I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. It seems to me that local community connections used to be stronger. We had a more distinct shared identity as islanders before the internet linked our brains around the globe like chips on a board. The experience of community has changed radically with the advent of the World Wide Web. People now belong to many distinct communities and interest groups online, scattered around the world, developing relationships that can be more vital and important than their real-life connections. But what does this do to local community cohesiveness?
A physical community relies on its people to survive. Volunteerism and community spirit grow from connections that humans share in person. A community, to be healthy, encourages mutually supportive bonds between its members and allows for enough in person circulation to develop familiarity. Without strong networks and enough face to face interaction to develop and maintain connections, we risk losing the cohesion of a strong communal identity.
Covid has exacerbated the problem, obviously. When the world shut down, a number of people moved to their Hornby retreats to shelter in place, many of them have stayed to work from home. Consequently, I think Hornby’s demographic has shifted significantly. New people have moved here, but few know who they are. Most rely on Facebook to connect. So far I feel our island is doing alright; we’re not in danger of civil war… yet.
Polarization in the world is increasing all the time. These are dangerous days for communities, at local as well as national levels and beyond. The global network is impossibly vast, and paradoxically an ever shrinking goldfish bowl.
A recent poll in the States revealed that most people, Trump supporters and Biden supporters alike, would support the separation of red from blue states, divide the country in two. Oh, my. What could go wrong? How long would it be before two such ideologically polarized nation-states declared war?
I have been studying anatomy over the past few months. The insides of bodies are fascinating! A physical entity is made up of myriad disparate parts serving contradictory and oppositional functions, yet still co-operating perfectly. We can learn a lot from a body. Tension between opposites is not only okay, but is actually required to keep the engine running. It’s all about maintaining balance.
What if everybody is right, from their own point of view? Every part of a body needs to commit to playing its distinct role. What if the heart tried to lord it over the intestines, and tell it how to do its job? What a mess that would make! A single message gone wrong from one part of the body to another can cascade disastrously, precipitating a crisis. Yet we manage to keep on going day after day with guts, brains, muscle and bones and co-operative ‘guest’ bacteria all doing their jobs without a break or argument. What a miracle!
Perhaps it’s not such a miracle. Maybe balance is what happens when we centre our communal perspective between oppositions to listen to both sides and ensure all needs get met. Needs are valid. Some people need freedom. That’s not a want, it’s a requirement. Some people need a sense of safety and security. That’s real too. How can everybody get their needs met? How do we balance this shaky boat we are all in? These are real and pressing questions.
I’d love to hear your ideas and perspectives on this and any other issue. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.