Community

My wife counsels me that people would rather read short, concise sound bites. I realize the truthfulness of her observation, yet there are some things I want to say that don’t lend themselves to the sound bite. I hope to induce my friends to read these longer posts.

All life demands struggle. Physical life demands struggle. The natural world we live in presents us with a constant array of obstacles to be encountered and overcome. Whether it be loss of access to food because of insects such as locusts, or from atmospheric events such as floods or droughts, or losses from disease, we humans live in a world where catastrophe is always potentially only a moment away.

One of the first lessons humanity learned is that we are better served when we work together in the face of threats to physical life. The impulse to collaborate seems to be designed right into our basic structure. It seems natural for us to share food. We resent the person who hoards food while others go without. And yet, for all of what seems to me to be the innate drive to collaborate in the face of trauma and tragedy, some of us seem inclined to reject the natural impulse to work together.

I think that such tendencies arise from deficiencies in the process of social learning. Show me a person who has been denied the care of others and I will show you a person who would prefer isolation to caring and sharing. Show me a person who has been denied food and I will show you a person who would hoard food while others go without. Show me a person who has been abused and I will show you a person with a propensity to abuse. In other words, we reap what we sow.

Social life, then, demands struggle. In order to collaborate in the struggle against the trials of physical life, we must struggle against the trials of social life. What then are the trials of social life and how may we overcome them. Let me list the ways that I think we can make “baby steps” toward a more satisfying social life.

We might first recreate the sense of community that humanity enjoyed for many centuries before it was replaced with mass society. It strikes me that a sense of community grounds individuals in the security collaboration affords.  Community holds individuals accountable to the maintenance of social life. Caring and sharing with and for each other is the major foundation on which life satisfaction is built.

I know, as a sociologist, that retreat into isolation is a warning sign of everything from child abuse within a family setting to suicide on an individual basis. There is no positive outcome of isolation.  In the years of my youth, I was always surrounded by family and by those members of my church who were close enough to me to be considered family. It was a great blessing to me. During my career in the Air Force, I was privileged to be a member of a small unique group who were much like family.

How can we renew the feeling of community when all of the pressures of modern society seem designed to separate and isolate us?  I believe that we can recreate a sense of community within the neighborhoods we live in. The impetus for a communal collaboration could begin with the opportunity to reason together in choosing representatives from among our neighbors to act as our emissaries to government.

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