Sense of community in different cultural contexts
The instruction for one of the previous forums was "Explain how do you understand a relationship between citizens engagement and sense of community. Identify any specific cultural and social factors in your target country that may modify importance of each component of the sense of community." In response Michelle Hon wrote the comment posted below. Please write your reflections on this comment from the perspective of what you have learned about the sense of community.
"The need to be loved, self-respected, accepted, and feel safe are basic human needs. While we are each distinct individuals it is these similarities that ties us together as a part of humanity all working towards the same goals in life. For instance, our culture and media constantly advertise the journey of finding love expressing that when we find "it" we will finally achieve lasting peace. Consequently, this relates to social and emotional connections that allow for a sense of identity and belonging. It is through these relationships between citizens that create a sense of community to actively participate and achieve common ambitions. However, our individualistic society contradicts this view as independence, autonomy, competition, distinct boundaries, self-reliance, and individual uniqueness is emphasized. While it may appear that bonds are forming they are often insincere and shallow lacking the true depth of inclusive fulfillment of emotional desires. This reinforces that an individual must survive and struggle in isolation. As people do not want to get involved they construct and utilize defense mechanisms to sustain limitations. A diffusion of responsibility also occurs known as the bystander effect with people assuming that others will repair our political, economical, and social problems without having to exert any effort. However, for change to transpire it must be through a collective action where individuals first need to recognize and understand the complex issues and then continue with taking accountability. Through this process individuals can join together with a universal mission while learning to recognize that success is dependent on the group with focus on support, loyalty, cooperation, and interconnected harmony. By taking these pieces of other culture's ideal about collectivism can help facilitate a true community.
However, as this concept may seem simple it requires several key features including membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connections (Wright, 2004). People need to first feel that they have invested themselves in the community. Marked boundaries with shared symbols such as language and rituals are essential for building a solid foundation to expand upward. Also necessary is a sense of identity and emotional safety within the group, as people will invest the more they believe in an issue with a secure space for freedom of expression. With a population over one billion people that is deeply invested in cultural and social roots defines the membership of India within religion, philosophy, and a relatively strict hierarchy or caste system. The majority of India's population is Hindu with further divisions into Buddhism, Muslim, Jainism, and Vedanta among others. This allows for common beliefs in such practices as Karma, Dharma (duties or ethics), yoga, meditation, Samsara (the cycle of life) and Moksha (liberation from samsara) (Coogan, 2005). However, there are other traditions and influence that have been absorbed throughout history by other countries. The two main languages are Dravidian and Indo-Aryan, but English is also used particularly with increasing business with other nations and also in education. Family is important and respect between members is valued as essential. A communal family structure is often observed as parents, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other extended family members will cohabitate together. However, it is not an absolute cooperative system as the oldest male usually controls the major rules and decisions with the other family members adhering and following along. An additional critical issue in India is the segregation and discrimination of the caste system that despite many reform movements to create equality continues to persist (Kalman, 2010). This is a major concern for creating a sense of unity, as these boundaries within a community will only serve to constantly fracture any possibility for a collective society.
Empowerment is another factor that allows members to exercise reciprocal and dynamic power that motivates and influences towards a shared objective. As transference is inevitable with every human being always impacting another can help to cultivate relationships. Therefore, people need to feel empowered that if we work together we can make a difference both on a personal level as well as in a larger context (Wright, 2004). Although this becomes challenging as many are often afraid or inhibited with reaching out and meeting new people and trying new experiences. To shatter this fear, awareness needs to be developed in understanding that when divided we all fail yet when united we can succeed. To accomplish these complex goals effective leaders are necessary to make connections between and within communities. This requires vital skills including patience, ethics, a unique vision, ability to make strategic decisions, selecting the right people and tools to complete the job, and enabling individuals to actively participate. This was especially evident in India prior to their independence as Mahatma Gandhi challenged existing practices and ideologies by organizing people in the same direction with shared emotions and motivation towards a united cause of non-violent resistance. Gandhi evoked positive change in moving forward for further social, political, and spiritual improvement of his country as a whole. He influenced individuals to take responsibility for their situation by personally following his own advice in living the life that he wanted others to do (Gandhi, 2007). This allowed for all members of society to be included and persist through struggles and hardships. As complex political and economic prolonged stress can result in poor quality of life it is imperative for individual and group well-being to have strong and healthy communities. Through this need for change Gandhi helped to mobilize and empower people in an interdependent active process between leaders and participants. By understanding the needs, concerns, and aspirations of the people allowed a commitment of trust to form thereby instigating influential change.
