I think people tend to prefer to read sorrows, mysteries, complexities, and hardships more than they like to read about simplicity, love, perfection and bliss. Why is this? Because people get jealous. People don't want to open a book and stew over how perfect and easy the characters lives are in comparison to their own! When times are tough, most people's minds aren't put at ease by reading about how good it is for someone else or other communities. I think the quote "If you can't be a good example you'll just have to be a horrible warning" (Catherine Aird) was inspired by books. Many, many of the books I've read in my lifetime have definitely leaned closer towards "horrible warning[s]" than "good example[s]." 

In books, when communities crumble and things fall apart, the reader can choose to build their own lives away from the rubble they've read about. In a backwards way, sometimes reading about other's failures is progressive because the reader learns that their own struggles will work out. This year, in reading Hamlet it became so clear the need for true communication and trust within communities. There were so many tragic examples of loss in Hamlet which all spiraled from one act of violence: when Hamlet's uncle murdered his father. From reading Hamlet my belief that even the smallest acts of violence can escalate and ruin a community were reinstated. 

Later on, in reading the Interpreter of Maladies I was really stricken by the power of grief and fear to ruin a community or family. Through many of the short stories, grief silenced people and tore them apart, while fear of someone different drove people to treat others terribly. Marital grief in particular stood out, because it brought about so much weariness and bitterness in many couples highlighted in the stories. 

Utopia in particular stood out to me as a "horrible warning" of what could happen if humans lost their sense of creativity, individuality, freedom of choice, expression, and purpose for living to an extreme. I was traumatized by many aspects of Utopia, to say the least, particularly because it seemed so plausible and sensible. I was terrified by the thought that many people would probably read Utopia and think "Wow! What a neat way of solving so many societal problems!" without realizing the new problems created by "fixing" the old.

Pre-revolutionary China, as shown in The Good Earth, is definitely not a "good example" of Healthy Community. History itself shows that it crumbled and led to present-day's Communist China. There was too much sexism, and a huge gap between social classes which resulted for many people in crippling poverty. 

All in all, the literature I've read this year has consisted of "horrible warning" after "horrible warning." The lovely thing about it is how much there has been to learn about what-not-to-do when striving for a Healthy Community. I know that if I extol sexism, racism, poverty, unfairness, hatred, violence, weariness, grief, selfishness, materialism, and dishonesty from my experience it can reflect out on the people in my community and then perhaps the world.
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Utopia 02/10/2011
 
The Utopian Community is highly structured, uniform, and yet its citizens are capable - to an extent - of pursuing their interests and being free. Utopians have about six hours a day on average of time to do with what they like. Utopian morals are in check, they do not engage in pre-marital sex or put wealth (gold, belongings) on a pedestal. They operate under a "just" court-system; those who steal, commit adultery, or other various crimes become slaves. All people are given equal opportunities and spend equal amounts of time gaining agricultural skills. 

One question came into my mind again and again throughout reading Utopia: what is the point? Try as I might, I couldn't understand if there was anything the Utopians were striving for. What use were their education and skills if their lives were already predefined for them? Utopians need more vigor, more choice, something to gradually attain. In other words, their lives lack purpose. For a community to be healthy it needs a reason to keep going! Everyone invested in the community has to have a common goal.
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Utopians don't celebrate uniqueness in one another or themselves. They don't wear clothes of different colors or paint their homes purple if they'd like. Although many problems in society are solved within Utopia, it brings on completely new issues. I think that a community is closer to perfection because of the distinct flavor all-their-own each person brings to the group. Community is strongest when each member has a sense of their own identity and the group identity as well. I can't imagine a Utopian having a true sense of who they are. It's true that individuality isn't defined by outward things such as possessions and style as much as it is the unique spark in every persons soul, however it doesn't hurt to be able to express the brightness and colors of your inside, outside.

Utopia has bizarre double-standards around the sexes, for although it says men and women have equal opportunities it says on page 104 that "both wives and children fall on their knees before their husbands or parents and confess everything in which they have either erred or failed in their duty, and beg pardon for it." That is worrisome to me, for I don't believe any society can function with such requirements. Where do the men confess? Or are they incapable of sin? 


Utopia lacks the balance of choice and order, principle and love, which go together so harmoniously. I respect their treatment of the environment and disinterest in materialism, but Utopian citizens seem to me to closely represent clones or robots rather than people.
 
