“Hi! This is Jamie, calling from the community building campaign. Did I catch you at a good time?”
Wait for it….
The fact I asked totally disarms them.
“Well, no. Not really actually.” But they don’t hang up.
“Okay. I just wanted to remind you,” both my hands in the air as though they can see me over the phone, “there’s an election today.”
I’m off script. Way off script. Nowhere in the directions before me are there instructions to ask whether or not this is a good time.
I worked on this campaign to help elect some politician. Tricky business for me. My own political strategy tends to be, as Edward Abbey wrote, “Keep the rascals rotating.” In this case, I was fulfilling my civic duty to make sure the rascal in question didn’t sneak past the voting public.
I was just reading courage 1 on the blog a most imperfect paradise on the difficulty of building community. It’s beautiful. Makes me wonder where campaigns fit in the community, community building, our modern experience of community. Any campaign. Like that of my bank’s “vice-president” who called me the other day out of altruistic concern about my insurance coverage; of course, he just happened to have an extra policy lying around. Lying is correct. Not right. Or like the random guy knocking on doors up and down my street yesterday, collecting money for some supposed fundraiser. Have you noticed they all have three-ring binders now? Does a beggar with a binder appear more legit? Unfortunately for both, neither caught me at a good time. But neither asked.
It doesn’t really seem like a good time for building community these days. Economics are bad. Politics are bad. Everybody’s mad. As a nameless, faceless campaigner who was calling person after person, chances were good someone would eventually tell me exactly what they thought. That’s the part I loved! The part I didn’t, was when they said there was something fundamentally wrong with anyone who doesn’t see the world the same way they do.
Fundamental Attribution Error. Maybe we all have this tendency. I mean no one in their right mind could think any other way. It’s just a few mixed up people, after all, who stir up trouble for the rest of us. Right?
Not really. The fact that so many of us think so makes building a community pretty damned difficult. It may come as a shock to think, but those people with who you disagree think there is something fundamentally wrong with you for not seeing the world the same way that they do. So all we really do is surround ourselves with people we agree with, call them our community, and by doing so we isolate ourselves from the real world. With that, it becomes easy to assume those people who dissent are just a few mixed up people.
I have a cousin who is, frankly, an incredible magician. Maybe every family has one of those, but my cousin is really good. No, really. He’s been to the White House three times to perform. That’s kind of like, well, performing for the President. This guy can steal the watch right off of your arm without you knowing it. My cousin, that is. Not the President. Well, I don’t know about the President, but I’m talking about my cousin. Anyway, my cousin does this trick by keeping your attention focussed on something else so you never see him stealing from you.
These days it seems as though everybody in the nation thinks someone is stealing something from them. Conservatives think the liberals are stealing something from them. Liberals think the conservatives are stealing something from them. And we’re so focussed on what is fundamentally wrong with “those people” that–I don’t know–maybe our freedom really is being stolen. But it’s not being stolen by the person you’re so busy pointing your finger at.
So how do we build community when so few possess the courage to suspend their opinions long enough to truly listen or care about where those other people are coming from?
I don’t know, maybe to hear what real community has to say.