My work has been been managing communities for folks over the past 40 years. During that time I gradually learned to treasure three primary values or virtues that are vital to the quality of community life. They are kindness, courtesy, and respect. A virtue is not something we just have or not. It is really a perspective that guides us, and helps us point the way forward. Values must be cultivated, and they always point past what we can fully achieve. The more we embody kindness, courtesy, and respect in our relations with one another, the richer and more enjoyable our community life becomes.
The virtue of kindness encourages us to help out other people when we see that they need something we can provide. Kindness also involves a very special sort of fundamental affection for other people, and the willingness to empathize with their needs. Kindness is a tender virtue, and when we receive a gesture of kindness, the world seems a little more right, and we feel a little more secure. Kindness is a gift to the receiver but it also equally serves the heart of the giver. Kindness always multiplies joy.
While kindness is easy and spontaneous, courtesy demands a bit more investigation and carefulness. We have all learned manners, and because we are such diverse creatures, they aren’t all the same. Courtesy means understanding the customs, life style, and interpersonal approach of the other person. We are courteous when we find just the right way to relate to another person in terms of our different habits and behaviors. The tricky thing about courtesy is to figure out how to “include but not intrude.” Courtesy demands keen observation, tolerance and flexibility. We have to learn to read other people, while also making ourselves known. Courtesy practiced well produces “smoothness” in the life of the community.
The most demanding of the three values is respect. Most of us believe our opinions are correct. We have confidence in our personal attitudes and do not find it easy to tolerate other people’s differences. And yet we come in so many types, flavors and colors that respect for difference is it essential to sustaining a healthy community. The only alternative is only joining up with people who are like ourselves. That can work, but only at the cost of depth, richness and growth. Respect takes a good sense of humor about our “self” and a curiosity and joyfulness about the “other.”
So kindness, courtesy, and respect are especially important in our “community of elders.” The only conditions for membership here are a 60-year-old bellybutton and the capacity to survive on the north coast. We are tough, rugged, creative individuals here. If our relationships are guided by kindness, courtesy, and respect then we become not just a bunch of old people, but a real community.