An increasing number of my friends have been focusing on learning more about creating harmonious communities in which each individual can fulfill the purpose of his/her existence, that is, to know and to worship God. As the number of people involved in the process of community building increases, so do the various point of views shared during consultations. When shared in a spirit of humble learning, these create the opportunity to refine the community building process. But when shared in a mindset that is infected, either with the ego or with lack of faith, things can go very wrong.
Troublesome discourses sometimes arise even from within a detached, dedicated group of people. These discourses seem to be driven by good intentions, that is, by the desire to make the world a better place, which is what makes addressing them particularly hard.
Take the example of selfless service and personal boundaries. All people who love God and their fellow men/women want to dedicate their lives selflessly to the betterment of the world. For some, who have the physical and mental capacity and the material means, this translates into full-time participation in community building activities. It is incredibly heartening to see people dedicate themselves like this.
But what happens when this sort of participation becomes the standard to emulate within a community? It feels like often, in the name of encouraging others to align themselves more fully with their purpose in life and to abscond worldly distractions, we start comparing them to what we think is a higher standard of selfless service. We end up drawing comparisons between people of very different means, and very different physical and mental capacities, which brings us to unfair conclusions that can severely bruise hearts.
The other tricky thing with such comparisons is that they are flawed from the outset; that is to say, there are many reasons why selfless service does not mean lacking personal boundaries. The first and foremost is that you have to be selfless out of love for God. This means that you also love such things as justice, and when someone does not respect your boundaries and treat you unfairly, it does not seem to be in accord with the Writings of any major religion to just let yourself be abused. Another reason is that we do not know everyone’s reality; for example, it might see to someone who is able to survive on 4 hours of sleep that the person making the space to sleep for 9 hours is not as devoted as he/she can be, when in fact, the individual is dealing with an emotionally exhausting spiritual challenge that requires them to sleep more.
At its most basic, personal boundaries in the context of community building allow for us to become a lean, mean, service-oriented machine. By taking the time to sleep enough, eat well and exercise, we ensure that our bodies stay healthy for the longest time possible, so that we can best serve humanity.
The next level is mental health. Taking the time to not only get an education, but to excel at it, allows us to acquire both knowledge and virtues. The knowledge allows us to influence discourse; we cannot hope to influence governance, health, humanities, etc. if we do not know what we are talking about. It makes us sound like utopians, rather than skilled physicians understanding the nature of the illness and applying the specific spiritual treatment needed. As for the virtues acquired when in an educational facility, such as discipline, focus and collaborative learning, they allow us to develop our spiritual capacity, our purpose in life.
Setting personal boundaries also keeps us focused on finding the truth. Taking the time to reflect on the discourse in one’s community keeps us from being dragged into what those with the loudest voices think is the right way, and reminds us that unless everyone is participating in the discourse, the truth cannot be uncovered.
It is up to each one of us, who is participating in the community building process, to never judge one another. Because although we might think we are on the right path, it cannot be so when we do not have universal participation. And taking the time to listen and consult with those individuals who have concerns about the community building process will no doubt remove barriers, and make us all even more efficient in creating a new, better world order.