I’ve been reading a book (actually, two books) by one of my heroes, Dr. Paul Farmer. Besides being co-founder of and active participant in an organization that is changing the world for the better, a teacher at Harvard Medical School, and a practicing medical professional, he writes books and makes speeches to encourage others to follow his example of serving the underserved. He’s fighting for justice in an unjust world, bringing medical care to those who need and benefit from it most but can afford it least.
The organization in question is called Partners in Health. That name is not an accident. In one book I’m currently in the midst of, “To Repair the World“, Farmer is making a commencement address to a group of college graduates. In his speech, he claims:
“…with rare exceptions, all of your most important achievements on this planet will come from working with others—or, in a word, partnership.” (emphasis his)
It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or has read more than a few of these posts that I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Farmer. Contrary to the claims of a certain megalomaniac who thinks he alone is the solution to all the world’s problems, community is essential to progress of any kind. Yes, friends, it does take a village, not only to raise a child but to repair the world and our own lives.
Scripture tends to agree with this assessment. A select couple of verses (among many, many others) to the point:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Twelve humble and often faltering apostles proved the value of working together. They changed the world.
We can, too.
But not alone.
Partnerships, what I usually call community, serve others and ourselves. I’ve written extensively about the value of community as part of a (are you ready for the buzzword?) holistic approach to living with MS. If you care to review some of those posts (there could be a quiz later) read here or here. Or here. Or here.
An oft-used metaphor to drive home these points is that of burning coals. Pile a heap of coal together (or charcoal or even wood) and set it on fire. The coals will soon be glowing and generating heat. Now pull one of the pieces of coal off to the side. (Use tongs unless you enjoy excruciating pain.) In a short time, the single chunk of coal will lose its light and its heat. Meanwhile, the original heap (or community, if you will) will be just as intense as ever.
That’s the value of partnership, a.k.a. community. There is almost nothing of lasting and great positive value that can be accomplished alone. (Lots of negatives: loneliness, selfishness, alienation.) That’s why Lincoln (and Jesus a few years earlier) said:
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Yet it is my contention that this world is doing everything it can to divide the house of humanity, to deny and even destroy partnerships. Think cell phones, TV, internet addiction, home theater, the demise of community organizations, commuting alone, broken families, the rise of adversarial communication, the disappearing “family meal”, and so much more.
Is there a malevolent force working against the good of humanity? Is someone profiting from the divide-and-conquer approach? Are we unwittingly and foolishly killing ourselves? All of the above?
You can try to work out that puzzle. I’ll just work on the flip side: working in partnerships and building community.