This is my fifth and final instalment on community for now. (I can almost hear the sighs of relief). I think the message has been pretty clear - we do better and are better together.
Community is about finding people and place that make us feel we are at home. By building community we put some order in the fragmented world around us.
Five Reasons why Community is Important.
Community gives courage:
People who say just the right thing at just the right time give us courage to pursue our dreams, confront our fears and live with less anxiety. A life free from fear is a life that can accomplish anything.
Community gives hope:
In a painful, uncertain world the understanding and supportive nature of good, honest community can provide the hope necessary to press on and take chances – no matter the challenge.
Community gives options:
Life without community is lonely; it’s lacking in social events, intimate conversation and deep relationships. A strong network of people grants options for a night out, friends to call in a crisis and someone to share a funny story with.
Community gives constructive feedback:
No one is perfect. The loving people in our lives know that better than anyone and can be a significant part of our individual growth and change. They can offer constructive feedback about us, our decisions and relationships.
Community gives joy:
community is shared fun.The shared memories, laughter and times spent with our closest circle of friends provide memories that last for a lifetime.
Having a community around us is important for these and many other reasons. It means that we're not in the world alone, we're not fighting our battles by ourselves. Within a community, we have others we can turn to for help and support - perhaps just to seek advice or at times for more literal support. We have others to share our lives with, to care for and help in their time of need.
When we have a stronger sense of community we feel like we’re an important member of a group. That’s why every organisation, team, club, or gang is formed. We’re closest to the that feeling when we’re around people we care about. No sports team or company ever thrived when everyone was in it for themselves. Our lives can be made much easier if we band together with people based on commonality.
Community is a buzzword, but it’s easier said than done. And often it’s more talked about than it is practiced. Developing community can be awkward. Creating community means pushing ourself beyond our comfort zone, our insecurities and our discouragements.
So how do we improve our community connectedness - a huge challenge for so many of us in a time-poor world?
Invite people into our life, and into our home. Let people see our imperfections. Being open with our imperfect homes and meals, helps others to feel more free to be themselves.
Being a part of a community means taking all of that community on board, in all its beauty and ugliness, and approaching it with kindness and understanding. Walking in others’ shoes, seeing the world through others’ eyes, and trying to find a way to move forward together.
How does one keep from "growing old inside"? Surely only in community. The only way to make friends with time is to stay friends with people…. Taking community seriously not only gives us the companionship we need, it also relieves us of the notion that we are indispensable.
-- Robert McAfee Brown
Every two weeks at Western Heights we come together as a full school community for a Full School Assembly we call Whanau Time. This means Family Time, and at the core of community is family.
Family, community, love - words that I probably overuse and thereby reduce their effectiveness. Still I will risk it one last time in closing this article and series. I love our Western Heights School Whanau. I love our Henderson Heights Community and I love west Auckland. This is my community, this is a spiritual as well as physical home for me and I will continue to work hard with all the wise and wonderful people in our community who share these loves and are putting that love into practice to make this community stronger and more precious than ever.
I’ll conclude with a quote from Tom Vilsack, “People working together in a strong community with a shared goal and a common purpose can make the impossible possible.”
Two quotes to begin with this time.
"We can never get a re-creation of community and heal our society without giving our citizens a sense of belonging."
-- Patch Adams
”Community – meaning for me 'nurturing human connection' — is our survival. We humans wither outside of community. It isn’t a luxury, a nice thing; community is essential to our well being."
- Frances Moore Lappe
Most people need to be part of a community for life’s necessities. Living a solo life as a hermit is not the way most humans choose to live. Most people want to be part of a community because there is something precious, positive and even predictable about being a part of a group of people who share something in common. Whether that is the place where you live, or the interests and passions that you have in common, it is good to have a sense of belonging and connection. A community is a safe place and a place where we feel safe.
Community roots and the need to belong to a community go very deep in our DNA. If we think back to pre history, the time of the early hunters and gatherers, we realise that humans were not particularly impressive as individuals.
We could run - but so many creatures could run much faster than us, both ones that we wanted to eat, and the ones that wanted to eat us. We could climb, but again far less well than many other creatures. We could swim too, but, as you guessed, much less well than a host of mammals and fishes.
Our success as hunter gatherers came because we could communicate very well and we could organise. Other creatures could indicate a lion is nearby and indicate all are in immediate danger. Our complex language abilities allowed us to use language to explain there is a lion lying in wait in the bull rushes at the south end of the big water hole two leagues to the east of here.
