Friday, October 30, 2009

Party time, excellent

Throughout the vast majority of human history, humans have co-habited in a constant flux of interdependence. Humans need each other for a variety of reasons, from the eminently practical to the simply companionable, from hunting to babysitting, from love to duty and loyalty. It's a rare human that can do everything for him or herself, and rarer indeed for someone to want to.

But over the last hundred years, we have tried to turn the concept of community from the rock-solid and ever-present foundation of our lives into a quaint volunteer project for teenagers padding their resumes. Now, many of us wouldn't even think of borrowing sugar from our neighbors or watching their kids, because all these activities and services have become part of the formal consumer economy, enabling us to "simplify" our relationships and believe that we depend on no one but ourselves. We've become a society of people who in many cases, think that asking a favor makes us weak. In addition, we've become so mobile a society that many of us move so often that we never even get to know our neighbors.

Of course, this bizarre turn of events was only made possible by a flush of cheap oil.

So as we enter the twilight of cheap, addictive energy, one of our chief achievements will be to resurrect the community. But how does one do that? How do we turn around a culture that celebrates the self and independence to such excess, that sneers at people who need each other, as we are sure to do in a future of energy decline? One way to begin is by starting with some of the favorite aspects of community - the fun stuff.

Celebrations, festivals, and events have always been important features of communities. Poker tournaments, parties, Christmas caroling, sewing bees, sporting games, and seed & book swaps were all common before manufactured entertainment began to dominate our lives. Community festivities serve many key functions to create the ties that bind. For example, they help us:

  • Get to know the people in our community and what they need or can offer

  • Relieve stress / create fun and joy

  • Mark the seasons and the passage of time

  • Spend time productively rather than destructively (teenagers!!)
Organizing community events in an expensive energy environment, when driving and paid entertainment become less available, could become a critically important service. When people begin to feel as if their futures have been stolen and their expectations destroyed by economic and energy constraints, when they see their world get smaller by the day, when they can no longer afford the distractions and addictions that have kept them sane - they can come together or fall apart. Bonding as a community in productive and fun ways can help them come together.

So if you are trying to build a community, you could start by helping your community bond. People need to get to know the members of a community before they feel a part of it. People need to trust each other, eat together, work together, before they can start getting to the nitty-gritty of preparing for peak oil.

Trust is key when you are trying to transition to a way of life that is based on borrowing, sharing, bartering and working together rathering than simply buying, buying, buying. Knowing each other, knowing that they are both important and accountable to the community, gives each member a reason to participate in the re-building of the institutions and cultural customs that could get us through some (literally) darker times.

So throw a party! Have a potluck! Start some neighborhood traditions around the holidays. Create a book club. Knowing your community members will be the foundation for any future peak oil preparation projects you want to begin, so start building trust and relationships now. They will serve you well as times get harder.

Has anyone started building a community, whether neighborhood, intentional community or otherwise, who wants to share tips?


Wendy said...

When we bought our house twelve years ago, no one even acknowledged that we'd moved in.

I decided early on that if I wanted to get to know my neighbors, it would be up to me to take the first step. So, that first summer, when we made strawberry jam, I took a jar to each of my neighbors. In addition, each time a new neighbor moved in, I baked something and took it to them.

I know all of my neighbors, now. Some in only a passing-wave sort of way, but others more personally. I'm pretty confident that in a worst case scenario, we'd all look out for each other.

Tricia said...

What a fantastic essay!

At our old house we had a few spontaneous parties in our cul-de-sac.

Since moving (speaking of that mobile society), we've met our neighbors, but haven't really gotten acquainted. I'll have to start working on that.

Roy said...

When we moved into our house, we prepared a "Hi Neighbor" letter that introduced ourselves, a little background, and an email address. We walked the neighborhood and knocked on doors, handing the letter to the person who opened the door and chatted (usually ending up with an email address in return).

We then sent followup "glad to have met you" emails a month which most responded.

It's been a year since we moved in and we have hosted a couple of BBQ parties in which folks that have lived across the street from each other finally met after several years of living that close.

It takes time and effort but we now feel like we could ask favors of each of our neighbors and get a helping hand if we needed it.