You can never have too much community

Published 4:03 pm Saturday, December 27, 2014

Live United, by Ann Austin

I’ve encountered a lot of messages lately about how important it is to demonstrate both vulnerability and trust as we interact with others.

Ann Austin

Ann Austin

It’s hard to be vulnerable. It opens us up for potential attacks, but it also opens us to receive help.

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Poet and philosopher John O’Donohue put it nicely in “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace”: “When you become vulnerable, any ideal or perfect image of yourself falls away. Many people are addicted to perfection, and in their pursuit of the ideal, they have no patience with vulnerability … the beauty of the true idea is its hospitality toward woundedness, weakness, failure and fall-back. Yet so many people are infected with the virus of perfection … It is a wonderful day in a life when one is finally able to stand before the long, deep mirror of one’s own reflection and view oneself with appreciation, acceptance and forgiveness. On that day one breaks through the falsity of images and expectations which have blinded one’s spirit.”

The best friends are the ones who help us see ourselves clearly and accept us even for our flaws. They are the ones who encourage growth.

With individuals and with the system we operate from, it’s important to recognize vulnerability — because at that point we can see more clearly how help can be given. We strive for perfection as individuals, and we expect perfection from the systems around us, but that’s missing the point entirely.

If things are perfect, would we need each other? And what is life without interaction?

Arguably, one could say the greatest form of poverty is isolation — it is experienced by all people. This time of year can be even more challenging for people who don’t have family nearby or are estranged, struggling with depression or experiencing the loss of a loved one.

We are not meant to be isolated from each other — we need to work to build relationships. We need to recognize how each person has a meaningful role in making a difference.

This year marks the 50th anniversary on the War on Poverty. Since last fall I’ve been thinking about how local programs operate — and how government, nonprofit, church and individuals all play an important role in addressing the needs of a community.

The challenge we face with making a significant impact is recognizing our vulnerability and trusting that others will be there to help when it is needed. Often as individuals and especially as organizations, we tend to put up a front that everything is perfect when truthfully we face real struggles every day.

The world is not perfect; we are not perfect. And that is the point. We are all flawed, but we can make it work. However, we must trust that things will get better. And we must trust ourselves.

A saying I have appreciated (and wrote a column about my first year at United Way) goes like this: “Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for a leader … We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” — Hopi Elders

Live united!

Albert Lea resident Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.