What community means to us all

Published 4:17 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Welcome to periodic musings on the importance of community in our lives.

To start, communities are a collection of people that share the protection of rights for their members. Communities are diverse in their makeup and often share space and place.

Today, we start with an exploration of the concept of sustainability important to communities.

If you are just into your first cup of coffee and read the title of this column, or even the word sustainable, chances are you might not read further.

I wouldn’t blame you, and I am the one writing it!

Sustainability is one of those words that isn’t sexy or compelling; one doesn’t incite passion and interest by using the word “sustainable.”

It doesn’t grip like “crisis prevention” or “disaster management.”

Now add an image of a tornado or an eye of a hurricane taken from space, throw in some images of high winds and flooding, and even you might want to read a bit further. So, imagine right now, I had inserted a photo of an F-5 tornado whipping through a mobile home park in Topeka, Kansas. I got you for another paragraph at least.

Bear with me; a little biology is needed.

Species of all kinds survive because of two primary reasons: they are diverse in their biological character, and they reproduce generation after generation. This is the definition of sustainability from an ecology viewpoint.

There is another one of those words, ecology.

Quick, see view of an Icelandic volcano spewing lava and flames high in the air.

Whew, you are back.

To be sustainable means the system is more or less healthy and has at least a future.

From a human perspective, the more diverse the members are of a community, the more flexibility to handle uncertainty, like natural disasters or rising sea levels. I live a block from the Pamlico River and waking up to a living room underwater is not far from my mind.

But we know that our communities are confronted by a host of problems and issues that have nothing to do with a Category 5 hurricane. For instance, lack of opportunity for many, a society-wide opioid and substance abuse addiction that borders on an epidemic, the need to improve public education and work-force learning and many more issues.

These kinds of issues also challenge us to overcome adversity and emerge stronger, smarter and better equipped to handle future crises. This is known as resilience.


Cue video reel of coconut tree bending 90 degrees in fierce winds while flood waters carry away coconuts.

Got you back.

The power and strength to prepare for and even adapt to crises and ills in our society, and uncertainty is found in preparing our communities to be sustainable by making them more resilient.

How resilience can be developed will be the topic of future columns. I also promise images of sink holes swallowing houses and cars.

Let me leave you with a tease: helping others can help yourself.

Robert Greene Sands is an anthropologist and CEO of the nonprofit Pamlico Rose Institute for Sustainable Communities in Washington.