Now, many, many generations on, our sense of, and need for, community still lies within us. The focus has changed somewhat though. Instead of telling our clan about the bee’s nest in the big old pine tree, we are on Facebook sharing the specials to be had at the Palomino Shopping Centre (always worth checking out - 😉). Instead of a lion waiting in the Bull Rushes, it’s the road works blocking off Sturges Road.
In these modern, fast-paced and challenging times, we need to be reminded of the importance of community. Community that doesn’t just come from the local area in which we live, but community that comes from our shared humanity.
One of my great joys as an educator is seeing young children taking on board a commitment to their community - school, local and further afield. We have been focusing on protecting our oceans this past term, and clearly the message has been taken on board by many. From Ashton who pulled a plastic bag out of a storm-water grate and came and told me he’d just saved a turtle, to Jessica who insisted her parents take her to the beach to collect rubbish - at 6:30 on a rainy Sunday morning. They went, and Jessica loved them for it, as we love her.
In the Sufi tradition, it is taught that the primary purpose of life is to awaken to the essence of who we are. Once we do so, we are invited to embrace this realisation. The gift of community is that it offers each of us the motivation and support to achieve this. . . even on those rainy Sundays when we feel no fire.
Community is important, because community saves us from being alone. Much more than that, community gives us a sense of shared purpose, allows us to be part of something greater than ourselves. It brings meaning to our life, and takes us beyond the realm of self.
Some of the most selfish people in the world are also the unhappiest. Think of those who only think of themselves and tell me if they are truly happy? I believe not, and I believe it is because in the end serving self is empty and soon becomes boring and pointless.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
As I shared with you last time, we teach our children to Love to Learn to Lead. We expand that to, “I Love to Learn, so I can Learn to Lead, so I can Lead with Love”. This is community in a nutshell. It is also purpose and fulfilment in action.
Having a community around us is important for many reasons - first and foremost it means that we're not in the world alone, we're not fighting our battles by ourselves. Within a community, we have others we can turn to for help and support - perhaps just to seek advice or at times for more literal support. We have others to share our lives with, to care for and help in their time of need.
Before returning to Auckland we lived in Kaiapoi, in north Canterbury. Kaiapoi was -and is - about community. We won the Most Beautiful Town Award because our community came together to beautify our town and take responsibility for keeping it beautiful. One of the big focal points of the town was the local clubs.
There was the very popular and well performed Kaiapoi Rugby Club. The Waimakariri Football Club had the largest junior membership in the South Island. The netball and hockey clubs were equally sizeable and strong, there was a very strong rowing club, softball and cricket clubs and many more. There was the Brass Band, St Johns, Scouts, Girl Guides, and the Disgraceful Women Club. That club was comprised of older women who dressed up beautifully in red or purple - or both - and went out for luncheons, laughs and liquor (to keep to the Ls). There was Rotary, a strong RSA that was very involved in the life of the town, Kiwanis, a strong Lions Club and many more service organisations. Young farmers, Rural Women’s League, strong local Iwi organisations and so the list goes.
It meant there was a community group for everyone, and a lot of our community spirit was built around the congeniality, conviviality and connectedness that came from belonging to one or more of these community groups.
As a town we came together every ANZAC Day. We had an annual Christmas Parade and Saturday markets. And then it all came crashing down.
We were hit by two earthquakes, the first of which utterly devastated half of our town.
And yet, in the things that mattered, they didn’t shatter us or our town. My school, Kaiapoi Borough, and my wife’s school, Richmond Primary, were two of the nine worst hit schools in Canterbury. Both communities were decimated by the earthquakes. Whole streets that were once home to hundreds of children are now green-swathe. Lying desolate and empty as they wait to be repurposed, it is strange to go back and see nothing but grass and the odd tree.
Both communities have moved on, though Kaiapoi, which had such a strong community to begin with, has recovered better than most. There is a new library, new shopping centre, a rebuilt gym and restored RSA. The swimming pool is having its second rebuild and will be better than before. But most obviously, and most importantly, the community spirit is still there, and in most cases stronger than ever.
Looking at Kaiapoi immediately after the September earthquake and imagining that it could look as it does now seemed utterly impossible. Tom Vilsack says, “People working together in a strong community with a shared goal and a common purpose can make the impossible possible.”
Events such as the terrible earthquakes, teach us the importance of community. They teach us the value of resilience and give us opportunities to develop that quality.
I think it is really important we do all we can to build community right now, and every day, in little ways. Then, heaven forbid, if disaster strikes, networks and relationships are in place to help us all come together and get through the challenges together.
