I was talking with a friend yesterday about how she was looking for a spiritual community. She had been to one place and really liked it but then one person was quite rude to her and that put her off. Which is understandable. I then spoke about our community and my approach. Unless you are very easy going (and I am not that!) you probably come across people that you don't warm to or you find difficult or they irritate you or they drive you nuts or ... And others might feel the same about you/me.
So is there an imperative to make an effort within our communities to find connection and to get on with one another? I believe that there is. We are called to be bigger than we thought we were and to find a connection however slight with everybody. How do we do this? We have to spend time with those that we find difficult and we have to listen and we have to speak. We have to find common ground and we have to feel a sense of equality - that we are two people with the same rights and responsibilities deserving of respect.
This is not to say that we don't judge or at least have an opinion. Some people have some quite significant personality flaws - they may be mean, they may be lazy or they may be rude. But normally people aren't like this all of the time. When faced with people that we find difficult we ask ourselves many things depending on our own personality. We may ask, 'Am I like this person?' or we may think, 'They remind me of my Dad' or 'Do they like me?' or 'Might it be best if I just avoided them?' or 'Did I do something to make them act that way?' Sometimes these questions can lead to answers that make us feel uncomfortable about ourselves - either our own sort-comings or memories of difficult relationships in the past. It may be instructive to stick with these feelings.
We may also think about the person themselves and consider what has led to them being as they are. This is not about finding excuses but about trying to understand. Whilst harmonious relationships can bring much joy, disharmonious relationships can bring much understanding and insight. And, it is hoped, they bring change. We can commit to changing ourselves and we can believe that the way we approach others can change the way that they behave albeit just when they are with us.
One sign of a healthy community is not that there is no conflict but that conflict is resolved in a healthy way. That conflict may be about views or approaches or about personalities. We can avoid these or we can work with them. When we sing, 'All are welcome here,' we should mean this and be committed to being in open, honest and loving relationship with all: a tall order but a worthy aspiration.