Community Defeats Catastrophe
This past week-end my wife and I hosted two events at our house in Connecticut, one for our whole Warburg team and one for Audubon Sharon, of which Alexandra is the Board chair. We fed and feted about 150 people over the course of 36 hours. Today, as I realized it is the 16th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, I was struck by the alignment around a single issue which these two utterly disparate realities brought to my mind. That issue is community building.
The brilliant urban planner Vincent Scully, from whom I took a famous course while I was a Yale undergraduate, spoke forcefully and often about the role of urban architecture in building community. There must be vibrant street life embracing, ideally, a mix of cultures to build a shared sense of community. Our city, with its increasing number of outdoor restaurants and cafes and its beautiful parks, encourages both residents and visitors out into its public spaces to relax and interact. Apartment buildings, with shared agendas and elevator intimacy, foster a different but also important sense of togetherness.
Our places of work can encourage both a sense of shared purpose and an awareness of hierarchical division; one of the reasons we hold the Warburg party every year at our home is to bring everyone together outside the office. When you meet your colleagues and staff with their partners, their children, their significant others, you relate to them differently. You see them in context.
Involvement in our own communities generates the same experience. Alexandra and I have served on nonprofit Boards throughout our married life, she more than I. She headed the Board of the independent school our children attended, not to mention the Independent Schools Chairmen’s Association, the Parents League, the women’s reproductive health center where our kids were born, assisted by midwives, and many others. My Board commitments have been and remain more in the arts, but they have the same effect. They expand our circle of knowledge and acquaintance while building community through shared commitment and the focus on moving an important agenda forward.
The fifty people who came to our house in Sharon on Sunday all share a deep desire to protect the undisturbed flyways and nesting sites which protect so many of our local and migratory birds. And then we learn about what else matters to them – the history and preservation of our town, an extraordinary program to heal combat veterans through interaction with horses, the local theater, job creation. All things in which we can participate to strengthen our ties to our community.
It’s not just (or even primarily) about money. It’s about involvement, becoming part of something larger than ourselves. Through service, we build communities in our buildings, our neighborhoods, our towns. It enables us to feel truly a part of where we live. And it is a source of both love and a sense of peace. The right response to 9/11 never was hatred or vengeance, both of which breed on themselves. The most powerful weapon we have to heal our world remains commitment to the welfare of those who surround us. We don’t have to agree on our politics or religions or even our preference for prewar or postwar or co-ops or condos. As long as we share the desire to build diverse and engaged communities around us, we are on the right road.