There is no Way to Community – Community is the Way!

by Seetha Ananthasivan

There is no Way to Community – Community is the Way!

Gandhiji, the apostle of peace that he was, said one of the wisest things about it: “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”

We can say the same thing about community. There is no way to community, community is the way.

The most important reason why we need to invest in a community is that it adds to our wellbeing in ways that nothing else can. Human beings are social animals – it’s in our DNA  that we feel good when we belong to a community. And that cannot be altered, no matter how much the modern world celebrates individuality, independence and the virtual world.

What an extraordinary time to be alive. We're the first people on our planet to have real choice: we can continue killing each other, wiping out other species, spoiling our nest. Yet on every continent a revolution in human dignity is emerging. It is re-knitting community and our ties to the earth. So we do have a choice. We can choose death; or we can choose life.

- Frances Moore Lappe

There are many other reasons why we should learn to belong to a community – connected to land in some way if possible – be it spaces where we live in urban areas or our own village, city or layout. We learn to cooperate, make enduring social connections for ourselves and our children and we have the security of something more than money. Ideally, when we have a community that takes care of some of its needs – water, air, food at least - by having members who are environment care takers, producers, consumers and distributors, we have a local economy that is not dependent on staples from across the world which makes our lifestyle so unsustainable.

But why am I saying that there is no way to community, community is the way? Because each community is complex, unique and will continually evolve. They are like ecosystems niched in larger ecosystems. You cannot have a fixed model, although there can be some pointers to learn from and some basics may be common.

Community may already exist, but a sense of being together may or may not be evident there. And that is why such large scale destruction of eco-systems today.  Today, the nature of our mammoth economic systems dictate the primacy of task achievement, competition and endless materialistic growth for both individuals and nations. So we have pseudo communities of belonging to organisations, schools and colleges, chiefly being determined by needs of task achievement, not wellbeing for all. We have seen that happen in the way millions of migrant workers began walking back to their villages and towns, hundreds of kilometers away, when the Corona lockdown was announced. There was no sense of community with the organisations they worked for.

Community cannot be built by one or two people or even a small group, although they can be initiators. When such initiators beckon to many to participate and contribute to common goals, the beginnings of community happen.  When many begin to connect with each other, form sub groups that work or have fun with each other, gradually a sense of community comes alive.

Why wake up to build community?

The deliberate destruction of community helps the juggernaut of the globalized capitalist system. Addicted to a consumerist lifestyle, unable to get off the rat race, people continue slogging to increase profits for the top 1% and a pittance for themselves. And the divide between the rich and the poor has only increased in the last 30 years after liberalized globalization began. The belief that independence will bring happiness has led to about 30 to 50% of the population living in single dweller homes in the US and some European countries. And depression, eating disorders and mental illnesses are the highest here too.

When we see this larger picture of the destructive power of an economic system that promotes competition and disconnect from community, we in India need to wake up.

We need in particular to create communities that -

  • Link up farmers and consumers in cities who can give them a remunerative price.
  • Take care of what is left of the commons near them – lakes, forests, air, water.
  • Bring in an awareness of community and ecological living – especially for the children and youth

We can look around and find spaces and people where we have a sense of belonging and start conversations to build community, to begin any kind of activity that people seem to need. There is no one way to start, but when we start we find the way!