Thursday, October 20, 2005

Building (and tearing down, and rebuilding) community: the case of Lubbock

Well, it had to happen. I used to joke with other session members that the true mark of our little scene having reached a kind of "maturity" would be when feuds and cliques developed. It's kind of like the old joke defining "Irish Alzheimer's": e.g., "when you forget everything except the grudges." By that mark, the Lubbock Irish scene has finally "grown up".

An angry person over on the Yahoo caprockcelts list has posted a screed accusing me of selfishness, opportunism, and about 6 other things. This despite the fact that I created the list for free, made sure that all members could post and add links, listed links of numerous other organizations besides my own band, have played hundreds of free concerts, sessions, and fundraisers over the years, have taught hundreds of hours of free lessons and have never charged a dime, took students to Ireland for summer schools, and so on. She is still convinced that I'm a selfish opportunist. Fortunately, people on the list have responded in more adult ways.

But the joke (which is funny) and the above anecdote (which is sad) get at something important about how communities are built or are torn down. And the Wife reminded me of another anecdote which has helped me get past the anger at being attacked and move toward constructive responses which help mend things.

Years ago in Indiana we had some great friends and revered teachers who were members of a small Tibetan monastery in Bloomington. These men had been a very powerful positive influence on our lives and we felt we owed them a lot.

At one point, a traveling ensemble of Tibetan monks presenting a program of ritual, choreography, and chanting came to town. One of our local teachers, a Lama, had formerly been a member of this ensemble and its members contacted him to invite him to the concert.

Unfortunately, members of another monastery in the area were vehemently opposed to the Lama's attendance, as a result of old and vicious temple politics in Tibet (sadly, the politics, opportunism, and repression associated with organized state religion are not limited to the West): lives had actually been threatened (though thankfully not by any locals). I was asked to attend the event with the Lama, because at that time I was very active in both martial arts and Buddhist practices, because I was a former bouncer and had worked security, and because it was felt that I might be able to help avert any kind of confrontation. I was honored to be given this opportunity and I would, quite truthfully, have run any risk to protect my friend.

In the event, I went with the Lama, stayed at his elbow, sat next him in the theatre, and kept a close eye on those around us. Afterward, by chance he and the chief representative of the rival order encountered one another in the theatre lobby. And the Lama did something which I and others experienced as a great teaching: seeing Mr X across the lobby, he walked over to him, greeted him in very friendly fashion, and held out his hand, which Mr X took.

And that was a great teaching: in a situation in which it might have been very understandable and very human to respond with anger, resentment or frustration, the Lama instead chose to literally reach out to the other side. I can't speak for how Mr X experienced that moment, but I know that I, and other students present, saw it as a profoundly skilful way of changing, and improving, the climate between the two groups.

Anger destroys community. Compassionate acceptance helps rebuild it. That's a good lesson for me/us to remember, particularly when we are attacked.

[3:16pm: a bunch more people have stepped up, in essence to say "you can't tear down this community--we'll do what we have to keep it strong." Hope the attacker learned a lesson.]

Next day: lovely turnout at our regular Thursday gig: friends, families, students, people with kids. Nat Cooper sang a song, Stacey Houck got a birthday cake, and the community was stronger than before.

Positive energy works.

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