“No man is an island,” said John Donne, in reference to the ripple effect of the death of one man in a community. Indeed, we are made for community; we are not meant to live alone. By living and working with others, we enjoy many benefits. By choosing to go it alone, whatever the endeavor, we give up countless blessings. While mavericks make great movie characters, real loners miss out on so much. Unfortunately, there are more and more loners in our modern world.
A large social study in 2006 at Duke University illustrated “a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties — once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits — are shrinking or nonexistent.” Click here for the article “We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com and e-mail 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”
It’s nothing new to learn that many people find it extremely difficult to live with others. They find themselves in all kinds of trouble when they have to work with others at length. They hurt people’s feelings, and they get hurt. They annoy and they get annoyed. They both get jealous and cause jealousy. So, they do the logical thing; they take the path of least resistance and withdraw from others. They become independent, vowing to avoid the problems that people cause in their lives.
After all, it is much easier, in the short run, to look out for yourself and take care of your own business, steering clear of other people’s business. But easy is not always good, especially when it comes to relationships.
Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of Bowling Alone, wrote his famous book about the same problem – increasing social isolation in the United States. He believes that people must make deliberate steps to join and remain in small communities; otherwise, they will suffer great long-term consequences.
Our kids are growing up in this isolating world, and it’s up to us – the adults they rely upon – to teach them how to engage with communities. And as usual, the answer begins with being a good role model. So, if we are not involved in a variety of communities, then we need to find some to join, and include our children, so they can see us living it out – the good and the bad. The last thing they need is to watch us continually choosing to go it alone, for interdependence is just as importance as independence.
Too many kids are involved in communities in which they take without giving in return. And it’s no wonder, because too many adults join communities to take, until they are expected to sacrifice, at which point they quit. We see it in churches, schools, and all sorts of civic clubs.
I have a good friend who epitomizes one who lives well in community. As a high school wrestling coach, he creates a community of athletes on his team. He creates community in his various circles of friends. And he creates community within his family, including his extended family. He is involved in the lives of others, and it’s not convenient or easy. While this is admirable, what I find extraordinary is his commitment to teaching his children to live in community.
His five-year-old son knows the wrestlers and their families. He knows the school building, and he knows a lot of the teachers, who give him lots of attention. He is growing up in this community and seeing his dad interact continually with people, and sometimes that includes conflict and compromise, disappointment and triumph, along with about every other human emotion.
His son picks up trash at the wrestling meets at school. It’s not always a fun job, but it’s his job. And he has learned from his dad that there are a lot of unpleasant things that you have to do in order to enjoy the benefits of the community, and it’s worth it all.
So, we need to join communities, integrate our kids into our communities, give them a purpose in our communities, and let them enjoy the benefits. The results will be significant, for they will grow up more able to relate with a variety of people in a variety of settings. This is so important because it’s the social skills which are most important and least taught in this new age of isolationism.
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