 
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This collection of short stories was a tribute to the complexities of human relationships and feelings. I adored the way the characters lives were often scattered across the world. In many stories, people were dealing with the fact that they had one foot in India and the other in the United States. Where do we belong? 

There were other factors: regrets, diseases, emptiness, a lack of love in some form in every story. It made me appreciate the more tender, lovelier moments within the pages such as the candlelit dinners between Shukumar and Shoba in "A Temporary Matter" (pages 1-22) It didn't matter that in the end they divorced, because that week of secrets and dimly-lit passion between them meant they would never have to wonder "What could have been?" again. That week freed them to go their separate ways. The Interpreter of Maladies has helped me to better understand that just because circumstances can crumble, sins can be committed, people can feel HURT, doesn't mean it isn't beautiful or okay. 

People, their interactions, emotions, and the resulting situations are what communities are all about. These things tend to be bittersweet, just like in "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" (pages 158-172) when it turned out that the cure to her illness somehow came in the form of rape. How is the reader supposed to view this? Look at it from both ways. On one hand, there is a miraculous healing, the lifting of a lifelong burden! However, on the other hand, it comes at a painful price. Life works in peculiar ways. Sometimes it seems so alluring to just stop feeling, stop caring, but The Interpreter of Maladies displays loveliness in tragedy, simplicity in complication. 

It was a weary book to read, but, in some strange way it showed that life goes on. People adapt, we're excellent at it! Nearly all the characters in all the short-stories had some sort of deeper, sometimes bizarre connection with one another. Shallow, surface-level interactions would never have worked with the various plots. This is relevant in our lives, our communities. We need to acknowledge our deeper ties to each other in order to understand and love. This doesn't mean happy endings, beginnings, or middles are needed. Things are good just the way that they are, as long as people are growing from the struggle. 

The Interpreter of Maladies continually reminded me of Rumi's poem "The Guest House", which is about honoring whatever comes your way. "The Guest House" has been a source of inspiration for me and is one of my favorite poems ever, so I can't resist sharing it here. It goes like this:

"This being human is a guest house. 
Every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all! 
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, 
who violently sweep your house 
empty of its furniture, 
still, treat each guest honorably. 
He may be clearing you out 
for some new delight. 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, 
meet them at the door laughing, 
and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes, 
because each has been sent 
as a guide from beyond."

Everything that happens, the easy, difficult, dire, transfixing, glorious mix of what we find being thrown into our experience, is meant to be. We are being pushed to see if we can keep our faith. We all have different perspectives so we can learn to see each others diverse ideas in order to coexist. In the end, everything that was, was for a reason beyond you or me. I believe we are the writers of our own fates. Do you think so?

We're all figuring ourselves out, observing each other, making mistakes, and finding our right places. That is life, it is beautiful. Jhumpa Lahiri has an outstanding way of showcasing difficulties and triumphs and love and hurt all wound up together in a tangled mess that sometimes seems like it has no rhyme or reason and yet are perhaps precisely as they should be. Her writing has SOUL. I was grateful for this example in literature, so much goodness can be taken from the short-stories and applied to our community, particularly in valuing each other. I see the good in you all, and the places you could go. One of my favorite blogs to follow is Paulo Coelho's, and a couple weeks ago he posted this story: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2010/12/08/the-porcupines-and-solidarity/ about why we need each other. This is inspirational when living in close-quarters with people. Thank you Paulo!
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 The amount that goes into a community is mind-boggling.  Each community is completely unique, just like every year at Link changes because of entirely new components... and recreating any community exactly is impossible due to this.  There is one thing, however, which every "healthy" community on the planet has in common, an underlying thread which ties together every aspect of community: LOVE!

It is love.  (The kind of love which cherishes one another, the love that is willing to accept other's mistakes.)  In order for a community to function successfully at any level, its members must see God expressed in each other.  I believe this requires vast LOVE.  When people love the idea of what they're striving for together, love that they share; be it a living space, a goal, a dream... then the result they want is way more attainable and meaningful.

Love comes with many other qualities hand-in-hand, like understanding, patience, courage, and forgiveness, love is the foundation.  No community is an island.  It can't just function by itself without effort and vigor being constantly given forth from everyone.  Love is behind all that, because LOVE is behind everything!  Agape love, kardeşlik love, namaste (the God in me sees and acknowledges the God in you) love, it's all ONE love and it never quits.  A healthy community needs something deeper and soulful or people would just get up and wander elsewhere.  In healthy communities, there is a beautiful reason why everybody stays, and I steadfastly believe it is love.
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