The Importance of Community

Introduction

Today, I can leave my house, head to a grocery store, purchase food, pay for it, and return to my dwelling all without any more human interaction than exchanging a passing glance with a stranger. If we take a step back, we can see that we are light years away from where we started. Historically, we were a tribe, hunting and gathering food. This group was our community, our social circle, our friends, family and support structure. The unit was tight, firm, cohesive and coherent. As we moved away from that model and toward an agrarian society something happened, perhaps unexpectedly.

We have stepped toward an economy based on fiat currency - which has been extremely useful and the most successful attempt at a societal structure yet - because of this, we have seemingly devalued the notion of community. At the basis of society is social interaction between humans. This sort of communication has become secondary in a world too busy to pause and truly understand another. The advent of at first mathematics has propelled this decay, then science and finally “technology” in the modern sense of the word.

Our innovations have allowed us to do more with less, but this also means doing more with fewer people. This evolution was/is good for economics, whether the commodity was energy required or dollars spent. However, this has seemingly marked a slow slide away from these close-knit communities, and toward the life of the “individual.”

As we step from this old economy into the technological era, we become increasingly divorced from several critical aspects of human existence. The first is the degradation of social interaction because of a lack of practice. We learn by watching and doing, so the more time that we spend on a screen the less exercise we get at interpreting other humans reactions toward us. This technological advance has been predicated on the fundamental tool called science. It has become a tool for the conquest of nature. Science is in fact that, a device and should be treated as such. We have seemingly missed the forest for the trees here and carry around science similar to how some carry around a bible and claim strict and absolute rule by it.

There is something to be said, as Carl Jung noted, about societies divorce from historical texts. The claim is not that some compendium like the bible is ultimately useless. The notion is that the way it is used and interpreted is mostly shallow and misinformed. It is a book filled with an astronomically abundant amount of stored, ancient wisdom that has been compiled for centuries. However, when such a thing is taken as literal gospel, then we miss the moon for the finger pointing at it. It does not help that we as a modern society think of ourselves as somehow independent of our history. A glaring example can be seen from a biological perspective. Our actions and reactions are strongly predicated on our inherited biology [RF]. This idea leaves out any semblance of a trace from other influential factors such as epigenetics, cultural paradigms, and structures set in place and influenced by the society that also impart an effect on the people that work within them.

What it boils down to is that we are immensely social hunter-gatherers in a HIGHLY complex and sophisticated modern society. According to Jung, we are somewhat more cognitively advanced than archaic people, but the same fundamental hardware and software sit underneath this mental palace (think administrative and logic driven cognition) that we have built. We have progressed reasonably quickly from primitive people to agrarian, and finally to the technologically infused supermarket society of today. By doing this, we should realize that it is like trying to build a smartphone on top of Windows 95 but knowing nothing of that first operating system. It is therefore paramount to understand what is under this modern-day veil and then to leverage that knowledge in the conquest of a life well lived.

Under the hood

We are not individuals. Our nervous system is designed to be modified and adapted to our surroundings as laid out by Jordan Peterson. This notion is to say, that we learn and grow from every experience that we have in the world. Therefore, to some degree, we are a culmination of every experience that we have had before this time (keeping in mind biological, psychological and social aspects - think genetics [RF]). An example that Peterson has shared is that we outsource the problem of sanity. It is a highly complex problem, and we use the way other people act and react toward us to continually tune and trim our perception of reality. From this vantage point, we need other people to help us stay sane. This sanity and other valuable attributes come from a network of tightly woven social interactions.

We are highly social creatures. We spent a great deal of time in small packs traveling across vast landscapes. One thing that we have developed far above other animals is the ability to communicate through language. Because of this tool, we can cooperate. This cooperation is also predicated on trust. According to Peterson, through communication and intuitive psychology, we can quickly discern if a new person is a friend or a foe. This collaborative outlook on life allows us to surmount problems that a single person can barely comprehend, let alone solve. Think of anything from gathering food, to protection against enemies (animals or other tribes). Because we gain all of these benefits from social interactions, it is hard-wired into us to seek out social stimulus. These interactions can lead to stability.

We highly value stability. As people, we have a dualistic need for security and novelty. If there is too much novelty, then we destabilize and have an emotional break down (think fear response). If there is too much stability, then we become bored and restless. There must be a balance between these two. Now, of course, some people much prefer to spend time at one end of the spectrum or another. A community provides a place where people can experience both of these. In the tribal days, the group would stay together as long as resources were plenty. When the group ran out of food, then the men would go off to hunt, and the women would foster the children. By having such a group, they could split the work and cooperate. The women provided stability to the rearing of the children, and the men went off to experience new events during each hunt. This tribal environment thrived on sharing both in terms of tasks and resources. As the group flourished, so did the individual.

Communal education has been lost. When a child is reared in a shared environment, many people end up taking care of them. This approach exposes that child to many people, to many different brains and perspectives. This method in combination with story or myth (stored historical knowledge according to Peterson) teaches the child many facets of life. By experiencing many people, they learn practical knowledge. By hearing many accounts, they can gather practical wisdom without having to suffer the pitfalls that created that first knowing. The term “the moral of the story” comes to mind here. According to both Jung and Peterson, the origin of story was to store and disseminate knowledge learned by past generations. When many people become the authors, as they do when passing the story along via spoken word, then these tales evolve into myth. Myth aims at some fundamental truth that the single individual cannot place their finger on because as each author tailors the story, it is the influence of another brain, and in a very simplistic sense many minds are better than one.