The third aspect that involves integration and the fulfillment of needs is multifaceted to achieve in India as the economy is rapidly growing while millions are still in poverty living on less then one dollar a day (Kalman, 2010). Also the struggle to provide basic education, healthcare, and sustainable development compounds the problem by being able to first meet these basic physical needs of life. Consequently, to reach the values and desires of the community will require transformations of current infrastructures. Continuing with Gandhi demonstrates how India was able to uprise form oppression with a shared core value system and principles through following Satyagraha meaning truth, non-violence, and love. Out of this came the Constructive Programme, which was a social reform platform to unite diverse religions and ethnicities, manufacture and use of indigenous products, and eradicate the unequal treatment and rights of the lower castes (Gandhi, 2007). Focusing on these divisions in society is important as integration becomes unattainable without the "perceived similarity to others and homogeneity that contribute to group interaction and cohesion" (Wright, 2004). Physical barriers among towns and cities are also a problem as a main portion of the population resides in rural areas that lack adequate roads and access to communicate with others. Therefore, the foundation or establishment for a sense of communities is broken before it can even begin.
The last component includes emotional connections that can strengthen over shared history and investing of time together. Consequently, a safe space for dialogue where individuals can create, collaborate, and organize is essential (Wright, 2004). As oppression impacts India's ability to flourish and develop, a multi-dimensional process that incorporates economic and social investments, is based on community action, and is sustained by relationships of shared power that encourages innovation and participation will assist with respecting individual well-being while stimulating all of society. This is fundamental for seeking collective interests to refocus power and influence in exploring and critiquing inequalities. Therefore, by allowing and liberating a wide range of knowledge as valuable creates understanding and builds the capacity to respond to the repressed citizens that are excluded and cultivates a whole sense of community. This can be observed through a joint project by the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Volunteers, and the United Nations Development Programme occurring in the Indian state of Punjab. These efforts seek to repair cultural heritage while fostering community among individuals from diverse social and religious backgrounds. This is achieved through interlinked education, health, and horticultural restoration activities (Savyssachi & Rai, 2000). By initiating with these building blocks of community can help cultivate participation and broader awareness of individual's rights to form effective groups for political reform.
Therefore, growth of community depends on initiative, vision, common goals, structure, citizen participation, skills, interdependence, and empowerment of individuals and of the community. While accomplishing these objectives proves to be rather challenging and complex in India there is evidence from the past as well as current developments that instill hope for acquiring a sense of community (Kalman, 2010). It is necessary that voices of the people be heard by bridging the gaps between towns, cities, and local and national authorities. Connecting individuals together can merge separate ideas, suggestions, and plans to unite in providing more equal opportunities and resources for all. This is why it is so important to get involved whether it is by physically building a community as those did in Punjab or by spreading awareness and information. To change the major problems within India's society starts with one person, as this single individual will create a ripple effect by inspiring others spreading to eventually creating united action. However, this same process can also be restrained and destroyed with one person refusing to follow or pursue a common purpose. While it may seem an impossible goal with extreme poverty, conflict, unequal opportunities, and discrimination consuming India there is still hope. The national flower, the lotus presents an amazing example as it grows from mud into a sacred symbol of purity, peace, enlightenment, rebirth, beauty, and transcendence (Kalman, 2010). Thus, just like the lotus, the people of India often must endure and struggle through poor and difficult conditions yet there is a seed of tremendous potential that just needs support and nurturing to grow and flourish. "
Coogan, M.D. (2005). Eastern Religions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Gandhi, R. (2007). Gandhi: The Man, His People, and The Empire. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books? id=FauJL7LKXmkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=gandhi&hl=en&ei=49GLTNGrEoe8sQOW3dSLBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=false
Kalman, B. (2010). India the Culture. New York, NY: Crabtree Publishing. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books? id=UuDBEsOF6G4C&printsec=frontcover&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false
Savyssachi, Dr., & Rai, G.S. (2000). Restoring Punjab's Cultural Heritage, UNV's Foster a Sense of Community. UN Volunteers. Retrieved from http://www.unv.org/en/what-qwedo/countries/india/doc/restoring-punjabs-cultural- heritage.html
Wright, S.P. (2004). Psychological Sense of Community: Theory of McMillan & Chavis (1986). In Exploring Sense of Community in Living-Learning Programs and in the University as a Whole. Retrieved from http://www.wright- house.com/psychology/sense-of-community.html