When I was young, I wanted to be a monk (don’t ask!). It wasn’t because I wanted to retreat from the world; it was because I found the idea of living in a community so attractive. Immersing yourself in the simple things of life, sharing with one another, the daily rhythm – for all the sacrifices, I think it would be worth it.
Now I obviously decided against becoming a monk in the end. And yes, this was in no small part due to meeting an eager young law student while I was at university. She was mesmerising. Unconventional, opinionated, kind, contemplative, fierce – she was ‘beautiful and terrible as the dawn’ – and I was forever ensnared.
Monasteries and wives don’t mix apparently, but that desire for community still lives within me. In fact, I think it has been honed through 15 years of marriage. We celebrated our anniversary yesterday as it happens!
Marriage is like a tiny microcosm of community. It is hard, but it is rewarding. My wife has taught me a great deal about community: its importance in life and how to do it well. In many ways she has helped me refine my desire for community.
So I’d like to share just a few things I’ve learnt about doing community over the years:
- Love is a decision
Some people are easy to love. Some people make it so easy, you seem to fall in love with them almost against your will. Some people, on the other hand, are not.
But love, real love, is not a feeling; it’s a decision. You can choose to love anyone. ‘Love is a verb.’ Regardless of how you feel about someone naturally, you can make the effort to act in a loving way towards them, even if you don’t want to.
“Prickly people are prickly for a reason.”
Why should you? A wise woman once said to me, “Prickly people are prickly for a reason.” Those people who get on your nerves weren’t born annoying. They have been shaped by their environment and some people have been at the receiving end of some pretty bad treatment. ‘Children learn what they live.’
As Proud Mary put it so well though, “Once you give a little love, you’re gonna get some love right back.” The more you choose to love people, the more lovable they will become. But it takes time. Be patient.
- It is better to be reconciled than to be right
Truth can oftentimes seem paramount. The issue that you are fighting over really matters. However, when I look back over the years at all of the issues I’ve fought over, none of them was actually more important than the people I was fighting with. ‘People before games.’ People are more important than issues.
Submitting to someone else’s will is really hard. Especially when you know they’re wrong! Being reconciled is better than being right though.
Now I’m not suggesting you become a doormat and just acquiesce to everybody else’s desires. Please, express your opinion, discuss the issue. But if you find yourself at loggerheads and there seems to be no way forward, put them (and their errant wishes) first.
When you do this, you are loving them. When you love them, well, see point 1. Love is the key.
- Be kind
An old friend of mine once told me, “The measure of a man is how he treats someone from whom he has nothing to gain.” Now I’m sure this applies to women as well, but the idea here is that many of our relationships are built on reciprocity. We naturally interact with those people who give us something in return.
At one extreme, this could be currying favour with those in power in order to obtain a future tangible benefit, but for most of us, it is more that some people offer friendship, shared interests, a listening ear and so we value spending time with them. We gain something from the interaction.
But what about those people who are clearly different from us? They talk about subjects that bore you, they don’t listen, you have no interest in doing anything that they want to do – how do you treat those people?
If you develop a habit of kindness, it will change you.
If you develop a habit of kindness, even if it is through gritted teeth at first, it will change you. You will become kind. In time it will no longer be an act of will to smile at the stranger on the street, it will become part of who you are. I must admit though, I am still working on this!
If you need an incentive to do this, realise that ultimately, people will notice, and then you will reap the reward. There is no more attractive personal trait than kindness.
For me personally, I have developed a community of friends (and prickly people!) through gaming, and they enrich my life enormously. Community is the reason I play boardgames, the reason I use Kickstarter, the reason I produce the BGO podcast and the reason I blog.
Do you have any tips for doing community well? Or do you take issue with any of mine? Share your opinions!