We often hear about communities, but what is a community?

The word can be used a little loosely. People talk about the fly fishing community, the horse racing community, and the expatriate community. The deeper sense of community, however, is not of a group of people who come together through their shared interests. A community includes people of all types who live together.

When a community works it tolerates people with different ideas, customs and beliefs. It finds a way to live peacefully together even when there is deep disagreement.

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This is the sense of community we are after at MBAT. We don’t necessarily have the same interests and ideas, but we get on together. We use the core principles of compassion and dialogue to learn effective ways of living together.

This is different from schools where the teachers step in whenever there is a problem. It may seem easier to have an adult float in from above and lay down the law, but that is a poor preparation for life. If you don’t learn to use your voice in the safe environment of school, you will have trouble raising it when you are in a situation that really matters.

We train our staff to let children speak. We want them to learn to sort out difficulties amongst themselves and not to be always looking for an adult. This is a better path to maturity and self-regulation. We start kids off when they are little talking through their problems and, by the time they get to Sama, our junior school, they can hold assemblies themselves and resolve complicated issues as a group. It is impressive what children can do for themselves when we give them the right environment in which to flourish.

Children know that in a meeting the chairperson decides who speaks, that you cannot talk off business, cross talk, or interrupt. They know how to frame proposals so that they make sense and they are quick to learn they cannot always get their own way. As they move into the upper and senior schools they learn how to set up committees to get things done, insist on accountability, look after a budget, and answer to their peers for decisions they make.

If everybody had this training, our public life would be more harmonious. We have all had the experience of bad meetings and lousy community decisions. It doesn’t have to be like that, when you know how.

Published by Jason Preater

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