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Editor's Note for Long-Form Community Reading & Discussion

Long-Form: Community Reading & Discussion Group is a gathering of people interested in exploring how we can cultivate belonging and enrichment within our community.

Why Long-Form? Long-form is an adjective noting or related to in-depth content, characterized by combining factual reporting with a narrative and empathetic style. Our reading selections and subsequent discussions represent a long-form format that allows space for nuance and contradiction, as well as interactive grappling with complicated and consequential themes pertaining to our primary topic: community.

But how can we explore the concept of belonging in community with others before exploring our sense of belonging in ourselves? As such, our journey will include some self-reflection and personal disclosure. Indeed, as one of our reading assignments suggests, “The art work begins by opening us to the landscape of its creator’s inner life. It ends by revealing us to ourselves.”

This aspect of the program is meant to enhance our ability to engage with the broader themes of community and rural economic development. Together we will intentionally create a safe and supportive space for those personal disclosures, but every activity and all sharing opportunities are challenge-by-choice.

The selected reading and listening assignments are designed to address multiple objectives. We want to learn, but not merely via a genre that is “a dispensary of data.” We are, perhaps, like Ziusudra, compelled by individual expression – by inquiry, by opinion, by wonder, by doubt. We are, perhaps, like John D’Agata, in search of art.

Another objective is to cultivate dialogue, a word which comes from the Greek for “across” – dia – and “to think” – logos. The essay form is a sort of dialogue in and of itself, but we won’t stop there; we will be in dialogue with one another throughout the next several weeks.

Being in dialogue requires listening. Thus, we are now students in the art of listening, of listening perceptively. In the text The Enjoyment of Music, we learn that music is a universal language, one that transcends the barriers we humans often put up against each other. Let us reduce these barriers – another objective of our time together.

Reducing barriers, bridging chasms, finding truth, solving problems – these are not simple tasks. In order to achieve these goals we need meaningful communities that offer a sense of purpose and support, and that are grounded in place. Unfortunately, over the past two centuries intimate communities have been disintegrating. Let’s be a part of the movement to build them back up.

Being in dialogue also requires getting to know each other as whole people instead of just opinions. And so one of our objectives is to get to know each other (and ourselves) as whole people.

Texts about equitable, grassroots economic development and place attachment are therefore woven among texts that explore culture, philosophy, values, and ways of being – a more personal side of the overarching question: How to live?

To quote one of our authors, Yuval Noah Harari, “Before embarking on this intellectual journey, I would like to highlight one crucial point”: freedom of expression is essential to this exercise. Essayer, in French means simply to try. “To essay something is to test or taste it, or give it a whirl” (as defined by another of our authors, Sarah Bakewell). And so with the thoughts and ideas presented here (whether in the texts or by our fellow participants), let us suspend judgment and give them a whirl. Who knows what truth we may discover, what problem we might solve.

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