Is it the friendships or the relationships that make for a healthy community?
This question came to me when I was on a run the other morning, an early one, when I paused at the western edge of the hayfield near the Nordic start area, the snow guns poking like fragile insect legs into grey morning. The sound of Route 11 traffic to the north and to my left pressed against the deeper quiet of Kearsarge slopes rolling south and to my right. I kept my eyes to the east, on the bright notch between Beech Hill and the ski hill where the sun would rise. I watched the mist sift over the field.
I thought about friendships.
Friendships are like that disc of the sun rising: we need them for the light they bring into our lives. They have a particular magic that allows the same story, an old story, to be fresh each time. There is more laughter in friendship, more shared tears, and over years the friendship narrative stretches like a bright, unbroken ribbon. Friendships can do what other relationships can’t, for example tricking time as conversations pick up with no lapse even as days or months or years have passed. Fierce loyalties emerge and last within the rhythm of friendships. We fight for friends. Yesterday, I watched a group of three friends play music in assembly and lift the spirits of the community. It was awesome.
But when it comes to establishing a community, something more is required than a dozen or two-dozen close friends or the electronic mist of Facebook. Communities are more about relationships, the whole of what is around us: the fields, the slopes of mountains, the commuter traffic, the red oaks and white pines, the chittering birds and not just the rising disc in the east. It’s about having the capacity to see beyond the bright moments of friendship and to appreciate the weavings of different groups. It’s about acknowledging, accepting, and embracing differences. It’s about tolerance not simply for the sake of “putting up with” the other, but appreciating what the other can do that you – or your group – can’t. No one, or no one’s group, can make the whole of community, and to believe otherwise is to start a process of damaging exclusion.
I encourage you to listen to the start of Thursday’s podcast. What struck me about three friends playing was the way the entire community bent to the music, listening hard. It was a relationship moment within a friendship moment, a community moment within a respect moment. That’s the sweet spot for community health.
Relationships, not simply friendships, make the community.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School