Growing up I was always told that many aspects of life would be hard: marriage, having children, balancing finances, finding a career. All of these warnings turned out to be true. However, I was never warned about how difficult it would be to find and maintain community. I think my generation sure could have used it. I could have used it; it feels like such a lonely world out there.
It's easy to find casual friends and acquaintances who share similar views or interests. Finding a group of people that really wants to see you flourish, and has your back day in and day out, well that is a completely different story. It's a question that has been plaguing me for some time now – why is it so hard to build, maintain, and even be involved in true community? It is indeed a very complicated issue. I think it has something to do with how values have been passed down from earlier generations.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way blaming previous generations for our deficiency, but I think it helps to understand. My grandparent’s generation lived through the great depression. They charged their children to make something of themselves, take care of their families financially, and to be diligent workers. These are no doubt commendable callings, but building community is noticeably absent. I feel that my parents’ generation fulfilled these to the best of their ability but still didn’t find fulfillment. So they charged the next generation to do everything they had set out to do, only bigger and better, with the added mission to do meaningful work that changes the world for the better. But community building was still not prioritized in these values.
So here we are 1/5th of the way through the 21st century. I don't think that our community-building infrastructure as a species was ready for the inception of mass communication via the Internet. It's like we didn't even realize that our ability to build community was at risk but all of a sudden it feels almost extinct.
Nevertheless, we find ourselves at this particular point in history. What are we to do? Honesty, I'm not entirely sure, but I can tell you this - it's going to take a lot of intentional work. Both internal personal work and social external work. I think the first step in redeeming the principle of community is grief. Many of us are filled with a deep sadness due to our lack of true community. We tend to gripe and complain about our loneliness but doing so doesn't yield any fruit.
It's time we allow ourselves to truly grieve the loss of community in our lives and experience the emptiness we feel in its wake. It's not a fun first step but it's necessary for healing. I’ve been allowing myself to connect with this grief more readily. I can tell you first hand it is not enjoyable but the freedom that is on the other side of that grief is so life giving.
Reorienting our selves and our society toward true community is not going to be easy, but I have a hell of a lot of faith in our generation. I've seen how hungry we are to be connected with one another! When you have a deep hunger for something that is when the real work gets done. We are no doubt up against a mammoth task, but I believe we're up to the challenge.