Twenty-five years have passed since my friend, mentor and intellectual partner Fred Newman made what I think is one of the most significant statements about community I’ve ever heard. It was a cold November evening in 1990 and Fred was speaking to a hundred or so New Yorkers gathered in a high school auditorium. He dubbed his remarks, “Community as a Heart in a Havenless World”—sharing with the audience that this title was a twist on a scholarly article he had read called, “The Family as a Haven in a Heartless World.” He didn’t agree with the writer (sociologist Christopher Lasch) and told us why:
“There is no haven, no place to hide. There is no escaping the cruelty, the pain, the torture. Many people try. They turn to families, to intellectual endeavor, to relationships, to drugs, to crime, people look to politics, people look everywhere to find a haven. But there is, in my opinion, no haven.”
“I want to talk about community not as a haven, not as a place where we can go and hide, but as an active principle, as a human, passionate, living environment which has the capacity to nourish those of us who are committed to engaging the cruelty of a havenless world.”
Off and on over the years, these words come to me. Especially during such intense times of cruelty, pain and torture as now. Just as the passionate living environment that is community does, they nourish and help ground me in the sadness and the hopefulness of our havenless world.
A written version of this talk (with audience discussion) appears in Newman’s 1991 book The Myth of Psychology.
Lasch’s article, “The Family as a Haven in a Heartless World,” appeared in the journal Salmagundi in 1976 and was incorporated a year later in his book, Haven in a Heartless World.