Do we ever really think about community? Do we ever try to define it, to measure it, to analyse it or to pursue it? Do we really understand what community offers us, or how we suffer when we are community-deficient?
I don’t think we do.
Community is difficult to define. It means something slightly different to each of us. But we all need it to really thrive.
On some level, a feeling of community is what we all strive for. I’s the fundamental basis of our desires, our motivations, our actions. Whether we deeply value our social groups as communities, or we strive for wealth only to become a part of the community of the rich, it’s really all about those other people.
The values of our society too often miss the community mark. We’re all about the grind, self-improvement and achievement, but are these of any value without connection with other people?
I think this is a deep-seated contributor to modern misery — a barrier to happiness.
Ask any happy person about community, and they will describe their relationships with family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances. Enquire further and they might talk about the way they feel around these people, the vibes they get and the almost indescribable value that their community provides. Think about the happiest moments in your life — I guarantee they revolve around other people.
It runs deep. Humans are wired to thrive in strong communities. We are the social animal, it’s in our nature. Our bodies produce happy chemicals when we’re a part of a healthy community. Community is as natural, and almost as essential, as breathing.
Observations of Blue Zones (areas of the world where people routinely live much longer, beyond 100), show that vibrant, loving communities are one of the greatest predictors of long lifespan. Being part of a community expands our network of resources and allows us to ride out tough times together. Most importantly, it gives us purpose.
As a teenager and young adult, I took for granted the people around me, the people that formed my community. There had always been people there, I knew no different. I didn’t appreciate the relationships with the individuals, nor the dynamics within the groups. They were a nice foundation to start life out with, but in my mind, they were the springboard. Life was about going beyond, achieving. Success, to me, would be breaking free of my community. It would be money, recognition, power. Little did I know, none of those things are necessary for real happiness.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gradually realised that there really is no point to material wealth and influence, unless it contributes to the well-being of others. Why would I want more money than I require to live? It makes no sense. As long as I can support myself, any extra effort can go into enriching the lives of others.
This feels like a reawakening of my humanity. It truly is the essence of being human; the pursuit of the good of the collective. The only meaning of life that any of us can claim to have been created with is to be useful to humanity.
It’s really all about other people
Many of us intuitively understand this — after all, it’s in our code. But our society works hard to overwrite community values. The collective consciousness is at a place where we value shallow, brief, digital connection with thousands of strangers more than we value a nourishing, authentic conversation with a friend.
As we’ve become more ‘civilised’, we’ve lost familiarity with some of the core features of humanity. It’s tempting to blame advertising, corporations, and the forces of capitalism, but it runs deeper than that. There’s a self-sustaining rot deep within our culture.
We have to recognise this rot and make efforts, as individuals and as groups, to resist the perversion of community values. The structure of the modern world makes it easier to isolate ourselves than to experience the joy of community.
We must fight the temptation to take the path of least resistance. We must seek out connection with others. We must be courageous in fostering the birth and nurturing the growth of healthy communities.
The world makes us feel as though we’re weird and abnormal for reaching out to others, for forging connections out of nothing. But in reality, we all yearn for connection. In reality, it’s nothing but human nature to collect, to connect, to feel joy and love around others. We have to let that nature flourish, in spite of the broken messages around us.
So be brave, and be the weird one. Reach out to a stranger, acquaintance or old friend. Start a group or club for people who enjoy similiar things. Stroll through the world with a heart open to connection, shining a little beacon in every interaction you have. Be socially courageous and encourage others to do the same, and in the process, help to redeem our humanity.
Remember — it’s all about other people.