It is not surprising to find the Oxford Dictionary devotes 32 lines to the subject of “Community”. The definitions range from joint ownership or liability, state of being shared or held in common, fellowship, organised political, municipal or social body to the more human social and recreational groups, charities and choirs. Clearly I have not referred to all of them but one I do like is “spirit” giving a feeling of membership of a community.
I believe communities are divided into long term, short time, accidental, serendipitous or formed by what my late mother called “chance and circumstance.” Like tends to be drawn to like so we will always tend to be drawn to those others who seem to share our beliefs, our views and our cultures. But then there is the physics formula “opposite poles attract, like poles repel” so we sometimes find people with whom we would think had nothing in common operating in the same communities. Politics at every level is a good example of this. Both good and bad.
In what we like to call “a property owning democracy” people with the same life-styles and similar jobs and incomes tend to live in similar houses. Now this, in itself does not always lead to the formation of a harmonious community as neighbourhood quarrels are a frequent occurrence.’
Adversity often brings with it a sense of community which sets aside divisions and squabbles and brings out the best in people. A perfect and topical example of this is the way people, particularly in rural areas cut off from power supplies have rallied to help each other as the adverse snowy weather continues. It would be a good outcome if this particular spirit of community continues after the event itself is forgotten.
Not everyone, however, belongs to a community. The number of single households is increasing, families are becoming more and more fragmented both in terms of distance as people move for work or relationship reasons. We are all living longer and greater numbers of individuals are having to adjust in many cases to being alone often following the death of a husband, wife or partner. Loneliness and depression are often linked and this is growing problem in the over sixties age group.
However, as my wonderful plumber, Colin, said to me when he completed a job, which had defied the efforts of another, more expensive, attempt “Mrs Richard, everything can be fixed.” This has stuck in my mind and, indeed, is becoming one of my own mantras. Of course, one way in which single people of any age can be part of a community is, in fact, quite simple. There is some activity which interests each individual, whether it is playing bridge, going to the theatre or concerts, joining a local keep fit club, book club and many more. Sometimes people who are already in these organisations forget it can be daunting for the newcomer and welcoming is an important part of forging communities.
So far I have not mentioned the most far-reaching community of all. The world-wide web, including internet, Facebook and Twitter, has transformed the world, some good and some less good results have been the result of this. On the plus side it is comparatively easy using email, Skype with real time filmed conversations as well as the Facebook and Twitter routes for people who are separated by distance to keep in regular touch. These new communities should ensure greater cohesion in our dealings with each other as well as the outside world. Indeed the world is brought into our homes as events happen. We see war, poverty, politics earthquakes and tsunamis as they take place. Does this make us feel part of the world-wide community or not? Are we suffering from information overload?
We are told by 2020 every African village will have internet access. Will they, though, have clean water to sustain their communities, enable them to grow crops to feed themselves and be part of the prosperous, sustainable life still enjoyed by most of us in the “so called” developed countries? So many questions and I don’t pretend for a moment to know all the answers. But what I have found is the more I engage with people either individually or in the many organisations to which I belong, the more I smile with people, the more engaged we become!
To finish on a lighter note, I was present at “An Audience with Dame Edna Everage” at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre at lunchtime on the 26 March. She/he came to meet an assorted group of us to publicise her Farewell Tour. As well as engaging everyone with a very witty, conversational style delivery she and I had a conversation before she left and by this time everyone was laughing, talking to each other and the Grand Dame shared with us her “secret”. It’s very simple, possums, it’s love.
Photograph by Aly Wright
Christine Richard has over 25 years’ experience in public life in Scotland in the fields of politics, education, public relations and charity work.
She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and in 1992 she was made an OBE.
She is currently involved in the group, Changing the Chemistry of Scottish Boards.
She has recently released her first novel, Whitewalls, a contemporary Scottish family saga about the lives of one family with four generations.