Last week I wrote about being involved in communities that you must commute to. I think we would all agree that this style of community is not ideal. We all want to have the things that are important to use close by. In fact, having people that love you and desire to understand you is hands down the most important thing to have in close proximity. While this is true, in my longing to live a life deeply integrated with my local environment and community, I may have not given distant communities a fair treatment. There is definitely a place for them, but the problem is that most of us don’t just give them a place in our lives but we make them our primary outlet.
We live in such a complicated world. While I can see the reality around me, I tend to lose myself in idealism. Truth lies somewhere in between. In regards to groups that you have to travel a ways to be a part of – I really like the term “satellite communities.” Just as the satellites orbiting above the earth serve us and improve our lives here on the surface, satellite communities function in much the same way. They have great power to enhance our lives in tangible ways. But when the focus is only on the objects way up in the stratosphere you’ve forgotten how to live on the ground.
As a civilization we’re becoming ever more aware of our mental health. Supportive therapy is becoming less stigmatized and more common place. I can’t help but see this as a parallel to the ways our social landscape is changing as well. Traditionally more of our minor mental health needs were taken care of in a more “in-house” fashion by peers and mentors, albeit much less efficiently than by a licensed therapist. As those simple types of frequent meaningful social connections begin largely to disappear, they get replaced with visits to specialized therapists to keep us mentally healthy.
A counselor or psychologist’s intent is not to create a community for you. Their purpose is to help you work through the mental blocks that are holding you back from being an integrated member of the world around you. I think it would be much healthier to treat distant satellite communities as steps in our rehabilitation, engaging in them to help us be more present and vulnerable around those which we actually live, our geographic community. I believe when we make satellite communities our primary sources of investing in relationships, it is tantamount to becoming friends with your therapist. It might feel fulfilling, but eventually you need to make true friends. Not just ones that are being paid to listen to you.
Sometimes you do need to flee an unhealthy social structure. But I think many times we just need to be rehabilitated in order to return as healthy members. If you’re looking for a new group to be involved with, it’s probably because there is a deep ache inside you that is unfulfilled or unprocessed. That’s worth paying attention to. But we live in this infuriating thing called the human condition, where we will always have pangs of un-fulfillment and unprocessed baggage. Taking that into account is wise. Pursuing “satellite” groups that help you come more alive to yourself and those in your world is a fantastic undertaking. Longing to be whole is noble. But expecting a given group to actualize your identity is purely idealism. This is something I’ve been guilty of far to often. I’ve found myself chasing after the ideal community. I’m starting to realize it doesn’t exist. There is however healthy community. It’s not my job or your job to make an unhealthy community healthy. But is our job to be the most holistically fulfilled participants that we can be. That is our communal responsibility. Healthy members = a healthy group.
I think we are in constant need to be rehabilitated back into our own lives. When this need arises calling on additional sources is necessary. But if you live in a satellite community with your head in the clouds you’ll forget the richness of living with your feet on solid ground.