The Glass Darkly

Friday, May 28, 2010

Community vs. Isolation

A commentary from a friend of mine who hosted a pastor from Cambodia:

"One of thing Pastor Abraham found disturbing about America was that no free tea was offered for breakfast or lunch in diners or food establishments. In Cambodia, one would walk into a noodle shop, sit at table with other people, drink free tea and actually talk to those other people. He noticed what a highly individualized society America was as opposed to a more community based Cambodia. We leave our houses that are hidden by fences, trees and woods, and drive alone to our job where we work in our office or cubicle until we head alone back down the highway to our isolated houses that could hold many Cambodians ( Isn’t it lonely with only a husband, wife and a couple of kids in that big house?) He was not so much being critical as he was lamenting the way things are for us in our way of life. I have experienced both aspects of isolation and community. Frankly, I have missed the community since leaving Cambodia."

I, too, have observed that conversations about "community" are very different here in America than in Cambodia. Here we are always talking about how we need to "build" community. In Cambodia "community" is a common part of language describing a living reality of society. One's identity in Cambodia is closely tied to the community -- the place where one grew up or was raised -- where everyone is "aunt, uncle, cousin, etc." whether or not they are blood relation or not.

One reason so many Asian young people who are part of immigrant families in the cities of the U.S. are easily caught up into gangs and large groups of their same race is because the parents are used to the community helping to raise their children. In America people value self-sufficiency, independence and privacy. Many Asian parents feel lost in a world/culture where parents are pretty much on their own in terms of child-rearing. They don't have the collective wisdom and accountability of the village where everyone takes responsibility for how the kids turn out. They expect a community to help watch out for their kids. Gangs can become a terrifying substitute.

And so, in America we look out our windows at kids along the street who are doing things we don't approve of and we comment to our spouse how bad those kids are and we speculate how irresponsible the parents are who are raising them. It's rare to live in a community where that parent will know the parents of those kids and, even if so, will feel comfortable calling those parents to let them know what was seen.

Community truly is a gift. It takes sacrifice and commitment. And in America it is something we do, indeed, need to work to build. It takes incredible love . . . love for ourselves and all those who live around us.

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