What India Taught Me About Community
Our eyes locked as he turned his head and looked around, and I realized in that moment I was done for. He made his way through the sea of people directly towards me. He placed his hand on my shoulder and stated loudly:
"You're not done dancing yet!"
And with that statement, my wife's uncle pulled me through the chairs, tables, and party-goers back into the area where all my in-laws were dancing in celebration.
My wife and I recently spent several weeks with her family in northern India to celebrate some important rites of passage in the lives of some of her cousins. These special ceremonies consisted of several religious rituals and ONE BIG PARTY.
The final day of these ceremonies was one long party full of food, laughter, dancing, and hundreds of people from the community as well as extended family from across the country and around the world.
And as I was pulled back into the mass of dancing family members (for the 17th time), I looked around and was amazed at what I was a part of that evening.
It was real community on display in the front yard of a house in a small Indian town in northwest India.
And it was beautiful.
As I reflect on the events of that day, I am reminded not only of the importance of community - but I am also reminded of some of the important elements the build community no matter where you are in the world.
Four of these components in the DNA of community are:
- Time: Quality time is obviously important, but very often - quality time is only quality time when there is alot of it. Quality time requires quantity. And community can only be built over time. As we journey with others, relationships cannot be microwaved but necessitate a strong investment of time together. Most of the people at the party with me that evening were people my extended family have known for years, if not generations. Their relationships were forged over time.
- Conversations: The best way to deconstruct stereotypes and learn to love and respect others? Talk with them. It's only through hearing other people's stories, as well as sharing our journey, that we are able to build relationships. The conversations I had throughout this party (when I wasn't dancing) helped me not only learn about others, but I also realized just how much they all knew about each other's stories.
- Food: We've all seen this in our own lives right? Food builds community. Eating a meal together with others builds relationships and nurtures community no matter where you are. And when it's amazing Indian cuisine, I find community to be created really easily. (Just my opinion though.) This point is a simple one: eating together builds relationships.
- Shared Experiences: Similar to the previous point about food, when we live through shared experiences together - whether it be good or bad - we grow together as a community. In India, I am learning, they celebrate everything. There is a party for every occasion, and everyone is a part of it. This perspective of celebrating everything is not only a great value to hold, it provides space for people to: spend time together, talk, and eat with each other. Some of my best memories from our recent trip to India will always be from our day-long celebration together with family and neighbors.
Community building is not always fun, and it's not always easy. But there are plenty of occasions when it can be enjoyable and beautiful. And this single occasion in India reminded me of some of the best aspects of building relationships and growing community, not only in an Indian farm town but also in my own inner-city neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana.
How do you build community?