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The Big Answer


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Creating Community Anywhere

a book by C. R. Shaffer

(our site's book review)

This is the book of the “community movement.” Why this movement now? “Very simply, our organizations and institutions, reflecting the prevailing ‘ethic’ of rugged individualism, are no longer working. Look around. The old society is dying. If you join the community movement, your existence may not be any easier, but it will be more alive.” This was M. Scott Peck’s conclusion in the forward to this book. The authors try to make it clear that those who join in community are not joiners, collectivists, group-think addicts, or desirous of living with anyone else besides family. They are individualists who are tired of being rugged (the right) or collectivist (the left) and instead merely wish to be what Mark Satin calls caring individuals.

Our organizations and institutions, reflecting the prevailing ‘ethic’ of rugged individualism, are no longer working
Our organizations and institutions, reflecting the prevailing ‘ethic’ of rugged individualism, are no longer working


We don't need collectivist (the Left) individuals, but just caring individuals
We don't need collectivist (the Left) individuals, but just caring individuals

It’s true that the authors live in Berkeley and San Francisco, respectively, with all that entails. But community is hardly a liberal idea. Growing, self-actualizing in a community context may sound left, but developing good character and becoming a responsible citizen aware of responsibilities as much as rights is more right than left. As far as ideology goes, liberals are admonished to be less selfish and more community minded by conservatives. For conservatives know that for them to avoid the breakdown of society that too much “me”-ness will produce, and the subsequent endangering of what they have worked for and own, they need to support community, responsibility, morals and good work ethics and they want liberals to follow suit.

Community builders don’t want commune collectiveness, just community spirit and actions. They mostly live in ordinary apartments and single-family homes and are ordinary people. They love what conservatives—especially nostalgic conservatives—love more than anything else: their memory of small-town togetherness, extended families and close-knit neighborhoods that actually functioned as morality shapers and person nurturers. This is functioning community and traditional (the best traditions only—not the worst ones) family desire, not collectiveness desire.

Conservatives want community to the degree it is needed to shape our young people’s morals and values, and to the degree it prevents the symptoms of cultural decay from manifesting (crime, teen pregnancy, drugs, immorality, selfishness, irresponsibility, disaffectedness and alienation). Liberals want community because it can empower personal growth and opportunity for group interaction of the social and political kind.

One needn’t see primates at a zoo to recognize our social nature
One needn’t see primates at a zoo to recognize our social nature

But, political categories aside, everyone wants and needs support and connection. One needn’t go to a zoo to realize our primate heritage of being social animals. Conservatives value family most of all. Many of them think they invented family values. But research has shown that liberals value them just as much. So, without reference to political categories, what’s this community movement all about? As Frances Moore Lappé has said: “Americans want to connect. We just don’t know how. This book helps us discover possibilities right in our own backyard.”

The authors say that: “As more and more people have lost the sense of inclusion and belonging, they have ceased to identify with their fellow humans and with the piece of the planet they all share. Crime, violence, addiction, depression, teen suicide, and other personal and social ills have mushroomed. . . . If people want community today, they have to find new ways to create it for themselves.”

The change from rooted to rootless and community minded to self-minded is not all bad news. Communities were stable and tightly knit in the past, but at a price: They were homogeneous, suspicious of outsiders, socially and economically stratified, conformity-obsessed, emotionally stifling, and limited in opportunities for personal growth and learning. Many people who really got their acts together in spite of the stagnation around them did so in spite of their communities, not because of them. One was empowered to be like the rest of the people around one, but in no way empowered to go beyond them. One could expect harassment or ostracism if one strayed from the paths one was expected to stay on. However, the author says that:

The path of knowledge is our only real choice if we are to survive—simple conformity will fail to empower survival
The path of knowledge is our only real choice if we are to survive—simple conformity will fail to empower survival

“We believe that the demise of old-styled communities, defined primarily by blood ties, place, and necessity, offers an unprecedented opportunity to create new models of community that incorporate the best qualities of the traditional forms without their limitations. People today are intentionally joining together to create communities based on shared intrinsic values rather than common external threats and obligations.”