Accountability. It is fascinating to note, that people are often much more accountable to others than they are to themselves. We can leverage accountability to achieve meaningful goals which contribute to work and as a result happiness and or fulfillment. From an accountability standpoint, the desire to not disappoint another is much greater than the desire not to be disappointed with ourselves. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that we know how many times we have messed up in the past to adapt an idea by Peterson. Some outside observer is not aware of how perfectly flawed we are. We hope to not mess up so that we don’t show our flaws. Because we are such social beings, it very much matters what others think of us. After all, depending on how much we mess up is a measure of our cognitive competence. According to Peterson, the greater our competence, the higher in the dominance hierarchy we rise. The higher in the hierarchy we are, the greater the pool of potential mate selection we have. The greater the mate selection we have, the higher the chance we will find someone (or multiple people) with whom to have successful offspring. Therefore, perhaps, being accountable to others is something like a display of our genetic fitness.

So then, if we are social creatures who need both stability and novelty, shared public education and accountability, how do we foster such attributes in a society where that is decaying at best? Perhaps the obvious question to ask is how do we travel from where we are, to some semblance of a better life and society for us all?

A New Outlook

As has been encouraged by Peterson, we must admit our eternal ignorance. We live in an era of arid statements and prophetic nonsense (think to lie compulsively). We need to realize when we are wrong, and when we do not know about what we are talking. This awareness is the first step toward true learning. Once we can step onto this bedrock, we can build a substantial house of knowledge from there. Like building a house, this is not an easily accessible path, but what else is there in life? It is suggested that humans find happiness in work and love [RF]. So why not work on the hard problems of life? It will not only help ourselves but everyone around us.

Once we have renounced that there will always be things in this universe that we do not know and or understand, then we can begin our journey. We can pick up a book and read according to Peterson. We can talk with someone and have an open mind; we can take a second to stand in their shoes regardless of whether we believe what they are saying or not. The important thing to realize, noted by Peterson as well, is that life is a continual learning process and that if we are willing to listen, everyone has something to teach us. We can pick up a book by someone great who has spent potentially decades gathering knowledge from other great people. By reading such a text, we get to start where that person left off. We automatically get some concentration, some distillation of knowledge. We get to stand on their shoulders, we get to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Because we are influenced by those with whom we surround ourselves, it is essential to pay close attention to those people. First, our social sphere will change our outlook on ourselves and the world. Negativity and complacency are contagious. In life, if we are in a positive mindset our energy is spiraling up, if we are in a negative mindset, our energy is spiraling down. In this case, likes tend to attract. There will always be positive and negative aspects to life, according to Tony Robbins, it’s your choice on where to focus. Secondly, we must realize that there are people who want to be helped and to help others, and there are people who do not. We must not waste our time on polishing rock and hoping that it turns into gold, yet another concept introduced by Peterson. We should focus on heading to the thrift store, picking up some tarnished jewelry and nourishing it back to its fullest luster. We must remember that our time is limited on this earth and that the most significant human tragedy is to squander that precious resource.

Building a community is not smooth or straight forward; however, it is arguably the most important thing that we can do. When we create this community of positive, growth-minded individuals, the group becomes more significant than the sum of its components. Keep in mind that one negative person in even a large group becomes a boat anchor and drags EVERYONE down. It only takes a single drop to poison the well. As we build this community, and we all work together, everyone is brought up. When the tide rises, so do all boats (don’t read this as socialism, it’s not a perfect metaphor). We can think of this community as a family. Perhaps this group consists of blood relatives, maybe not. Relation does not matter; a relationship is all about mindset (formation of truth and values), mutual experience, and reciprocated sharing [RF]. If this is the case, it is germane to ask, where can we turn to find a community or members that can join a new endeavor?

Because we do live in a technological era, the easiest way to find a community is through online resources. Groups that meet in real life, even if organized online, are ideal. Technology has created more connections, but they are arguably much more shallow than face to face meetings. Online is also an excellent place to start a community, as long as the focus is to meet in real life. In this pursuit, the important thing is to know ourselves. What is it that we enjoy doing? By keeping this in mind, and living that value, we will automatically choose groups and experiences that foster mutual truths and values [RF]. These are the fundamentals of good relationships. The most important take away from this is that we, ourselves must go into action. No one else is going to help us form our community.

Conclusions

We are explorers. According to Peterson, as a species, we are designed to go out on a journey, experience novelty, and to assimilate that as new knowledge. We have allowed our social, cultural, and spiritual structures to degrade to such a degree that we can no longer utilize them as guides for facing the unknown. This separation has been compounded by the actions taken in Western Society over the last several centuries. The agricultural revolution has created a surplus of food, allowing us to specialize in a field of study or work. It has also afforded us a tremendous amount of comfort and security (read as complacency). The technological revolution has created a surplus of information, making us overwhelmed and paralyzed. For these two reasons, it is more imperative than ever that we strike out on this journey of communal formation.

Our bodies are designed to help our brain move about the world and to interact with other human beings. We need to realize how much we are suffering as a result of a lack of this social interaction and a life devoid of a tight-knit community, or tribe. It is only through the realization of this suffering that will drive us out into the world in search of psychological, social and spiritual sustenance. Forging a community is not an easy or straight forward path, but it is arguably the most important thing that we can do not only for our well being and mental health, but for the community/society at large.