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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Community as a Potluck Dinner



Sometimes, analogies and metaphors help us understand better how things work, how little pieces and elements come together to form a functioning entity. When I think of a metaphor to explain how community works, I think of a potluck dinner. During a potluck dinner, each one or a group of the participants prepare a dish which is then shared by the members of the potluck as they gather for dinner or lunch. 

I like the metaphor of a potluck dinner for community for several reasons. First, just like the dishes prepared for the potluck reflect the diversity of its members, certain groups in a community reflect the diversity of the population of that community, where cultural diversity is only one of the aspects. Success of the potluck dinner stems from the variety of the dishes made, and from the ability of the dishes to complement each other. Savory Jamaican jerk chicken, spicy Thai salad, crunchy Sauerkraut, hearty baked potatoes, freshly baked bread with olive oil can tell you a lot about the people who prepared them,  about their cultural background and family traditions. Similarly, groups in a community can tell you a lot about its members. For example, taking a walk around Fresh Pond in Cambridge will introduce you to the dog-loving people of the city; a five-minute visit to Aarax store in Watertown will point out a large Armenian heritage presence in town; a brief stop at a playground will give you a general idea about an average town toddlers and theirs moms.
Second, just like no two potlucks are alike, the tables may boast the same dishes, but they are prepared differently, and new dishes are introduced each time; the communities may be similar, but no two communities are exactly the same. The novelty, originality, and constant change of the recipes reflect the dynamic processes that happen in the community. New members move, old timers pass away, new laws are introduced, buildings are erected – all the changes that have an effect on the composition of the community, its health, wellbeing, prosperity, and even diversity. 

Third, the potluck resembles community in the way the members contribute to it: some enjoy cooking and baking and bring elaborate culinary masterpieces, other, less fortunate or prosperous, rely on the rest of the members. Similarly, people with higher income pay more taxes, while disabled and poor rely on the resources that are hopefully available to them. In a good potluck, no one walks away hungry. In a healthy community, no one dies because they did not have a shelter to go to. It is the synergy, or parts working together that produce a functioning unit: just like a helpful lady cleans a coffee spill while another one helps you get a napkin, the fire department puts out a fire while doctors and nurses take care of burn victims. 

The effective community health nurse is aware of cultural differences in the community, an active member that ensures the community’s response to constantly changing environment, introduces innovations, continuously assesses and re-assesses factors that influence health and well-being of the population, informs the members about the availability of the resources.

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