The MC concept is to take the best of the past, with regard to family and community, and combine it with the best knowledge and wisdom of the present, and to leave out everything from both past and present that is stifling, oppressive, irrational, or counterproductive. At first, some relationships will be virtual community ones as aspirants get to know one another via the Internet (e.g., chat rooms, Facebook, emails, IMing), PSBs and phone calls, but this will evolve into actual meetings and, if things work out, MC relationships in an MC neighborhood.

Why didn’t such a synthesis of the best of the past and present evolve decades ago? Robert Bellah says “. . . the language of individualism, the primary American language of self-understanding, limits the ways in which people think.” Also, it takes a media blitz and sudden nationwide awareness of this great lifestyle possibility to make it work, since how are individuals going to find the people they’d want as their MC members unless a media blitz resulted in lots of people registering in the MC database?

How are individuals going to find the people they’d want as their MC members unless they register?
How are individuals going to find the people they’d want as their MC members unless they register?

The security of community used to entail the sacrifice of certain freedoms—it involved adopting a certain way of thinking that was not always growth promoting. Community was win-win in ways but also win-lose in ways: the security, consistency and stability had a price. The authors present the concepts conscious community and synergy to introduce an improved community concept where community doesn’t have the cost of a sacrifice of personal growth. The members are committed to the health and growth of both self and other. Everyone feels that a system is in place where a win for all is a win for each, and a win for one is a win for all. Individual wisdom adds to the collective wisdom and collective wisdom adds to each individual’s wisdom—a Third Wave idea. This is community without the built-in price. No fear of outsiders, new ideas, individual growth, change or diversity is needed in such a place. No we-them mentality is required.

What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped

It has been shown that isolation, whether alone or in an isolated nuclear or single-parent family, eventually leads to the following: hostility, abuse of people and substances, overloading relationships with unrealistic and unfair expectations that wreck the relationships and emotionally stress or even traumatize those involved, unhealthy parent-child relationships where overwhelm, overinvestment, overprotection, living through and overdependency are generated. (See Earthwalk.)

Children's basic emotional and social skills are dropping in over 40 indicators—they're more nervous, irritable, sulky, moody, depressed, lonely, impulsive and disobedient
Children's basic emotional and social skills are dropping in over 40 indicators—they're more nervous, irritable, sulky, moody, depressed, lonely, impulsive and disobedient

Enmeshment rather than healthy individuation is also likely. The steep-gradient nurturance intrinsic to isolated parenting produces win-lose character development and kids full of jealousy and frustration who find it hard to cooperate with or empathize with others—as well as the emotional overwhelm, etc, already mentioned. If there are siblings, they are at each other’s throats, sometimes dangerously so. TV is overused for escapism because of the lack of a social reality. People are lonely and depressed, and dysfunctionality of all kinds (social, communicational, relational, psychological) is relatively normal. But isolation is not necessary. One can opt instead for community. And that’s the authors’ point.

TV is overused for escapism when social reality is weak
TV is overused for escapism when social reality is weak

It has also been shown that it is unhealthy to live in groups of people that are enmeshed, too physically close, too dependent upon each other, and too hostile to the individuals in them when they have outside interests or try to break away. They hold back the growth of their members. They promote dependence and codependence, not independence. They close off from community; they don’t participate in it. They are a closed, stagnant system, not an open, healthy, flowing system. Growth of any member is resented because it reflects on and exposes the immature, dependent status of the others. Guilt, fear and threat are common to such groups.

Enmeshed groups, much like 1950s conformity-obsessed, emotionally stifling communities, frowned on thinking outside the box
Enmeshed groups, much like 1950s conformity-obsessed, emotionally stifling communities, frown on thinking outside the box

So it can be seen that isolation is generally negative for individuals and some type of groups—like families. The only exception is the temporary isolation of individuals who choose to be alone in order to do important thinking, creating, or just being. This “alone space” is a critical, existential and ontological part of growth and awareness. It can also be seen that enmeshed groups are unhealthy, but groups that are the opposite of enmeshed are healthy. These groups/subcommunities/families promote individual growth and collective growth, are open to needed change, are welcoming to new members that have interests in common with them and whom they like, are not demanding and stifling but instead promote freedom and independence. They encourage alone space and creativity as vigorously as enmeshed groups discourage it, since a member that has time to be alone and think might figure out s/he is foolish to stay in such an environment (which might be a cult, a psychologically sick family, a radical terrorist group, or even a sick community).