We can begin by doing small things at our local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbours. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.
Community can’t just be with people we feel comfortable with, who completely understand us and believe the same things as us. Community has to be intentional. Even if it starts organically, it still has to be maintained. Being alongside people from other walks of life, people who don't see the world through your own eyes, can be challenging - but we have the opportunity to grow and learn from that challenge. We can expand our experience of the world, and learn how to communicate and interact in different ways.
Let’s take this opportunity to set a goal to each do our bit to grow community in our community. I’m going to start by inviting my neighbour over for a cup of coffee. What will you do?
Recently we installed our Pōhatu Tumu - our Foundation Values Stones. There are five of these stones and they represent the foundation values our school stands upon. They define, inspire and guide us as learners, leaders and teachers.
Our Pōhatu Tumu are:
Whanaungatanga - being a family. Living, learning and playing together as a family.
- summed up as “Family Always.”
Whakamana: - empowering us as learners and leaders to love learning and be the best we
- summed up as “Our Best Always.”
Pono: - being honest with ourselves and others. Integrity. Doing the right thing always.
- summed up as “The Truth Always.”
Manaakitanga: - caring for ourselves, others, and our world. Paying it Forward. Being a Bucket
- summed up as “Caring Always.”
Turangawaewe: - our standing place, where we belong, where we stand tall.
- summed up as "Our home always."
Our school is one of the best - officially - at teaching reading, writing and maths. We are proud of this, but our children will need much more than this is they are to be successful, and if we are to have a world that is safe and sustainable to live in.
We are passionate about educating the whole child. Passionate about teaching them to Love, Learn and Lead.
- Love - ourselves - others - our world
- Learn about - ourselves - others - our world
- Lead - ourselves - others - in our world
We Love to Learn so we can Learn to Lead so we can Lead with Love
These values prepare our children to live in, care for and contribute to a community. With these values, our children, our community, our country, and our world have a much brighter future. I thank you all for your contributions to our community, and for your support going forward to raise a new generation of wonderful, caring, contributing citizens.
Until I was six, I spent all my life on a farm in Lowcliff in rural mid Canterbury, and from then in Springbank in rural north Canterbury. The school I went to mostly had around a dozen kids in total, though we did reach the heady heights of 19 children at one point.
My nearest neighbour was about six kilometres away and so play-overs at a mate’s place almost never happened. All the farmers seemed to work all hours, so the only community events were if we had a school picnic at the start of the year, or our end of year school concert. With just 12 kids involved, they weren’t the biggest of occasions though.
There were really only two ways you could connect with community, and both were frowned on by my parents. The first was listening in on the ‘party phone line’. In this instance party meant something very different. We all shared one ‘party’ phone line. If you wanted to ring a neighbour you dialled the Morse code for their letter. Our phone number was 50W - so to dial us you wound the ringer to make “short-long-long.” If you heard the Morse code for T, the call was not for you, but if you were very quiet and careful you could lift your earpiece and maybe listen in on their conversation.
Not good, but we didn’t have TV or even radio. We did have that other option I mentioned - an early example of reality TV, just without the TV.
Living in the country it was quiet. In the evenings and at night sound travelled for miles. Often you could go outside in the evening and listen to the neighbour - many kilometres away - completely and utterly losing the plot at his sheep dogs. The language was dreadful, hence my parents frowning upon me going out to listen.
Many years later I was a country school principal north of Napier. The Tareha community was very different from my Springbank one. When I started, there were just four children on the roll and they were looking to close the school down - nice of them not to let me know until I got there.
Anyway we got the roll up to 26 children in no time and our country school quickly became the heart of the community. There was a real variety of people in the community and we would have several school based events a term where people of all ages and backgrounds came along and had great fun.
Achieving that same sense of community in a school of 650 children is much harder. We come from so many different backgrounds, have such diverse tastes in food and sports and leisure and in many cases, work very long hours to be able to afford to live here.
And yet, in spite of those challenges, there is much that connects us as a community.
We are westies, and most of us our proud of it. We love our beaches, our Waitakere Ranges, our local sports clubs and markets, and so much more that makes the west special.
We are also Westies - Western Heights parents and whanau. The challenge is to build a Westie Heights community where we feel connected, feel we are part of something pretty special - our awesome Western Heights school - feel we belong and can contribute and participate, but without it being a burden.
It is easy for our ideas and initiatives to be ‘just one more thing’ that gets added to the huge and demanding list that is our life.
Greetings to all the families and friends of Western Heights school.