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The Importance of Community and Connection

Marketing experts tell us that the deepest need of every human is to find their “tribe”: a group of people with whom they feel an affinity, by whom they feel validated, and of which they feel a part. The fundamental concept is that we need inclusion and pointing the way to that feeling is a very powerful marketing tool.

We are encouraged to join the group that drinks Coke, uses an IPhone or drives a Toyota which, the ads subtly promise, will make us happy. Interestingly though, in our culture, it is “exclusivity” which is the hallmark of success. The more exclusive the club, vehicle or neighborhood with which we are associated, the more successful we are considered to be. The biggest house with the fewest people living in it is a powerful hallmark of success. So we have a problem, in that we have a deep psychological need for community and inclusion, but our success markers encourage isolation.

Mother Teresa is quoted as saying that, in India, people may be starving, but they are not lonely. Of the two conditions, she believed loneliness was the more painful, and one that is rampant in N. America. I think that is true.

I believe part of the reason we are lonely is because we have put so much emphasis on the left brain, or linear, view of things. The linear approach to life takes things apart, separates and isolates in order to gain understanding. We learned to do this early in school laboratories, and later in debate clubs, and always in competitive sports. We are always looking for who and what is better, and comparing ourselves to some standard to see whether we measure up. In many ways, Western culture has emphasized individuality and minimized the importance of community. This, combined with exclusivity as an indicator of success, has caused us deep psychological distress.

In the book “Touching”, anthropologist Ashley Montagu describes the healthiest cultures as being those which are community oriented, with a great deal of physical contact – even to the point of sleeping in “puppy piles”. In some cultures, babies are swaddled in constant contact with the mother from birth until they are able to walk. There is an often-quoted African proverb which says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In many African traditions, the whole village was indeed involved in raising each child. Very different than in N. America.

Recently, science has begun to support anthropological research regarding the importance of community in the lives of individuals. In a rather remarkable video, the importance of community was clearly illustrated by a leading edge group of scientists. And emphasis was not just placed on the importance of community, but rather the actual understanding that we are all connected at an unconscious level, and need to make that connection conscious and to act on it if we hope to achieve mental health, and, beyond that, if we hope to have a healthy planet. You can hear what they have to say on this link

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