Our common life is shaped by the ways that we come together in groups. Americans link up with each other in so many ways. Sometimes geography brings us together in a neighborhood or town. Sometimes we come together through organizations or institutions. Sometimes we choose the groups we belong to; sometimes they come with birth or shared history.
Learning where and how people connect also reveals where they don't connect. Communities or groups create bonds and boundaries, insiders and outsiders. When people don't feel welcome or comfortable, when they feel they're being cut out or threatened, it affects the spirit of the entire community. Learning how our actions or attitudes affect each other will prepare us to imagine what it would take to create a better life together.
There are more questions here than you will have time to address. Choose a
few that you think will be most interesting to your group.
What groups do you belong to?
Are you a comic book collector, a voice in the community chorus, or a soccer player? Do you belong to a congregation, an ethnic club, the PTA, or another group? Consider how important these connections are to your daily life. What do you gain? What do you give? Why?
How do you decide who your "own people" are?
What groups do you identify with because of shared life circumstances or common experiences?
Describe where and when you feel connected, part of a community.
What traditions, values or beliefs are important to the core groups or communities you belong to?
How did you learn them?
How important have they been to you?
Imagine that someone from outside your group wants to learn something
about your group's history in order to understand you better. What stories would you
tell that person?
Have you ever felt like an outsider?
When, if ever, do you feel that you don't fit in?
Describe the signs that say you belong and the ones that say you don't.
When you're on the outside, how does that affect you?
When you're on the inside, who's been left out? Why?
How tough is it to be a member of a community when you don't entirely fit in?
How often do you feel very aware of one aspect of your identity? How often do you feel that you are out of place or even in danger?
Describe what, if any, obstacles prevent you from enjoying the best that
your community has to offer.
Describe those obstacles.
Do you think that people here are treated differently depending on some aspect of their identity or background? Give examples.
Are there tensions in your community that surface in the schools, in
neighborhoods, or around economic issues, such as jobs, taxes, and social
Do you think these tensions are rooted in inequalities based on difference?
What examples from the past or the present would you give to support your position?
How do these quotes relate to the discussion today?
Which statement do you find most interesting? Why?
A survey conducted for the National Conference in March, 1994, found that members of
every group stereotype other groups. Stereotypes almost always contribute to
community tension. To explore how this happens here:
List three words that describe a group you identify with. Now, list three
words that others might use to stereotype your group.
How do you think these stereotypes started?
What stereotypes would you like to dispel?
How do you think these stereotypes affect the ways the groups in our
communities get along?
How do you respond when you hear a stereotype being used to describe
yourself or someone else?
Americans have had some trouble looking at a place like Central Illinois
and trying to figure out what communities are there. Although people spread
themselves out over the open countryside, they established important and
vital connections based on family, based on kin, based on their common
membership in community churches, their organization of community schools.
People came together for harvest festivals, for plowing, for work, for
-- John Mack Faragher, historian
Think about the important connections and support systems in your life. What
is your community's equivalent of the barn-raising or the quilting circles
of Midwest history? When do people in your community come together? If a
newcomer asked you to point out some of the most important support systems
in your community, what would you direct that person's attention to?
Take this opportunity to let each other know about the places in your
area that have special meaning for the groups that you identify with. These could be places that are full of memories, that tell or mark your group's history, or are places where people just like to gather. Describe how and why these places are special.