Community – The Essence of the matter! #52 #cong19


I wanted to look at community beyond its governance and architecture. The rational constructs we put around the word focus on things like shared values, shared goals, all rooted in some kind of commonality.  But actually, I think its difference that separates “community” from tribes and families.  I thought about how I experienced it growing up in a smaller rural town.  Yes, there were committees and action groups but they were just the actions and manifestations of a deeper invisible force that unleashes itself when it is needed.  Most of us aren’t actively aware of our ‘community’ until the shit hits the fan or there are jobs to be done.   I referenced the John Donne poem at the end.   No man is an island… All the people make up the community whether we are actively engaged or not.  Small towns are often accused of being gossiping and small minded but I think that’s unfair.  Yes, people do talk about people but its through these stories that we find understanding and compassion.  The alternative is not to know, not to understand, not to care.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Community is an invisible energy force that is the ‘essence’ of the matter from which it is derived – that matter is people.It is activated and unleashed when there is something to be done.
  2. Where Community is strong, everyone matters.Some are more active agents than others but through stories, no one even those at the fringes, is invisible.  Through stories, there is understanding, forgiveness, compassion and inclusion.
  3. All places have ‘community’ but not all places have great community.I think the gap is in the silence.  Community and communication are intrinsically linked.  Where communication of is weak, the essence of community is faint.

About Joan Mulvihill:

Joan Mulvihill – long time member of the Congregation.  Blow-in member of Mullingar community. Sometime joiner of the artist community.  Recent member of Siemens Ireland having joined as Digitalisation Lead in February 2019.   She is as likely to talk to you about poetry and art as she is to talk about technology and society.  She is annoyingly happy right now so you’ve been warned!  For someone who says she’s not a joiner, she seems to find herself in a lot of things!!!

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can follow Joan on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Joan Muvihill

Community exists in places but is not a place.  It manifests itself in actions but is not an action.  It can  come from a tribe of ‘same’ but more often is strengthened by difference.  Community is channelled through friends as well as sometimes enemies.  It is the invisible force that awakens and unleashes itself when it is needed, when something happens, in the face of adversity, when there are jobs to be done.  Is it maybe, the most pure essence of a place?  An essence is the resonant characteristics of the matter from which it is made, the resonance of the emotional, physical and spiritual attributes of that matter. The matter from which the essence ‘community’ is drawn is the people of that place.

People are to others, their stories – the narrated emotional, physical or spiritual attributes of those people as seen and told by others.  The deeper the stories, the stronger the essence.  Stories allow us to see and understand others.

How do I narrate the stories of the ‘different’ people from where I grew up – because some of them were most decidedly ‘different’.

One rode through the town on his bicycle carrying a horse whip.  One endlessly walked the back roads carrying plastic bags of heaven knows what and another dyed her hair with brown shoe polish that made it matted and mauve.  Just in one town, with one street – the one where I grew up.   Yes, they were strange but they weren’t strangers.  Some were not loved by everyone but each was loved by someone once.  In that small town, everyone knew their back story or at least some version of it.  Some sad and tragic, some funny, some dramatic but mostly ending in a compassionate “Shur, God love them..”   I have chosen these three because their stories were as much the source of matter for the essence of our community as anyone else’s and more than that, it made them matter.  Strong ‘community’ includes everyone, even those on the fringes of it.  You see, my earliest experience of community is not of how we were bound together by ‘same’ but rather how our community embraced difference and came from understanding, compassion and inclusivity.

Small town community is commonly portrayed as gossiping stories where small minds talk about people.  Stopping in the shop or nursing pints on the bar; whispering voices talking blow-ins, begrudgers and bullshitters, notions and nonsense. And that’s on a good day! Not much community there you’d say.  But you’d be so wrong because you should see them on a bad day…

On a bad day, high-vis jackets over funeral overcoats stand in the rain directing traffic.  Floating plates of funeral sandwiches, endless pots of tea on china cups are passed rattling on saucers to old and shaking hands.   Strangers wonder where the tea towels are kept and if there is more milk for the jug and sugar for the bowl as they take turns washing up and all the while moving from small talk to great stories. They don’t come for the stories but they are there because of them – the same stories they traded in the shop and over the bar yes, but they are the stories that bind us.

Where stories are strong, community is strong and when the essence of community is unleashed and thickens the air and you can’t help but take it in.  It gives energy to efforts. It soothes old wounds long enough to get jobs done.  It puts old differences into soft focus when you rub it into tired eyes to keep going.   Community has tidied its towns, cleared its roads, shared its fodder, buried its dead, saved hay and saved lives.

No man is an island,

Entire of Itself

Everyman is a piece of the continent

A part of the main,

If a clod be washed away by the sea

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were

As well as if a manor of thy friends;

Or if thine own were,

Any man’s death diminishes me

Because I am involved in Mankind

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls

It tolls for thee.

John Donne, 1624 from Meditation 17.  

We are the matter that from which the essence of a place is derived.  Simply being alive is to be involved in mankind. Some people have just short lives, some spend their lives at the fringes, but community is drawn from everyone of a place and indeed it is often those at the fringes that can need it and feel it most acutely.  I am sure that one day I will find myself on the fringe ‘of the main’ too, inhaling deeply on the last of the essence before the bell tolls….


“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less”.   Was John Donne talking about Brexit in 1624 too?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *