How Do We Bring Communities Back?
Communities are vital. They’re more important than anything else for a long life, and for a fulfilling life. People are starting to wake up to this — more and more people everyday are looking for a sense of belonging, for a community they can belong to.
Online “communities” don’t count
Online is amazing for finding people that share our values and perspectives — whereas before we could only reach 10,000 people to express our niche views, now we can reach tens of millions… meaning everyone can find someone that has a similar set of beliefs and values to them.
But don’t mistake the online forums and gatherings (I’m looking at you, Facebook…) for real communities; typing and talking through a screen are as much a substitute for face-to-face contact as watching food being eaten on television is a substitute for eating food. It doesn’t fill us up, it just gives us the sensation of being filled up.
We stare at phone screens, “like” images on social media, and have conversations over Whatts App to fill our need for genuine community. Meanwhile our ancestors lived metres from each other, ate together in tribes daily and didn’t own possessions — that’s the environment our brain is designed for, that’s the level of community that our brains truly crave.
“Wait, you want us to live in nomadic tent-communities?!”
Ok, so we don’t want to go that far, but how do we begin creating a sense of community for ourselves?
Well, it’s not going to be easy; but then nothing worth having ever is
Let’s take a look at some easy ways to get started:
Shared living spaces
It starts with reshaping the spaces we live in; of redesigning the environment around us to make communal living as easy as possible. As I alluded to earlier, for millions of years humans have lived in tribes — cooking together, eating together and bonding over the ritual of meals.
We need to bring that back, and that starts with something pretty simple… having shared kitchens. The space that we’re most naturally inclined to gather in, do graze in and bond over an activity in is the kitchen — think about how much time you spend in your kitchen everyday. It gives us an activity to do while meeting our community (cooking tasks), and set times to come together.
Religion has been exceptionally good at two things:
- providing a sense of meaning
- creating and maintaining community
Now that religion has receded in our modern lives, it’s left a gaping hole behind in those areas; one that capitalism (our new religion?) doesn’t even try to fill.
If we look at how religion gives community, it’s powerfully straightforward:
→ bring people of shared values together, through “rituals”
That is, it gave us certain activities to be performed at regular times, which would bring together most of the community — think weekly Sunday church and the sense of community that provides those idyllic American suburbs.
These sort of rituals are seen in every culture in human history, and all gather the community at regular intervals under the guise of an activity for a higher power; where many now realise it was the sense of unity and belonging that was the true purpose and value of those rituals.
Ok, so this one’s a bit of a leap, especially in the highly individualistic societies we nowadays inhabit — where we’re (rightfully) proud that we can “get by” with nobody else’s help.
Over years of scientific studies on what makes certain communities live significantly longer than almost all others, and with high levels of contentment, they found one striking trend. Almost all of the communities were on small islands, or in isolated areas. And the thing about these communities that they all have in common? In all these island and isolated communities, people are heavily reliant on each other to “get by”. I believe it’s not so much the relying on others that matters here, but that your community — people close to you — are reliant on you for something. And that gives us a sense of worth and purpose within our community and, of course, a deeper degree of trust stemming from everyone in the community needing each other.
Now, I’m not saying that we have to suddenly start relying on others for everything — but we can certainly allow ourselves to rely on others a bit more. And we can consciously grow our skills and role in our current community, so that we create just a little of this “inter-dependence” that’s so uplifting to us as human beings.
So what can we do right now?
We can start by using the massive outreach of the internet to find people who share our values and perspectives. And that means having the courage to express yourself, to stand for something, to proudly exclaim your philosophy to the world.
By stating your philosophy – that is, your beliefs, values and perspectives on the world — you’re planting a flag somewhere. And that’ll give the many people out there, who hold similar philosophies but haven’t expressed them consciously or written them down, somewhere to head towards; a person to resonate with. They’ll go to you. And that is the beginning of your community.
Once you’ve got others with shared values to you, design or select living space that allows for some form of shared living area. Ideally the kitchen!
Then create some rituals — again, the easiest ones to do (and most socially acceptable) are based around meals and cooking; make one day per week the day that the whole community gathers to cook and eat together.
And finally, everyone should consciously think about what they can bring to the community of value to others; or how they can grow to provide value… so that the community is enriched and some inter-dependence flourishes.
Doing just one of these 3 things will already start making you feel more fulfilled and vibrant —so imagine what doing all of these suggestions will do to your mental wellbeing and vitality. We’re all craving community and belonging more than ever in our modern metropolises — be one of the few who admits to it’s importance — and one of the fewer still who dare to do something about it.