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What responsibilities do we have to our communities?

November 9, 2009

I was reading a great article from Mormon Matters about some of the old Mormon pioneers and the handcart companies. Honestly, I’ll be the first to admit that that period of history doesn’t really interest me…so the constant emphasis on the pioneers in the church doesn’t do much for me.

So I guess I haven’t really dived deeply into what the pioneer stood for before. The post at Mormon Matters was a good opportunity for me to get a glimpse. One part that was interesting…

I admire Levi Savage for following his leaders even when he knew they were wrong because he wanted to serve the other Saints when they would need it.  He did not leave those people who he loved because he could not agree with others who had openly chastised him.  This sets up a model for me of how I feel that I can respond to the challenges of this kind.  I am not advocating a blind obedience because I think it is important to challenge incorrect thinking; but when that is done, I sense that it is important to maintain fellowship in order to help those who may be hurt in the future by incorrect or mis-informed decisions.  I should note that this is how I feel and that others rightful [sic] do not feel the same.

Others offered a different interpretation…Commenter Ulysseus wrote:

I don’t see this so much as an issue of redemption, but an issue of community and commitment to a social organization — which is exactly what England was probably going for in the original essay. Levi Savage knew he was right based on experience. You might say he had actual knowledge. He went knowing full well what was in store. It wasn’t blind faith, it was a choice. He could have easily made a different choice to stay. His commitment to the society is what required him to stay. The same could be said of William Kimball. He knew he was running directly into a frozen hell but he went anyway.

Ulysseus later wrote that such heroism in the face of physical challenge wasn’t uncommon, and most certainly wasn’t reserved to Mormons. But then another commenter, MrQandA, expounded:

I do agree that actions despite the emotional harm, is [sic] extremely courageous and the majority of time it goes unnoticed. But I would see Savage displaying this type of courage, he knew that the saint’s would suffer and wanted to help them, this is not only the physical burdens but the emotional burdens. Many times we shy away from helping the sick, poor, afflicted not because we don’t have the finances but we lack the emotional affluence to really effectively help someone. Helping less actives, or single sisters or widows is draining emotionally.

Perhaps this shows the dichotomy between Savage and Kimball one physical & the other emotional. Christ spoke of mourning with those who mourn. is one act greater than the other, perhaps depends on the person and the act.

Other commenters highlighted again the role of sticking by our communities.

This made me ask a question…what responsibilities do we have to our communities?

Maybe this is blasphemous, but I tend to think communities were made for us. We were not made for communities. So, when we are giving so much and receiving only grief, pain, calls of inadequacy, I don’t think we have any responsibility to the community.

I mean, I can understand that for a community that has supported us for so long, then naturally, we should feel more supportive of the community, because in that case, it has sustained us.

But…what if a community has sustained us in an abusive way? Obviously, everyone’s mileage will vary (especially for each community — some people are completely satisfied and sustained in the Mormon community. Others must tend to the scars…)

But if we are emotionally scarred, and we distance ourselves from the community, then does that suggest we are “emotionally poor” for doing so?  I certainly agree with MrQandA about mourning with those that mourn…but sometimes, I need to mourn for myself, because it’s unlikely that anyone else will. This isn’t because I’m weak. This is because I want to be sane.


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  1. I don’t think that there is anything intrinsically virtuous with sticking with an abusive community. Actually, I don’t think there is necessarily anything intrinsically virtuous with sticking with any particular community – except for the effect that it has on the individuals involved. Communities are only as dynamic or virtuous as their individual human components. Sticking with something after the point of its individual usefulness for you is ineffective and can harm your forward momentum.

    I think of it like a relationship turned sour – you are grateful for the good moments, but when you realize that it isn’t getting you where you want to go, or that it actually is hindering your progress, its time to say goodbye. There is nothing virtuous in sticking with a bad relationship – even if your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents have been friends for generations and they share your cultural upbringing.

  2. Madam Curie, I agree.

    But for the sake of furthering discussion, the effect that a community has on the individuals involved isn’t just limited to the effect it has on me. So, “sticking with something after the point of its individual usefulness for me” might not be ineffective under certain circumstances.

    What are those circumstances…well, mourning with those that mourn (as a different commenter stated). Is there redeeming value to a community that has outlived its personal individual usefulness if I can seek out others who have similarly been displaced and estranged? What if I can only best seek out those people from *inside* the community (because of the stigma on ex- and former members)?

    Does that justify staying? Does that make it virtuous?

