Monday, 11 July 2011

Preserving community

I love how thoughts wander down paths, gently led by various sources but all tending in a common direction. I have been pondering the past two days on John Taylor Gatto's thoughts about our disconnection from community. He writes that as we segregate children into schools and the elderly into homes, we eliminate our connection to the past and the future. He also expresses strong thoughts about the difference between 'communities' and 'networks.' A network is a group with a specific set of defining characteristics, be it interests, age, culture, gender, etc. There is very little genuine community any longer. Instead, we float between various and numerous networks, which fragments us into parts, only showing a portion of ourselves to each group.

While all that was simmering on the back element of my mind, I watched a PBS documentary on the Amish. I have always had more than a simple interest in the Amish way of life. Something about it has always spoken to me, and yet I had never really been able to pinpoint what it was, or why, I felt an abiding truth in the way they live their lives. The film tonight was finally able to articulate the "why" of their lives in a way that put words to my own feelings.

The film spoke of community. The Amish people make their decisions based on community. To live a life of simplicity is to embrace the notion of living humbly for others. By eschewing technology, they are preserving a pace of life that is manageable, peaceful, and unlike the rushing tsunami that technology brings today. I think it is easy to look at "traditional" life today and see the increase of isolation and the breakdown of communities, and I wonder if the Amish haven't hit on something important. This closing quote sums it up perfectly:

"They are a people who will not sacrifice community for convenience, who have not been caught up in progress, who believe that order brings unity and contentment...a people who don't discard the past, who fear pride, and who don't argue with nature."

While I may have many friends in town, I don't see the same level of community. Community is where we are in a constant state of interaction, where we know each other intimately, not just our common interests but our goals, victories, heartaches, yearnings, struggles, dreams. How many people can you say that you know like that? Do you know when someone needs help and how to help them? Do you open your own heart for help when you need it? Serving others is so difficult in an age when pride prevents true communication. The need for us to wear a facade that says "I've got it all together." Community is a free moving of people, not just a set of playdates scribbled on a calendar. It is dropping in because you were going by, it is living an unscheduled life, or at least a very flexible one. Community is spontaneous gatherings, a baseball game on a Saturday afternoon, or a barbecue and a guitar in a backyard.

I have always yearned to keep a wary distance from television and its kin in entertainment, and these ideas now floating around in my head are able to give voice to the reason why: sitting in front of a screen (be it a TV show or a film or a video game) is the axe hacking down our communities. It is breeding isolation at a furious rate. It is distracting us from finding contentment in this life, the kind of contentment found in relationships.

This is not about moving to an Amish community, but it is about evaluating my own priorities, purposes and goals. What is it that I want to be moving toward? Who do I want to be? What do I want my life to look like? What do I want to teach my children?

1 comment:

Mom said...

I love the sense of community found in the Amish and other similar peoples. I love the way that it's all for one and one for all. I also agree with you about the lack of communication between people because of technology. I saw this tv show once where two teenagers were sitting beside each other on a couch and were texting eaching other on their cell phones instead of talking with each other. I remember thinking that that scene was likely not too far from the truth.