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The power of community

I have been struck by the recent natural events that have challenged our country, alumni and friends, as well as the anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

While the misery experienced by so many cannot be under recognized, it is the impact of community that is resonant in times of challenge and need.

Each year, WVU Army and Air Force ROTC students hold a 24 hour vigil outside the downtown Wise Library in honor of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The selfless acts of so many heroes reassure us that there is a foundational good in people. This goodness is often complicated by the noise that surrounds us each day.

This noise creates separation, conflict, difference, isolation, fear and a mindset of scarcity. The antidote to this is the connection that comes from deep and positive relationships and strong communities.

The anthropologist Robin Dunbar points out that we can only really know about 150 people well, as that is about the largest community we could have survived in our evolution (big enough to protect each other and small enough to feed each other).

In addition, this also underscores the issues related to isolation or the feeling of being abandoned, which is perhaps the most negative mindset for health. In our evolution, being isolated or abandoned meant certain death. This is perhaps the reason why meaningful connections and strong communities are so important in our health.

Perhaps this very human frame is one that provides our road to salvation and a brighter future for our problems with opioids and chronic disease.

This road is paved with meaning and community. Strong connections to people, to purpose and to a mindset of abundance. A renewed hope for a great future and trust that all will work out as it should.

Remember in the Stanford address by Steve Jobs in 2005, he pointed out that we can never understand our life’s path going forward, only looking backwards. In my life, everything has worked out perfectly as it should, but I almost never understand this as it happens.

Community members head to Clay County to help with flooding in 2016.
WVU students, faculty and staff volunteered in flood-ravaged Clay County in 2016.

Moreover, in midst of the agony and pain from the natural disasters of the hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the manmade disaster of 9/11 come resonant heroes of all sizes, shapes, races, religions and backgrounds.

They come together as we humans know how to do in these episodes of need – as a COMMUNITY.

So then, maybe its time to create these strong and connected communities not only in response to a disaster or crisis, but in response to a deep human need that is shared by us all.

To belong and to thrive together.

I think this deep and meaningful connection, that is filled with love and safety, is the answer to our problems in West Virginia and beyond, and will light the way for many to follow.

Build it and they will come – to West Virginia.