Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Community break-down!

Apologies for sounding like a headline from the Sun! Not my intention.....

When I was a kid I lived in a street of about 50 houses. That street was full of non-related 'aunts and uncles' whose children we played with regularly - indoors and out. There was never a shortage of kids to hang out with or people that could be called upon to help with any situation - major or minor. For my mother, this prevented her from parenting her three children in isolation while my father was at work, she was never short of adult company and I am sure this made parenthood easier for her.

A few decades ago however, this changed and the idea of a community based on locality alone no longer seems so prevalent. I don't think this is doing us any favours.

The reality is that feeling part of a community - especially in your locality - is good for you. Feeling connected with those around you enables you to trust them. Feeling affiliated to your neighbours makes you feel safer, more supported and less isolated. Better relationships make people happier. And if we feel part of something, we are more likely to look after it.

So why has this happened? I do think politics has played its part. In recent decades, both left and right wing politics has moved very much in favour of individual choices and freedom - the left for social issues (individual freedom to choose how to live - which of course I do approve of when it comes to matters of discrimination etc) and the right for the market (economic freedom). This focus on individualism has moved us all away from focusing on societal obligations and community bonds and made us somewhat 'all out for ourselves'. Our lives have become materially better and we have greater individual choice but at the expense of affiliation to others. We now tend to play a game of one-up-man-ship to demonstrate our success with this individual freedom rather than connecting to others and contributing to the greater good for the masses.

It seems like its another one of those situations where we know that something is not particularly good for us in the long-run (like watching too much TV, retail therapy, refined sugars etc) but that we just cannot help ourselves. I wonder if people have actually forgotten how to be part of a community or what they might want or gain from it.

As with many things, I think localisation is part of the answer. Handing organisational responsibility down to localities must surely be better than central government making all the decisions and telling us how to live (and us becoming angry and ignoring/hating their decisions). If people are involved in key decisions they are more likely to care about their locality, they will surely come together more and community bonds will be strengthened. However, I do think we have become so used 'the rights of the individual' we might need to re-learn a degree of selflessness before we can collaborate properly! Poor us hey!