On Community

It used to be that people were born as part of a community, and had to find their place as individuals. Now people are born as individuals, and have to find their community.

Bill Bishop, quoted in Megan Garber’s What does community mean? The Atlantic, July 2018

While I love the sentiment of this, I disagree with it from a social psychological perspective. I can see what Bishop is getting at through the lens of our individualistic, Western, society. But it misses the context of our social environment; of our social nature. If we view this in terms of social identity, we are born into certain social identities for sure: family, class, ethnicity, gender, religion. There may be some who are able to explore and determine if these social identities fit, if they fit the prototypical group member characteristics. Perhaps they do feel they fit. And they get a sense of group belonging and a shared sense of community. But if they don’t feel prototypical in the group then they may try to conform, to hide, or to seek out the group that they do feel prototypical of. Eg, gender identity or religion. 

Fabian Pfortmüller defines community as comprising three components: (1) human, that is a group of people; (2) relationships, that is, there is caring about others in the group; and (3) shared identity, that is the individuals feel they belong together. (Fabian Pfortmüller, Sep 20, 2017, What does “community” even mean? A definition attempt & conversation starter.)

So here is the problem, as I see it. People are disconnected. People are isolated. People come up for air and social interaction on an as-needed basis. It is scheduled. It is hit or miss. It is not living. Community is a regular connection. Back in the Atlantic piece, the author (Garber) references sociologist Alain Ehrenberg’s tome that we are so self-reliant that we are exhausting ourselves and bringing on our own self-destruction via avenues such as depression, drug use, or suicide. I agree with this idea. I am so often surprised at how lonely life is these days for people raising a family. Few people live communally. Everyone has their own place that is separate with clear boundaries. How many people feel comfortable just dropping in to see a friend unannounced? I still feel uncomfortable doing this. I will always text first to make sure it’s ok. Will I be interrupting nap time? Will I be interrupting family time? Will I be interrupting, period? It’s hard when you need to be around other humans and are afraid to interrupt.

What I’ve realized is that when children are young, parents seem to have two options for raising them in our modern, individualistic society: (1) get them on a schedule of sleeping, eating, and bathing, and in between all of that, schedule some play dates. (2) get them on a schedule of sleeping, eating, bathing, and attending daycare/preschool/school, and then, after all of that, schedule some play dates. And what happens when the kids are occupied? Does it enable adults to get together for much needed socialization? Not usually. At least not in my experience. I crave the village that I never knew I needed. I crave the connection that I never knew was missing. I crave the authenticity of living with people and being human. It is a work in progress for me, but I hope to fill this void. Not just for me. Not just for my family. But for any others who may be suffering in isolation. For those who may be lacking the community that they didn’t know they were missing, either. Even introverts need connection. My hypothesis is that this will solve a lot of our mental health issues. But more on that in another writing…