Tuesday 2 June 2009

In search of community

Over the bank holiday we went to Antwerp. On the way back to the Channel Tunnel, we left an hour early, and just as well; an accident had brought traffic to a standstill and we spent an hour and a half in a motorway jam.

We watched as other drivers, frustrated and impatient, started to use the road more ‘creatively’. They whizzed past us, down the hard shoulder creating another bottleneck and blocking the emergency service vehicles getting to the scene. I don’t know if that caused lives to be lost or not.

I couldn’t help wondering: what would have happened if, rather than thinking, ‘how do I get out of this quickly?’, people had thought, ‘how do we solve this quickly?’

I appreciate I’m at risk of turning into a pre-maturely grumpy old woman now! Perhaps it is because there is a part of me that yearns for a society that is a little gentler, a little more tolerant, and a little more community-oriented.

And I suspect I’m not alone in this: a credit card company is organising national street parties here in the UK this month to encourage us to meet our neighbours and develop a sense of community. For the cynical, there is richly ironic fodder. Yet the very existence of this event indicates that there is a growing desire for a sense of community.

We live in a highly fragmented society, where many extended – and even nuclear – families are crumbling. We may relish some of the freedom that this brings, but the downside has been an unconscious loss of connection to a wider group, perhaps even to a place and a community. Where the old has disintegrated, new possiblities open up - we can choose where we create our community ... and even how.

I’m living in London six years now and it gave me a real thrill when the mechanic in the local garage waved at me recently! It was a whisper of belonging to this community.

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