Ghost of Midnight

… about neighbors, community and Front Porch Forum

President Clinton invokes Community

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2007 by No comments yet

A colleague just sent me this video link of President Clinton’s commencement speech at Middlebury College this year. Worth watching; here’s the transcript. It’s all about the need for community as a fundamental building block for positive change…

[T]here’s a community here in the best sense, and that’s really what we have to build in the world… Every successful community has three things, whether it’s a university, a sports team, a business, an orchestra, a family; you name it. They all have three things: a broadly shared opportunity to participate; a broadly felt responsibility for the success of the enterprise, whatever it is; and a genuine sense of belonging…

So there are plenty of problems out there. Why would I come to you and ask you to think most about community? Because I believe questions of community and identity, personal identity, will determine our collective capacity to deal with all the problems. The most important thing you’ve got coming out of this Middlebury education is the understanding of the elemental value that makes all communities possible in an interdependent world, which is that our differences are really neat, they make life more interesting, and they aid in the search for truth. But our common humanity matters more.

So much of the world’s difficulties today are rooted in the rejection of that simple premise. Think about all the political, the religious, almost psychological fundamentalism that drives the wars and the conflicts and the demonization in the world today. All of it is premised on the simple fact that our differences are more important than whatever we have in common. When the terrorist bombings hit London not so long ago, the most traumatic thing for many British citizens was that the people who set the bombs off were British citizens. It was in no sense an invasion. They felt somehow violated and disoriented, and I read painful article after article where people were saying, “I just don’t get it. I work with these people. They’re nice people. I don’t understand it. My kids played with their children. We went to sporting events on the weekend. We had all this contact.” What happened? The people who set the bombs off did not feel they belonged. They believed that their differences were more important than what they had in common.

Even though they lived and worked and sometimes played with other people, the same people somehow became less human to them.

As my colleague pointed out to me… that sounds like what Front Porch Forum is about. Right on.

Now someone reading this might think I’m out in left field somewhere near the warning track… “what’s finding a babysitter and ‘table saw for sale’ messages have to do with peace, love and understanding?” Fair enough. But in my experience that’s where it can start.

I know of just such a case… call them Mr. Blue and Mr. Red. Mr. Blue had a Howard Dean for President bumper sticker on his hybrid (covering his Nader sticker). His neighbor of a couple years, Mr. Red, was all red, white and Bush on his SUV.

Mr. Blue admitted to loathing Mr. Red, who he had never really met, based on his bumper sticker… couldn’t help himself. Don’t know about Mr. Red’s feelings, but they probably weren’t too warm and fuzzy toward Mr. Blue.

Enter Front Porch Forum. Over a few months each neighbor posted several items. As Mr. Blue read Mr. Red’s postings… his Lions Club was collecting used eyeglasses for charity, he was looking to sell some photography equipment, he recommended a roofer and car mechanic to the neighborhood… Mr. Blue’s view began to change. At some point Mr. Red stopped being just a bumper sticker to him.

Not sure when it started, but they began having sidewalk conversations about photography and roofers. Then they were sitting on Mr. Red’s front porch talking Red Sox, neighborhood history, kids and grandkids, personal health. This wasn’t the enemy, rather a neighbor to be respected, supported, learned from, leaned on.

Has this happened more than once courtesy of Front Porch Forum? I don’t know. But I can hope… and keep working on it.

Posted in: Community Building, Front Porch Forum, Local Online, MacArthur Fellows, Neighborhood, Social Media, Stories, Vermont

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