What this is not: A wishy-washy, positive thinking, pie-in-the-sky idea about changing the world. I will not be advocating the power of group meditation, overthrowing the powers that be or anything else that can be easily scoffed at.
What this is: A three-part series covering logical AND tangible ways to instigate awesome change on a global scale. I will cover the following concepts in order:
- The single change the world needs most dearly
- How real change occurs
- The specific mission I think will bring about those changes. This has been formulating in my mind for the better part of 4 years, culminating in the last few months. It’s suffice to say that I am very excited to be sharing this with all of you.
The illusive, magical element that the world is missing most right now is something you probably aren’t aware is gone. You’ve seen glimpses of it at music festivals, at summer camp, at family gatherings and nights out with friends. But these are fleeting instances. Glimpses into what could be that we shrug off as far too good to happen all the time.
We are missing community.
Think of the best days of your life. Were they spent alone?
We are indoctrinated into wanting a high-paying job so that we can buy our own houses, filled with our own furniture, our own silverware — our own nook in the universe. When we finally have that, we sit up in bed wishing we were with others. We reminisce about times when we stayed out late in the company of good friends, and strangers who soon became good friends. Ironically we had those communal nights in mind when we bought the silverware in the first place: “I can have up to 20 people over for dinner with this dining set!”
We are going about getting what we truly want in the most backwards way possible.
We in the richest societies have too many calories even as we starve for beautiful, fresh food; we have overly large houses but lack spaces that truly embody our individuality and connectedness; media surround us everywhere while we starve for authentic communication. We are offered entertainment every second of the day but lack the chance to play. In the ubiquitous world of money, we hunger for all that is intimate, personal and unique.
The Age of Separation
We live in what Eisenstein refers to as the ‘Age of Separation’. An age of locked doors, high fences and closed blinds. And for what? To preserve our privacy? To protect the things we cherish so much? I ask you this: which do you cherish more, your possessions or your relationships? Which would you sooner give up? Then why do you and the rest of the world continually make the opposite decision?
Our hunger for community that Eisenstein speaks of is all the worse because we’re barely aware of our starvation. All of the meditation, positive thinking and success in the world cannot take the place of community. We know that we are hungry for something, but we’re taught that something is sex, money, power or even things of more substance like freedom, art or having a family of our own. The only hint we get that of this falsity is when having a family is the only one that comes close to satiating us.
To make matters worse, we falsely believe that already have community in our culture. The internet, Facebook, email, texts, phone calls and international flights give us all the reason to believe that we are more connected than ever. Surely this is true over large distances, but real human connections are made at arm’s length. No high-definition video chat with surround sound could replace the magic of being physically with another person. Taking from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe quote on freedom, I would say none are more hopelessly alone are those are falsely believe they are within a true community.
We are connected only in our isolation — grasping at our screens, wondering why they don’t have a pulse.
An integral element of community is intimacy, a human need nearly as vital as food and water. Yet intimacy is almost taboo in our society. Something reserved only for family, the closest of friends and lovers.
“The things we need most are the things we have become most afraid of, such as adventure, intimacy, and authentic communication. We avert our eyes and stick to comfortable topics. We hold it as a virtue to be private, to be discreet, so that no one sees our dirty laundry. We are uncomfortable with intimacy and connection, which are among the greatest of our unmet needs today. To be truly seen and heard, to be truly known, is a deep human need. Our hunger for it is so omnipresent, so much apart of our life experience, that we no more know what it is missing than a fish knows it is wet. We need more intimacy than nearly anyone considers normal. Always hungry for it, we seek solace and sustenance in the closest available substitutes: television, shopping, pornography, conspicuous consumption — anything to ease the hurt, to feel connected, or to project an image by which we might be seen or known, or at least see and know ourselves.”
Why is community the big change we need?
So why is re-establishing community the grand panacea that will save the world? The answer is an issue of scope.
The causes of both world hunger and ecological destruction are the same: We known conceptually that they are happening, but we feel separate, removed from those issues. Another way to say this is that our sense of self does not include starving children in Africa, or the Earth we live upon. We do not feel personally affected by those calamities. At first glance, this phenomenon makes complete sense — ‘I am not them, I am not my environment.’ But consider this quote:
In my village, if you went to the medicine man with a sick child, you would never say, ‘I am healthy, but my child is sick.’ You would say, ‘My family is sick.’ Or if it were a neighbor, you might say, ‘My village is sick.” No doubt, in such a society, it would be equally inconceivable to say, “I am healthy, but the forest is sick.” To think anyone could be healthy when her family, her village, or indeed the land, the water, or the planet were not, would be as absurd as saying, “I’ve got a fatal liver disease, but that’s just my liver-I am healthy!
Our sense of self needs to be expanded to include not only others, but the world around us. However if we don’t have a sense of community, of oneness, of responsibility to others even within our immediate ‘communities’, how can we hope to feel the same with people a world away? How we can hope to feel communal with our planet?
In the same light, we cannot love others until we learn to love ourselves. How can you effectively focus on helping the world when you, yourself, are not fulfilled? Not whole? We consider ourselves lucky to live lives of excess in first-world countries, but in some ways we are more lost than those living in poverty because at least they have community!
This basic requirement is even stated in Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. We need belonging and intimacy before we can respect others:
P.S. I do not claim this idea as my own. The vast majority of the inspiration for this article came from Charles Eistenstein’s book, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transit. If this article has touched any part of you so far, I cannot recommend this book enough. It is the first book I have read that has moved me to tears. It hits home and touches upon your humanity in a way that I cannot possibly explain in summary.
Ways to read it:
Torrent (Only includes half of the book for some reason)