As human’s, we not only crave community, we need it, like air and water. When we don’t have it, we can feel lost, less than whole, fractured.
Reflecting on a ‘normal’ western life, it’s easy to see how we try and create community whenever we have the chance; sports teams and dance classes, work teams, book clubs, community gardens and volunteer groups. These things incorporate slightly different elements to your average friendships, although of course deep friendships may develop because of it, because of the need to develop and work toward shared goals that naturally direct community interaction. In this way, most of the community experiences we enjoy now are intentional. But they fill a deep and ancient need that our ancestors would have almost certainly experienced as a way of life.
COMMUNITY AS A WAY OF LIFE
I was so lucky, in Australia, to have enjoyed many years of collaboration and community with a bunch of wonderful families; some local to me, others further away. We didn’t live together but shared as much of our lives as was practical with food co-op’s, shared meals, spontaneous all day hangout’s, help for eachother in sickness or during major life events and living with the same sense of belonging and giftedness that I imagine my foremothers enjoyed.
We were diverse in that some of us chose conventional school, some home education or unschooling, some of us lived in religious or spiritual practice and some did not. Some families followed strict dietary regimes and others were more liberal and free flowing with food. Some families chose to vaccinate and others did not. It didn’t matter. We knew eachother. We knew how each person drank their coffee and which child ate which type of bread. We knew that on the days that the proverbial hit the fan, we could walk through an open front door in our pyjama’s with unkempt children in tow and collapse on a friendly sofa to be presented with a cup of tea.
In the 16 months since my family left Australia, I’ve reflected alot on what made my community special, as they all are, and why, when it seems like I had everything, I would leave it!
SAME SAME OR DIFFERENT?
There are communities around the world that, from the outside looking in, are bound by their sameness, almost to the point of homogeneity. The Amish adopt a consistent style of dress; the Maasai hold distinctive dress and cultural practice at the heart of their tribal life and even more modern ‘tribes’ that would be recognisable to us today such as emo culture, Japanese Harajuku girls – even in the home educating community we often joke about how easy it is to spot a home schooler by their haircut (non-existent or done by their mother or themselves!).
Ancient cultures adopted uniform dress for more practical reasons than we do today; access to particular materials; ability to dye fabric based on local flora; weather patterns and even terrain would all have influenced what type of clothing was suitable and available. Today we often identify with a particular group or community by choosing to adopt a clothing style that fits that profile.
We use common clothing, language and behaviour or customs, to distinguish ourselves from other communities and to bind us to our own – and when we find that which we choose to be connected to, we feel whole, alive. Sharing in things that we collectively know and understand. Of course it can take time to build that kind of connection and those threads can only be built with time and shared purpose as well as an open heartedness to learn from and hear the stories of others.
BUILDING COMMUNITY IN THE AGE OF THE TEMPORARY
It’s easy to understand how our ancestors, even in relatively modern times, sat comfortably in community. In days gone by, we were less likely to move far from our place of birth and even those of us with a nomadic birthright, would have a blueprint of moving with a community.
Our forefathers and mothers lived less hurried lives than we do now and in fact this is often one of the drivers for those seeking to live full time in a residential community.
Less hurry naturally means more time and time is the main ingredient in building deep ties with others.
We have less practical need of community than would have been the case even 60 years ago. We can buy everything we need without even entering a shop and with opportunities to work and learn online, we arguably risk entering a vacuum of little human contact and less and less need to rely on others. It’s this co-reliance that forms the core tenet of community. In fact, without mutual need there simply would be no impetus to connect with others.
The fact remains though, that even without this obvious requirement to form community, we do need it for the richness of life; for the fulfilment of achieving something in collaboration; to tap into our spirit of humanness and to truly thrive.
I can buy bread from an online store but kneading that bread, with a friend, surrounded by children and drinking tea, sure does add a certain something to the flavour!