Alone space: temporary isolation of people wanting to do important thinking, creating, or just being
Alone space: temporary isolation of people wanting to do important thinking, creating, or just being

“America’s long tradition of individualism keeps people wary of groups. They fear they will have to sacrifice too many personal desires to the group’s demands.” And the reason people feel this way is twofold: first, the conditioned belief in rugged individualism says that what you do heroically alone is an accomplishment, but what you do in cooperation with others will bring no glory since it’s significance will be lost in the crowd; and second, people have experienced uncomfortable, stressful, stifling and sometimes even smothering demands in their families as they grew up in steep-gradient nurturance environments full of conflict, and they desire very strongly to avoid contact with groups in the future because they cringe at the thought of more experiences like those earlier ones. Groups = quicksand.

Groups are quicksand to those who've lived in smothering families
Groups are quicksand to those who've lived in smothering families

(Note: The following is not in their book, but relates to points their book brings up.)

The preceding discussion brings up important points: how can people who are paranoid of groups because of negative past experiences in steep-gradient, intrinsically win-lose environments ever feel comfortable in groups after that? And how can people conditioned with win-lose feelings and motivations get along happily in groups since when they join them they are bound to relate from their conditioned negative relationship patterns rather than adopting new, win-win ones which the group tries to promote? The answer to all these questions from an MC perspective is simple (the following apply to groups, families or subcommunities):

(Note: The following is in their book.)

The authors include an astute quote by Bill Kauth: “The process of really being with other people in a safe, supportive situation can actually change who we think we are . . . And as we grow closer to the essence of who we are, we tend to take more responsibility for our neighbors and our planet.”

The authors examine the pros and cons of virtual community. It gets like-minded people together faster, easier and more effectively than nonvirtual community, and it can be a tool to find people with whom one wishes to have nonvirtual connection/relationship. But it can also diminish the sense of self and real connectedness as it offers an unreal substitute. It can also facilitate the connecting up of predators and prey, since it’s easy to pretend to be one way but in reality be something very different.

Like a PSB, it can be used to let others know what you’re into, needing, wanting, and what your receptive/nonreceptive areas are. But a PSB allows one to see this about 10 to 30 people at a glance taking a couple of seconds, and it allows one to let many others know in one second what one’s general emotional or receptiveness status is, as well as what one wants or needs or wants to give, while the online virtual community method is task-intensive and time-intensive, requiring several minutes or more to send or receive communications, except for texting. Moreover, those unable to read and type (e.g., small children) will find virtual community tools useless, while these same children can be taught to recognize the ten digits and what various combinations of them mean at a very young age. See Why Register for an MC?.

Our society artificially keeps young and old apart—at great loss
Our society artificially keeps young and old apart—at great loss

The authors rightly contend that when our society artificially keeps young and old apart, it’s missing a good opportunity to keep the young connected to history, and, better yet, to let them take care of each other and increase the social network of each. It’s essentially a no-brainer, since kids need more flat-gradient nurturance and more good adult models to emulate and more people from which to get good values, while our older citizens need someone to love, social connectedness, a way to be useful and have a meaningful life, and to pass on their knowledge and experience. The fact that so little of this is happening points to a missed opportunity of considerable significance.

Einstein said we must widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty
Einstein said we must widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty

This book—as well as our website The Big Answer—advocates the wisdom of Albert Einstein, who said that our task must be to free ourselves from the prison of the illusion of separateness from each other, from the world, and from the universe; he said to do this we must widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Amen.

And Gandhi said that: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Double amen. This quote exactly expresses the MC mindset.

Gandhi said that: 'We must be the change we wish to see in the world.'
Gandhi said that: 'We must be the change we wish to see in the world.'