Our world is made up of communities, large and small. There is the neighbourhood where we live, the people we work with, the community surrounding our schools, churches and social and sporting clubs. On a broader scale, there are our suburbs and towns, our professional and political affiliations, and our social media networks, which can reach across the globe.
Creating Communities understands the value of being part of a community. In our work we are committed to strengthening the ties that bind us and giving people a greater role in shaping the places where they live, work and relax.
This is the first article in our relaunched Common Futures series — our contribution to the debate about how our society functions and how we can all work to build stronger, more connected communities.
Sometimes it takes great adversity for us to realise fully that as a community we are stronger than we are as a collection of individuals.
This was never more apparent than in the aftermath of the devastating bushfires across eastern Australia this past summer. We are starting to see the same sort of response to the coronavirus crisis that is still emerging.
We saw many examples of people going above and beyond to help their neighbours, trying to protect other people’s property and ensure their safety. And people opened their homes to those in need of shelter when the worst happened and houses were destroyed.
In the aftermath, working as a community is even more important, as people strive to recover from this disaster, in psychological terms as well as the physical.
The same sort of unified effort will be needed, and on a bigger scale, to get through the economic, physical and psychological effects of the current pandemic.
There is undoubtedly strength in combined effort and knowing you have the support of those around you.
This is true in a much wider context as well. We don’t need a natural disaster to convince us of the value of community, but tough times bring home to us how much we depend on each other.
There are suggestions that we are seeing a new age of collectivism, most particularly in relation to environmental activism. This has been apparent on the streets of cities around the world as people have come together to demand action by governments against the threat of climate change. There is a growing sense that these protests will force policy change where the sober predictions and advice from scientists have not.
Such activists are more likely to see themselves as a global citizen rather than focusing primarily on their national identity. Similarly, they may find satisfaction in being part of a small group working toward a common good rather than adopting an inward-looking “me-first” stance.
We live in a highly globalised world. Technology makes travel and communications simple and relatively cheap. We interact with people outside our immediate circle like never before. It should ideally lead to a new age of understanding and cooperation across nationalities and cultures.
Instead there is still a tendency for nationalism or tribalism to rear its head, whether as a reaction to a perceived threat or problem beyond a country’s borders, or something more sinister.
Some national leaders play on these fears for short-term political purposes. They may see an advantage in building barriers between “us” and “them”. They play up the power of national identity as a virtue and portray others as “outsiders” — people to be feared or mistrusted.
But these efforts are counterproductive and work only to diminish us all.
Surely we are better together, whether we are working with a volunteer group in our community, or joining with people across the globe in a movement for change.
“ Surely we are better together, whether we are working with a volunteer group in our community, or joining with people across the globe in a movement for change. ”
Tom Oliver, a Professor of Applied Ecology at the University of Reading in the UK, takes up this issue in a new book The Self Delusion where he argues that although what he calls “the illusion of individualism” has helped us to succeed as a species, tackling big global challenges now relies on our seeing beyond this mindset. He says on a physical, psychological and cultural level, we are all much more intertwined than we know and we need to better understand the complex connections between us.
Oliver points to outdoor community activities and environmental education as ways of increasing our psychological connectedness to others and the natural world. When people feel more connected to nature, according to various metrics they tend to have greater happiness, autonomy and personal growth, as well as stronger attitudes and behaviours towards protecting the environment. Similarly, he says, when people score highly on metrics assessing social connectedness, they tend to have lower anxiety, greater wellbeing and more empathy.
At Creating Communities, we work with communities across Western Australia and beyond on a variety of projects from new residential estates and aged care projects to FIFO villages. At its core, our work is based on a desire to build and strengthen bonds within all communities, and to empower them to do things for themselves. In so doing people get the sense that they are part of something bigger – that they can play a role in enacting change, locally and on a much broader scale.
We have that power within ourselves but it increases exponentially when we act together.
Donna is Creating Communities’ managing director. She is also chair of World Vision International and is a non-executive director of World Vision Australia