The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.
Because I’m a trained scientist, and more specifically an environmental scientist, when I hear the word ‘community’ I think of an ecological community. In an ecological community, living species are interacting with each other both with like species and different species. For example, in a grasslands community, grasses and shrubs provide food for the grasshopper and the rabbit. However, these animals move around and take only what they need to ensure that the grasses can survive. These species are also interacting with nonliving things like the water, air, and soil. All in all, this community is bound together by the network of influences that species have on one another. They live in this perfect balance, so that everyone can thrive. I want to focus on just that, how we are ‘bound together’ in this network and how our actions influence other species and affect this balance. In other words, what we put into our community, and what we take out of our community.
What we take out of our community:
Growing up, I was a part of a small tight-knit community in the center of San Antonio, Texas. My area was called Alamo Heights (Heights for short). It was here where I learned to ride a bike, throw a softball, and make mistakes, tons of mistakes. Heights was a safe place where I was never afraid to be myself. Alamo Heights created this environment of love and support for everyone, so I never felt like it wasn’t okay to be me. It’s important to know, also, that 90% of the students I started school with when I was four years old in kindergarten, I eventually graduated with senior year. So everyone knew everyone. And everyone’s parents knew everyone. Which is sometimes a good thing, and sometimes a bad thing. However, over the years, my family grew from just five people, to a hundred. My friends’ parents became my parents, their brothers became my brothers, and I could go to them for comfort, love and support.
Sometimes, though, our community isn’t always like this. Sometimes a community can be seen as a place of discrimination and hate. Last year, as I was reading news articles and browsing social media, I came across an article about a student who had been bullied at Alamo Heights. He was a sophomore at the time, and the bullying became so bad, that he ended up taking his own life. When I read this, and heard of what the other students were doing to this kid, I was appalled. All I could think was, this is NOT the community I grew up in. This is not a community of comfort, love, and support. And this is certainly NOT a safe place anymore. Hearing this news made me really sad, and I even took that from my community, I took sadness.
What we put into our community:
This brings me to what we put into our community, because what we put into our community determines what we are able to take out. If no grass grows, there is no food for a grasshopper. Likewise, if no love and support is given in a community; no love or support can be taken from it.
In my group of friends, there were people from whole families, divorced families, kids from the “rich part of town” and kids from the other side of the tracks. We had artists, athletes, brainiacs, and even the Jack of all trades. Some of us were goofballs while others were super serious about life and our future, and we are all still this way. But we all became friends and stayed friends because our community (and us) created this space that supported diversity. Each one of us was diverse (whether that be color of our skin, where we came from, social status) but we came to support that and welcomed the diversity. We made it okay to be different, and encouraged it.
An example of this was from our talent show. Our talent show my senior year was actually one of the highlights of high school (yes, not winning district or going to the state semi-finals, but the talent show). Several of my friends were performing, but we didn’t know what they were doing for their performance, they were keeping it a surprise. Now, these friends were not known for their dancing or singing abilities, and it was a random group of guys, so everyone was kind of confused as to why they were even performing. When the curtains opened up, there were four treadmills on the stage. A popular song at the time “Here It Goes Again” by OK-GO came on. As the music started to play, the guys replicated the same exact moves that the band does in the music video. The whole time during the talent show, I thought to myself, wow I wish I was brave enough to do something like that. These guys took a huge risk, their senior year in high school, and could have made complete fools of themselves. They weren’t afraid to do it big. To them it was go big and rock it OR go big and fail magnificently. Either way, they were going.
These guys did something completely out of the box, and completely unexpected, and the only reason they were able to do this and not chicken out was because of our community. They knew they were in a place where you could fall flat on your face and still be loved. They could have gotten off sync and the crowd still would have given them a standing ‘O.’ It could have been a total disaster, but everyone would have told them how cool it was and that they did a good job. However their performance turned out, they had family and friends there to give them love and support. The dance was perfect. They stepped from treadmill to treadmill at the exact right time, and had the dance moves down pat. The crowd cheered, and my friends became famous on YouTube.
So ask yourself, what do I put into this community? Is it something that I would want to take out?
Emily Beckwith teaches Upper School Science at Episcopal. She is an environmental scientist with a Bachelor of Science in Renewable Natural Resources from Texas A&M University and a Master of Science in Environmental Science from Louisiana State University. After graduate school, Emily spent two years with a global environmental consulting firm where she worked on oil and gas remediation projects. After traveling the country for two years completing different projects and getting married, Emily decided to make a change in careers and pursue her passion for teaching the sciences.