Community in the narrow sense is a neighborhood or a cluster of neighborhoods. But in the broad sense of the word, community encompasses small groups, including the family, larger groups such as professional associations, unions, and even towns and cities. In this discussion,?compassion will be defined broadly. Communities can range in size from a small group to a city or even a small country.
It is useful to distinguish three major types of communities: a neighborhood, which limits members to a specific place or region; a dispersed collection or association of people interacting around a common interest, e.g., a racing association or a bowling club; and a online community, which is like an association except that the members may never meet face to face.
People talk about a community as compassionate, as if a community had a mind and could feel empathy. How can we attribute compassion to communities without pretending communities have minds of their own?
One way in which communities are compassionate is merely as the sum total of individual compassion. If it were possible to measure compassion well, we would probably see that compassion, like most human characteristics, is shaped like a bell. On one side of the bell-shaped curve would be a few people who almost never express compassion and on the other side, people who, like Mother Teresa, live very compassionate lives. The rest of us would lie in between.
Another way to conceptualize community compassion is in terms of compassionate inter-relationships. Instead of adding up compassionate individuals, add up the number of compassionate relationships or the intensity of compassion in these relationships.
Finally, and most importantly, communities can have their own policies and understandings regarding compassion. When people need help, a community can establish formal policies for helping them as well as promote informal understandings or norms in the community that community members should help those in need. Such understandings will likely lead to common projects or coordinated activities where people work together to help each other.
An Example of Community Compassion
Naperville, a city of 150,000 people, lies a few miles west of downtown Chicago. The City staff, including the police force, working with community leaders created a model private-public partnership to deliver services to the elderly. Once it became apparent how broad the needs of senior citizens were, they established a formal group called the “Senior Services Team“ of volunteer citizens as well as staff from all departments of the City government.
The Elderly Services Team meets once a month to review needs and on-going cases such as senior scams, elder abuse, financial exploitation, and the use of code enforcement to assist seniors living in unsafe conditions.?The Team has been instrumental in creating a number of new programs for the elderly including “cell phones for the elderly,” a senior photo ID database, senior living facility liaisons, and a senior home inspection program. The most important aspect of what Naperville has done to improve the well-being of the elderly is the merging of formal staff services with the energy of community volunteers.
The elderly are not the only members of the community to benefit from organized community compassion. Other community-city groups address youth activities, community service, and the prevention of child abuse.
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