I feel like I’ve been shouted at for months now. Every time I turn on the news or read articles online, ALL CAPS SHOUTING.
It’s scary and we’re sitting here trying to pinpoint the exact reason we are where we are, and what the hell we can do to fix it. I have only a thousand suggestions for this, but I’m only going to talk about one with you right now. (Sorry, if you are looking for my political views, you can find them by following me on twitter. I’m relentlessly obnoxious there.)
I ran across an excerpt in The Atlantic sometime last year that I haven’t been able to shake. It was written in 1996 and from the book, Home from Nowhere. It’s long, but interesting, and you can read it by clicking here. Anyways, I came across the article while falling down some weird insomnia induced internet worm-hole, and since that night, it’s lurked in the back of my brain, nodding and whispering at me every morning as a fresh batch of depressing headlines are read from newsroom teleprompters, much the way Voldemort hissed in Harry’s ear.
tl;dr The article touches on how the loss of community is contributing to the bad things in our society.
And, the author is sorta right. We are living in a very individualistic society right now. We care more about personal rights than collective rights. We spend a lot of time looking out for number one instead of number 3 billion. We change history to suit our own needs, and when we see something new or different, instead of intrigue, we approach it with fear and anger. Curiosity and kindness and empathy… when did these become signs of weakness?
If I asked my mom to drive me through the neighborhood where she grew up, she’d recount the name of every neighbor on that street, where they lived and some funny memory of being a child in their yard. Can you do that? Can you tell me the names of all the people on your street, and can you think of a positive memory you have interacting with them. If you can, I say you have a rare gem of a community, never let it go. If you can’t, I say, me too.
Instead of immediately thinking about all the good moments in the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, my gut reaction is to recall all the annoying ones. The neighbors played their music too loud, or let their kids run wild, or planted trees over our property line, or other random ways they offensively infringed on my personal space.
No wonder we don’t look out for each other, guys. We’re jerks.
I want my kids to grow up in a community that I can lean into and on when we need it. A community where we know everyone’s name, step in when someone is sick or struggling, and feel good investing into, knowing that every ounce of ourselves that we deposit, we get back ten fold in a strong village of friends and support. We’re not afraid of unknown strangers around the corner anymore, because we took the time to know everyone; further closing the loophole for those on the fringe of feeling alienated and lost.
This is also a common theme I see every day online and in the body image movement. While the internet is a life changing beast, it’s also a fantastic way to disconnect yourself from the whole of community. Instead of using it to squash all the hate and negativity in the world, it’s often used to magnify it. Internet shaming is the Chinese take-out of shaming. We thrive in the millisecond of satisfaction we get while tearing someone down or making fun of them. It makes us feel good in the moment, and then we’re hungry to do it again only minutes later.
It’s easier and more popular to be inhumane than it is to be human. We take pictures of strangers and mock them, seeing them not as people, but as props for likes and shares. Every time we don’t ask if someone is okay, if they need help, or even offer them a friendly heads up that their skirt is tucked in or there’s something on their face, our community breaks down just a little more. Selfishly, this guts me, because should my children ever be in one of those positions, I want them to experience compassion from those they run into, not exploitation for a cheap laugh or viral video.
Spend a day engaging with the people you see in the world. Tell the woman at Target you love her hair, and the man in the gas station you like his shirt. Ask the elderly person outside how their day is going, and tell a group of a kids a funny joke (without the word dick in it, because parents are weird about dick jokes). Go online and leave a nice and supportive comment on the posts of five friends you haven’t interacted with in a while, and send a text to someone in your family you miss. GO BE HUMANS, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, YOU’RE TERRIFYING ME.
Today as we pour over all the ways Back to the Future had been right in predicting the world on this very date, I laugh as I do the exact same thing every day when I notice all the parallels I see to parts of Home from Nowhere, and it’s making me homesick for my village. If you feel the same way, I’m always looking for neighbors. Especially neighbors who make their own wine, enjoy Rob Schnieder movies and don’t mind when I ask them for the hundreth time for the spare house key I’ve entrusted them with.