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Community living: An innate need or a mere fad?

08 November, 2018

Community living: An innate need or a mere fad?

These days new fads seem to spring up everywhere and are often promoted, mainly with gusto through social media, as being the latest ‘thing’. Community living is presently being plugged as the latest craze, to the extent that the wave promoting such a lifestyle gives the impression that it is rather fashionably fresh and contemporary, and never been done before.

The context of community living

I was recently watching a documentary on how in certain places in the world, in order to keep the cost of living down while enjoying the perks of inner city living, younger Millennials and older Gen Zs have taken to renting larger homes in groups. In some dwellings there were up to 15 or so people living collectively, making use of every available space, sharing facilities and life together. Those who were interviewed in the documentary all appeared to reflect on what an amazing concept this sort of living creates. They spoke as if it is an innovative idea that is ascribed to at just this present time in history. Really?

Everyone knows that it was our late Baby Boomers and early Gen Xs, in the 1960s and 70s, who first invented and defined this sort of living. And we have an abundance of evidence to support our contention by way of the ‘flower-power’ communal living images that were plentiful from that era. Hence, surely it was our generation to have first thought of such living arrangements!

Well the truth is that community living is actually ageless and the model dates back to the beginning of time, where people living in a certain geographical area formed a shared society or ‘tribe’. The primary motivations for this were mutual protection and social interaction. The ‘tribe’ protected its members and provided communal resources from birth to death. It was quintessentially doing life together. And it is not difficult to find such living patterns still in existence today.

Defining community living

A few years ago, I had the opportunity of visiting a hill-tribe in a very remote region of Northern Thailand, close to the border of Myanmar, in the heart of the Golden Triangle. For the few days I stayed in the village, I was amazed at the true sense of communal living their society embraced. The tribe was self-sufficient in every sense. The people worked in the same fields, shared their beasts of burden, their kids went to the same school and played together, everyone cared for each other and even shared their food when necessary. In the evening after dinner, it was customary for the villagers to congregate at the only house with a television to watch one program or another. At about 8.00pm, the children would disappear into their respective homes and the adults gathered for a time of chatting and singing over a strong home brew and tobacco. In a nutshell, there was an authentic sense of oneness and a culture of profound caring and sharing. And it provided an appreciation of what the essence of cooperation truly looks like.

 

While staying at the village and enjoying what I saw as the personification of communal living, I was reminded of the origin of the word ‘community’ which comes from the old French word comunité meaning commonness or common people (as in people living together in a certain locality). If you were to take a closer look at the word comunité, you will certainly see the combination of two words which we frequently use today to describe community. These words being common and unite; a sharing of everything, together.

So do we need community living in our modern world? Or is it an obsolete practice and isolated purely to remote hill-tribe villages?

A biblical perspective

The yearning to belong to a social group appears to be an inherent and instinctive need at the core of every person. Perhaps that is because the Bible tells us that we are created in God’s image, who in His very being, is three in one. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, all three co-existing in harmonious accord. And we, His handiwork, consequently are also called to be in relationship with Him and with each other.

This characteristic of unity in our Creator is also reflected in the animal kingdom, where most creatures are community orientated, learning social and survival skills from their pack or colony. Community thus seems to be an indistinguishable order of creation.

Therefore, I think it will be safe to say that community association is very much alive and in fact deeply desired by every one of us. It is present from the moment we enter into this world. We are all born into a family which begins our involvement with community living. In that environment there are, understandably, a multitude of enriching and heartening moments as well as exhausting and painful times. These interpersonal highs and lows, are actually concealed blessings and influential teachers. Through these ups and downs, we learn to interact socially with the larger world and unlock our ability to be constructive contributors in a global village.

Community association principally gives us our identity, purpose, well-being, safety, sense of belonging, social needs and other intrinsic desires and necessities that are essential to cultivate our true value as human beings. Further, it enhances our ability to develop our own experiences, and respect and learn from the experiences of others. This provides us with the confidence to nurture those around us. Solomon, arguably the wisest man to have lived, put it like this:

It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.

Share the work, share the wealth.

And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough!

Two in a bed warm each other.

Alone, you shiver all night.

By yourself you’re unprotected.

With a friend you can face the worst.

Can you round up a third?

A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.

Ecclesiastes 4 : 9-12 (The Message)

 

You may be thinking, it is all well and good to stress the meaningful and profound advantages community living underscores, but what about the tension, conflict and drama which can also exist? The undesirables that arise from the brokenness of people within a community milieu. Hurt, anger, frustration and numerous other negative emotions are often aroused when engaging with others. These experiences can sometimes be soul crushing and demoralising, and even lure us away from being socially connected. All we need to do is just switch on the 6 o’clock news on television, on any given day, and watch the brokenness of society openly on display with grave reality.

However, while being deeply cognisant of this, I am also, passionately, a firm believer that regardless of the evident shortcomings when sharing our lives with others, our true self (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually) is inexplicably and oddly demonstrated through community. Deep connection, encouragement, security, fellowship, collaboration, solidarity, support and inspiration are obvious strengths and potencies of kinship. Love it or hate it, we are social creatures who are at our best when in a community setting.

As a last thought I leave you with John Donne’s wisdom as noted in his well-known poem ‘No Man Is An Island’ :

 

No man is an island, Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

 

We are indeed the lesser if we are not in community.

Written by Pastor Suresh Murthy, from Lakelands Community Church.