Widgets The Good Place (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and writing)

"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. - Benedict Spinoza."

What bureaucracies don’t teach
     A community's sense of right and wrong

High school students John Kirtley and Gage
Sobell tape their interview with Mayor
Marty Malesich about problems facing
their hometown of Dillon, Montana.

An email from a friend expressed doubt that community-centered teaching can “preserve community.” He observes the “casinos, lofts, and latte shops occupying the bricks and mortar of former factories” and the blurred sense of community that has remained.

It does seem unlikely that communities organized primarily around economic realities can be preserved--as communities. Communities form when people come together to pursue goods. If the goods they pursue are jobs, when the jobs move on so does the community. But there are other goods that are more durable, and the communities formed around them are also more durable. My prime historical example is that of the Jewish people, who kept a sense of community through centuries, despite persecutions and diasporas.

Their secret was that they ordered life around a written text which they considered sacred and which embodied their understanding of what goods they were pursuing. By teaching this same text to each new generation, they created a durable community, within which members even centuries apart in time could recognize in their writings people who were in essential ways their kin. The community understood itself primarily in moral terms rather than in economic terms.

Though Montana logging towns have been less durable, it’s true that the actual, geographical and historical places are pretty important.

Nonetheless, once you’re there, caring about community is a moral affair. For me, the center of community is the conversation about what is right and wrong. Much of the time the conversation is tacit, but it has to be there. Finding ways to have the conversation, keep it going, and bring others into it is the work. And the ways can’t be faked, very much. There has to be a purpose that touches each life. Fulfilling an institutional mission won’t do it.


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2008 Michael L. Umphrey

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