By reaching out to like-minded people and rolling up my sleeves, I have already made new friends and helped in small ways to create change.
By volunteering with First Fortnight, a mental health arts festival, I have been an extra representative tackling mental health stigma through the facilitation of fascinating arts events.
By heading along to my first slam poetry competition, I have broadened my mind, acquired a new interest and already feel as though I have been warmly welcomed into a new community of sorts.
Though small and rural areas may seem quiet, they are often where community spirit thrives. Where there are people, there are opportunities. I took part in my first road race this year, having helped to facilitate the event which was a fundraiser for the building of a new community centre in my home village. A sense of togetherness made the day special.
Communities in the 21st Century
Societal changes have meant communities may be less likely to revolve around local churches, post offices or Garda stations into the future. Yet, the power of people coming together stays strong.
A strong modern community, for example, grew up around the campaign for marriage equality in the lead-up to last May’s referendum. People with a common interest in equality pounded pavements, shared stories, came home to vote and, ultimately, helped change Ireland.
Whatever your passion or interest, there’s sure to be a movement or organisation out there for you. If not, why not start your own? From my experience, I would encourage everyone to get out, be empowered and bask in community spirit!