Home Concepts Ethics Habits of the Heart: Finding Spirituality in Community Coherence

Habits of the Heart: Finding Spirituality in Community Coherence

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Secular Perspective: Fostering Civic Virtue and Finding Community Capital

The secular domain resides in the civic virtues of those residing in the community. This notion of civic virtue is incorporated in the term, Paideia, that Bellah references. Paideia is a vision of a community that was first articulated in ancient Greece. As Bellah notes this vision refers to the socialization of children through education and the modeling of exemplary behavior, so that the children might become ideal members of their community (the Polis). In contemporary times, the domain of work seems to be critical in the engagement of civic virtue (Bellah et al., 1985, p. 288):

“Undoubtedly, the satisfaction of work well done, indeed “the pursuit of excellence,” is a permanent and positive human motive. Its reward is the approbation of one’s fellows more than the accumulation of great private wealth and it can contribute to what the founders of our republic called civic virtue. Indeed, in a revived social ecology, it would be a primary form of civic virtue.”

We wish to extend this analysis regarding the social ecology of coherence and enhanced interpersonal relationships by suggesting three additional ingredients. A coherent community needs rocks, pebbles and sand. Ron Kitchens and his associates (Kitchens, Gross and Smith, 2008) write about “community capital”—which I would suggest is needed in a community that encourages rich and productive interpersonal relationships. This capital comes from multiple sources—rocks, pebbles and sand. Community capital (represented as rocks) comes in part from institutions in a community that support broad based community participation and economic security for all members of the community. Kitchens proposes that there is a second source of capital in a coherent community.

Community capital is generated by the services and events being offered in this community. These are the pebbles. These services and events are inclusive and attractive to all members of the community if it is coherent. Regardless of their status in the workplace, all members of the community are invited to events occurring outside the workplace. One finds both the employers and employees at local concerts or at meetings of the city council. Lines might still exist, but they are easily crossed without repercussion. Community engagement should be just as democratic and broad-based as democracy inside the workplace.

There is a third source of community capital—that represents the sand—this is where coherence begins to bridge into the spiritual. Kitchens suggests that this is the specific quality of interactions that take place among those living in a coherent community. These interactions are respectful and inviting for all community members. The quality of interaction at the table is particularly important and diversity of perspective is welcomed (not just tolerated). Privilege is prevalent, with all members of the community being allowed (even invited) to enter and receive services from the institutions, to participate in the events and to engage in the many diverse relationships that are to be found when all members of the coherent community are interacting with one another. This is what civic virtue is ultimately about and how a coherent community can be created and maintained.

Ron Kitchens makes use of rock, pebbles and sand when offering a metaphor regarding how these three levels of community capital come together. He invites people to watch as he fills a bowl with rocks (representing the first type of community capital). He asks if the bowl can contain anything else. The obvious answer is “No.” Kitchens then adds in some pebbles to the bowl (representing the second type of community capital). They settle in among the rocks. The bowl can contain more than the rocks. It can accommodate pebbles. Kitchens goes one step further. He adds sand to the bowl (representing the third type of community capital).

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