Let me start with a fairly normal scenario. I decided to enjoy a fun movie after a long day at work and took myself off to the local cinema, where people were chatting and milling around waiting to be seated. A glass of wine here and the obligatory choc-covered, over priced ice-cream there.
Once seated I was surprised by how many of my fellow moviegoers were sat with their phones – either taking an “I’m here at the movies” selfie, checking their newsfeed, or texting someone.
I then noticed my own phone, with its addictive notification light calling for my attention. I was suddenly struck by how much our community connections are now remote and physically detached, as we often live through texts, Snapchat, Facebook, emails and social media updates.
When did community become so far removed from the physical self? What is the impact on our mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing?
Upon researching this article I was struck by several quotes which really captured the essence of this anxiety:
- “There was unity, now it is compulsory exploitation; then there was relative peace, now wars are wholesale slaughter; then there were sympathetic relationships amongst people/acquaintances, now there are strangers everywhere”
- “Today I feel the monstrous ugliness and the terrible poverty of today’s urban existence and am often taken by disgust and nausea, and deep sadness.”
- “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”
Would it then surprise you that the first two of these quotes are from renowned social theorist Ferdinand Tonnies, who lived in the 1890’s? Or that the latter striking quote is from Cicero, who lived in 45 BC and who also complained that the youth wore their togas to low!
Tonnies was interested in “harking back to a golden age” – A theme which has been the hallmark of every generation. There has always been constant social commentary about the decline in social connection, the lack of community cohesion and disregard for social mores. Humans seem to be predisposed to looking back and thinking we come from better times, whilst bemoaning the state of our current community.
As a counsellor most of my work is about connection and community. Or more specifically, the damage and hurts stemming from neglect, shaming, rejection and isolation. When community (whether it be defined as a large group or the fundamentally crucial community of family) shuns, rejects, controls or diminishes us as worthwhile and loveable then the pain echoes throughout all our relationships, activities and experiences.
So, do we try and abolish social media? Do we cry out for a return to rural community living and attempt to “get back to the good life”?
No, I don’t believe that this is the solution to these issues and problems.
“If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbours’ prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, for real security and success, then we would begin to turn to our communities – and not the communities simply of our human neighbours but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared.”
― Wendell Berry
Community is holistic and also about embracing the cyber world we live in together. Each one of us can make a difference. Mother Theresa once said “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
Please let me say that these words I’m typing are not some flippant collection of quotes or phrases simply meant to entertain you. Rather, they are a deep, wholehearted reaching out to each of you within this community of healing we all share.
This article is my way of casting a stone across the water. It serves as an invitation to each of you to take a look at your community, your family, your connection to the world around you and cast a stone.
I’m going to end on a short story from a client. She told me about a wee adventure she’d embarked on after the previous weeks particularly tough session, which completely changed her view on kindness and compassion.
She felt drained and contemplative after completing some powerful emotional work during her counselling session. However, as she reached her car a complete stranger (one of my elderly neighbours) called out and waved for her to come look at something. My client went on to tell me how she spent an hour in the delightful company of two enthusiastic “retired gentlemen” exploring a secret garden full of beehives, honey making and wax candles. It was a totally unexpected random act of kindness and community, resulting in her being given a selection of honey to take home and savour.
But she said that while the honey is AMAZING, what has stuck with her most is a realisation that there is genuine kindness, connection and love all around us and that the simple act of welcoming someone into our world is profoundly healing.
So maybe we can all take a lesson from the bees and share some of our gifts and honey with those around us and just see how much sweeter our lives can become.