Humanity has always thrived best when in a true community setting. Throughout much of human history tribal communities have sustained themselves by living closely in tune with their environments and with their fellow tribal members. Such was the nature of tribal life in the colonial era of the U.S. that Benjamin Franklin noted that Europeans captured by local tribes would most often return to the tribe if “rescued” by civilized people. The advent of suburbia, absurd work demands in capitalist society, TV, and consumerism in the 20th century has created a decline in the true community nature of our neighborhoods throughout America and other developed nations. People often stay in their homes, when not putting in too many hours at work, rather than meaningfully interacting with the people who live all around them. Perhaps the demands of stressful jobs and the societal mantra “consume at all costs” makes opening up to our neighbors more difficult. I sometimes wonder how many of my nearby neighbors could just use a listening ear, someone to run an errand for them, or some other small act of kindness. I imagine it is a lot of them though when I greet people near my home I am often met with silence.
True community action builds resilience for all the community’s people. In nature, ecosystems with a great deal of diversity are the ones that maintain the most stability and the best chance of continuing to support a great deal of life. Similarly,when people with a diversity of skills, personality types, and life experience band together for a common goal it is simply amazing what can be accomplished. Take for instance the Amish communities throughout the United States. Despite eschewing most modern “conveniences” these communities are often thriving because they work, worship, and cooperate rather than compete with one another. A drive through “Amish Country” can be a spectacular site. I remember seeing a barn raising in full swing in which dozens of people put up an entire barn in one day. How? Many hands make light work. Men do the construction work while the women cook the meals and they all came together to support a member of the broader community because they know that the entire community thrives when working together. Just think what could be done with that type of community attitude coupled with modern technology!
Imagine living in a neighborhood where people know one another, help each other, and work towards common goals. Suburbs have immense potential for this type of community involvement (despite the often poor design of the housing developments). Amazing amounts of energy could be saved if suburban families banded together to grow food instead of mono-cropped poisonous lawns, shared cars instead of every family “needing” multiple vehicles, supported one another in parenting small children so kids can be at home rather than day care. People could be providing comfort and companionship for one another, or creating small home based businesses that support the needs of the community at large, all within walking distance of home. Less traffic, fewer trips in the car all leads to less stress, energy being saved, and better air quality just to name a few benefits of this type of scenario. In a time of unprecedented ecological challenges and societal dysfunction, coming together in true community ways is vital if we as a species are going to both survive and thrive. The maxim ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ is incredibly apt right now as Mother Earth strives to find balance in a changing global climate.
It seems often times that some sort of calamity brings out the best in people, draws us together to restore order and normalcy, and to help those in need. Why wait for something “bad” to bring people together? Building meaningful connections with other people is incredibly rewarding as is working towards common goals. We ALL have something in common with every other person on the planet if we just take the time to look. Our spiritual life, politics, ethnicity and so on may be different but at the end of the day we’re all human, all want to be healthy, cared for by others, and to live meaningful lives. Staying in our self imposed boxes and focusing on things which are divisive rather than inclusive hurts us all more than people realize as is evidenced by the amount of people who feel depressed, stressed, disconnected and generally unhappy even in the “richest” country on Earth.
Building community takes effort to be sure yet it can start with something as simple as sharing extra carrots from the garden, shoveling the sidewalk for a neighbor after snowfall, or just saying hello to people. It also begins when one shops at local stores, farmer’s markets, and from other local vendors, artisans, artists, or craftsmen. In those types of places relationships get built, financial resilience facilitated, and even ecological restoration take place. The benefits FAR outweigh the “savings” and “convenience” one gets from shopping at a big box retailer or purchasing foods from across the planet. When we take the time to look at the WHOLE picture we can see that the present mode of doing things is far from life giving. People living in thriving communities are happier, healthier, and more in tune with what is really happening around them. We can move towards that again. The time is NOW.