My life in community
“Who in the collective house would you most like to eat?” We were sitting around one of the tables in the dining hall engaged in a conversation. We stuck to the adult community members and most of us chose one of the young women from our house. To an outsider, this choice of subject may seem macabre, but we had a royal time. Sometimes our discussions landed in the taboo topics like sex and poop or other topics that I imagine do not occur so often around other dinner tables. But more often our discussions were about world change, racism, feminism, housing politics and environmental issues. High and low, sophisticated and obscene.
I was involved in organising house meetings and in the group that welcomed new members. I cooked organic vegan food every four or five weeks and the rest of the days I came to a set dinner table that someone else in the house had cooked. I lived alone with my oldest daughter, in families with up to five children and in a “big family” where we shared life with other families and singles in a 320 square meter apartment with 13 rooms and a kitchen. We arranged parties and lectures, and stopped the selling of our rental apartments into owned ones. We started an organic store and grew vegetables. We participated in punk gigs, festivals and demonstrations. We celebrated alternative Christmas Eve and hid refugees. We cried and laughed, quarreled and cooperated, became enemies and lovers.
When I was living in the collective house Cigarrlådan in Hökarängen south of Stockholm, I often experienced my need for community fulfilled to a big degree. I shared my everyday life with people close to me. I almost always had the opportunity to hang out with someone. Although we often disagreed and ended up in conflict, we shared similar views and values.
We, humans, feel good in the company of other people with whom we have enough in common, with whom we identify ourselves as “we”. During evolution, we have been dependent on a group around us for our survival. We have worked together to accomplish things we would not be able to do on our own. Alone we cannot accomplish much so when we were living as hunters and gatherers, loneliness was equal to death.
My experience of community has in most contexts been in quite small groups, groups where everyone has the opportunity to be in contact with each other. Not everyone may be best friends, but there is something that unites us. We’re like a small tribe. There is often a clear and sometimes unspoken boundary between those who belong to the group and those who are outside of it.
These communities can arise in different contexts. In my example above, it is a housing community. Other communities I have had in my life are: the European NVC festivals, my family, workplaces, groups of friends such as my punk gang, different activist environments, parts of my school class during high school etc.
Us and them
The downside of experiencing a very strong community is that it tends to divide the world into “us and them”. As individuals, we can act selfishly and think of our own benefits in the first place. In the same way, we can act “groupish” and focus on our own group as opposed to other groups. I think most major conflicts arise from this biased mindset. We focus on collecting resources to benefit our own group, often at the expense of the needs of other groups.
I have just read the book “The courage to be disliked” and it describes, among other things, Alfred Adler’s view of community. His definition includes not only the entire human race but also all living things (and more). If we can extend our care both beyond ourselves as individuals and beyond the groups we immediately identify ourselves with, perhaps we will have an opportunity to create a greater experience of community for the benefit of more and more people.
There are not many experiences that beat the strong experience of community because being in community, in loving connection, in secure exploration, having fun with others, sharing strong bonds and being part of something more than my individual self – that is absolutely fantastic!
Share your strategies fulfiling the need for community in the comment below or, if you are a Premium subscriber of “The Needs’ Year”, at the online platform here: https://empathiceurope.com/online/courses/the-needs-year/modules/week-2/
Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)
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On Tuesday (11 January 2022 at 16:00 CET), you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Volkmar Richter. We will talk about the need for community.
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