Wednesday, 19 February 2014

G is for Gemenskap

In my Swedish-English dictionary ’gemenskap’ is defined as ‘spirit of community’, ‘solidarity’, ‘communion’, ‘intellectual fellowship’, ‘partnership, ‘connection’, ‘affinity’ and ‘community’.

There are different levels of gemenskap. We can connect with someone without having any deep friendship with or knowledge of them. I was reminded about this yesterday, when I met someone in the street who I haven’t seen for at least a year. The only connection then was that like me they also had a dog. Her dog has since died. Yesterday our paths crossed unexpectedly and, in the drizzle, we had a conversation about the mystery of death, the continued closeness of those (people and animals) who have died, the ‘supernatural’ things that can happen around death, and the thin veil between death and life. After sharing our own experiences of this, we parted. Although we may not see each other again for a while, and we have no reason to form any deeper kind of friendship, I later reflected that our meeting and our sharing encapsulated ‘solidarity’, ‘affinity’ and ‘communion’ – and in some way have may changed us both.

In our Quaker meetings we encounter different kinds of gemenskap, and often joke that we know each other inside out, rather than outside in. However, within our Quaker communities we often have the greatest of difficulty in fully living out gemenskap, and in realising what the long-term implications of this are. If we feel communion, fellowship, partnership, connection, affinity and community with someone or a group of people, why do we then leave them feeling unaided, unloved, or even threatened? What is it that prevents us from going the whole hog?

In my political encounters I am also finding gemenskap. In a small town like ours, party affinities often only become obvious in newspaper debates, in larger council gatherings or during elections. In small committees my experience is that the individuals that make up that committee community are willing to listen and to share, and in that way work towards the common good. 

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