Co-dependence has become a dirty word in a modern world. Where interdependence has been the manifestation of human existence for millennia, self-sufficiency is the outcome of relatively modern social conditioning. Dependency is nature. Did we not watch the Lion King?! We have come so far from community that dependency has become synonymous with “unhealthy”. So whilst we pursue healthy independence we also drive up a healthy sized therapy bill, paying for human connection to solve the issues our disconnect has created. We may not all be able to afford therapy, but the result of social isolation is widespread. Suicide is directly linked to social disconnect, the greater the isolation the greater the suicide rate even for those within family units (NYTimes2005).
In the US, the number of people who state that they have ‘no one to discuss important matters’ has tripled in the last two decades. The biggest reduction in ‘core discussion networks’ is in the neighborhood and community context in favor of the spousal context. In other words, individuals have dramatically shifted their support structures from the local community towards nuclear families (ASR2006). So what is happening that we become increasingly isolated in the pursuit of ‘healthy’ independence and all the while are actually increasing mental and physical decline? Strong or weak, for better of for worse, community is relationships. Relationship to people in time, place and culture. From global citizenship and being a member of team humanity, to your closest family, a network of relationships build this thing we call community.
Our commitment and security within different communities varies, but our need for it doesn’t. Simone Weil (The Need for Roots) demonstrates how a person needs to be connected within networks of community and collective identity. To belong, at various levels, is essential for human health. She states that humans need community for their own preservation, but also for the preservation of society. It is only community that can link us to the past and enable us to effect the future. Community gives us roots in time and place and our part in it creates roots for those yet unborn. We can see that community is essential for the health of the individual and society, but what does community look like? Originally formed from the words “together” and “exchange”, community was a coming together and exchanging. This was more than capital exchange. It was protection, service, culture and knowledge, as the latin “muni” would suggest (meaning “duties”).
What about today? Is community more than co-existence and more than collective culture? Is it more than Penny Lane? Life. People. Together? Can it still be a drawing together and an exchange? Asking people today, the answer came back a resounding “Yes”. The sharing of life, love and support is the principle concept. However, ‘stress, a pain in the butt, a painful memory’ also found it’s way in there; and rightly so. This ‘together’ ‘exchange’ makes you vulnerable to other people. A one man community is both safe and yet unsafe. There is an element of risk and an element of trust involved when you open yourself up to people. If I trust, with something that is unimportant to me, then it is not trust. Trusting is leaning on another person past the point of return, should they let you fall. Community is a risky business. But then aren’t all things that are worth something in life costly? Community is no exception. It is a costly business. But the cost of social isolation is more terrifying and less gratifying. Weil would argue that a person has responsibility before they have rights. Because a person has control over their responsibility, it is something they can give, whereas a right is reliant on others to protect. Maybe we need to teach out children ‘human responsibility’ and not only ‘human rights’.
People who are conditioned to think in terms of their rights rather than their responsibilities are focused on what they perceive they are owed, rather than on what they can give. As we know, collectives based on this predisposition enter a cycle of decline. Rather than gaining what they want, they spiral into apathy and anger. Their children are less likely to enter higher education, they rely more on social benefits and their problems get passed from generation to generation along with their worldview. They rarely produce the creative solutions to their condition. You cannot breathe in and breathe out at the same time. If you are continually breathing in, you cannot give. Communities break down, I believe, when the abstract ‘community’ becomes more important than the people that make up that community. From small organizations to large scale communism, when people become less important than collective, the idea of interdependent, healthy, relational community fails. That’s not to say we don’t serve ‘the community’, we do, but in doing so we are serving a group of people (a plural), not an abstract whole (singular).
Community, really is family. A large extended family with dysfunctional people and hurt and misunderstanding. But it’s also a group that achieves more together than apart, that creates history and nourishes it’s people practically and emotionally. Community is knowing that you can’t be successful alone and that in any case, the journey is better shared.
Article by Sarah Bainbridge formerly with Living Generously