  3. madamcurie permalink

    Interesting. We have been having this discussion recently over amongst several of us feminist looneys on NOM. Do we stay to act as feminist subversives and ultimately enact change from within? Or do we move on?

    I think the answer to your question depends on a number of parameters:

    1. How do we define virtuous? Is it the number of lives that are impacted positively, or is it the dent that we make on the cosmic course of life? In other words, is it whether we are remembered by a loving few, or by the history books?

    Also to be considered when discussing virtue is the ethical nature of the reason itself – for example, are you (the rhetorical “you”) staying to convince people to join your Ponzi scheme or staying to improve communication among gays and non-gays within the community?

    2. What is the balance between the potential loss for the abused individual by staying in the community and the potential gain for other individuals within the community? Also to be considered in this parameter is the degree to which these same individuals would or would not be affected if you were without the community – namely, is the loss to the abused individual more than compensated by the potential good that they do by staying versus not staying?

    3. We have to include risk in the equation, since there is always a risk that the impact we wish to make will not be made, thus making our end result ineffective.

    Each of those parameters is going to depend on the exact situation. However, I suspect we could probably develop a starting mathematical model to determine the ROI of staying in the community.

  4. 1) Your answers are kinda…consequentialist. What if you just virtue as being about intentions…so no matter whether you are remembered by a loving few OR the history books, virtue is in *duty* and in *intention* — you intended to help…and you did your duty to help.

    The second part of this point gets confused too, because the ethical nature of the different options could differ. Communication between gays and non-gays might be taboo, while the ponzi scheme might be completely ethical.

    2) Consequentialism. Isn’t the whole idea of sacrifice that, if something is *right* to do, it is right no matter what the negative consequences (that is, the sacrifice made). Not saying that we have to forgo consequentialism (I don’t), but you have some assumptions that wouldn’t necessarily hold.

    3) Do we have to include risk in the equation? Only if we’re letting our actions be driven by consequences.

    ROI is probably a good definition. In financial and mathematical calculations, we are very consequence driven. But…some businesses would argue instead that doing the right thing, over and over, even if it leads to lower financial results, simply is the best policy. It’s counterintuitive from a business sense (why do something that would lead to bankruptcy or missed earning?) but from a humanity sense, well…humans are often counterintuitive.

  5. madamcurie permalink

    In which case, it comes down to… it depends on the person, the situation, and the community 😉

    Sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake is not necessarily a good thing.

  6. but sometimes, I need to mourn for myself, because it’s unlikely that anyone else will.

    That is a statement that summarizes everything. It is not so much as community, but the people in it who matter.

  7. FireTag permalink

    All communities arise from the benefits that they confer on their elements. It is only when they get very good at providing those benefits that they begin to develop identities AS communities, and the individual elements will begin to evolve to maintain and further develop those identities — often at the total transformation or loss of self. Greater love hath no man than his own immune system.

    This balance can’t really be calculated, but the loyalty of the part to the whole and the simultaneous loyalty of the whole to the part is what stabilizes the system and keeps it alive. It’s true from something pre-RNA up to planetary civilization, and I think it’s true beyond.

    If you’re being expelled from your culture, it hurts, but some decisions will always be hard and we will make wrong decisions (good thing there are many copies of us in all those parallel universes I keep talking about 😀 ) At least there are multiple communities that we are parts of, so we can find a home somewhere.

    Death, as Niven says, is evolution in action. So is speciation. Andrew has talked about beauty being subjective. Perceiving something as a dilemma or opportunity is also subjective.

  8. Rico permalink

    Firstly, thanks for the nod. I think your question is great, one that I need to consider more.

    I of course think that there are points at which I would say people need to leave abusive communities, but there is an extent to which I also think that meaningful communities will always have abuse in their relationships. I speak of families, Churches and professional associations. I am willing to accept some abuses because of what that community can offer, or more specifically what those like-minded or not so like-minded people can offer me. For example, I am training as an academic and accept that my work will be criticised and attacked even by people close to me and that this will probably hurt at points. I am willing to accept those attacks because of the value I place on that.

  9. Rico, I think the idea is that when someone says a community is abusive — when they final get to that point when that is the descriptor they will use — what they mean is that the abuse overpowers the rest.

    So, an academic community probably uses some abusive tactics…but it is an academic community, and its strengths as an academic community take precedence. You are not being hurt just because (unless you have some colleagues who really just dislike you.) You are being “hurt” because in the long run, it’ll make you better. You get to determine (as an aspiring scholar) whether it is making you better or not…you value the goal of becoming an academic, so you value academic rigor and scrutiny.

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