The talk on the street is refugees. What to do with them: let them in or send them back to their country. How many to take: the number is either too small (we should get that number of them in a week) or too big (let’s take care of our own first). They are demanding their rights (including going to specific countries – does that make them refugees or immigrants?) which makes the receiving countries very uneasy, as they see taking in refugees as a benevolent act rather than a necessity from a human rights point of view. And once the lucky ones are in, what to do? It takes a lot to get a refugee from a clothes on their back only, jump at every noise, here on sufferance numbered body to a free, standing, proud, accomplished, adjusted human being.

Money is one thing that a country spends on refugees. The refugee centre needs to be staffed, language tuition and counselling and orientation and the like are not cheap, houses and work opportunities have to be found from an already limited pool. Not spending the money leads to problems infinitely bigger than the initial one. It is one of the reasons for limiting numbers accepted, after all. But as a woman in the know pointed out, once that money is spent then it is time for an elusive entity to take centre stage.

Community is a much written about human endeavour. We have courses teaching you how to bring a community closer, what services to think about and generally touting it as a good thing. People are proud of their communities and the term has been extended to cover people who have something in common other than location – think gender/sexual orientation. Psychologists use specific words to describe the graduated responsibility we feel towards our family, then friends, neighbours, colleagues etc. until we get to perfect strangers. Community is used as a safe haven against an unseen, sometimes unknown enemy.

We know the leaders of the community. They are rarely in the papers or on TV, but ask and you shall be eventually directed to their house. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing from this point of view. Social media is also good but not as specific. There is a reason for this: number of people. I remember reading about it in a book, about how people have evolved to live in communities of around 150. I know people who would feel lonely if they only had 150 friends on Facebook 🙂

Too many people though and you spread yourself too thinly. And 150 people is a number that applies to communities where people work together (say, a middlish organization?) in the same place where they live. Suburbia broke the communities benevolently (there’s that word again!), communism broke the communities on purpose (sending new grads a world away from their family and friends).

Community also means parochialism, any way you look at it. People from the next village do things differently/wrongly. Strangers are not welcome, or if they are, they are questioned, prodded and ogled to within an inch of their lives. Twenty years later they are still regarded as strangers and odd. Consorting with strangers can make life very difficult for a person. Hierarchy is quickly established and defended. I also read that agricultural communities are more peaceful than cattle/herder communities – something to do with crime potential.

We like to believe that we can raise above these things. That we can open our arms and everything will be ok, we’ll find a way. At an individual level it may work. You may open your heart, house and wallet and take in a family of refugees. At a community level you need more than just openness.

You need leadership.


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