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Published: March 29th 2007
Next chapter on community
I have heard the claim that all of the six billion plus people on this planet are connected by a mere six degrees. Valid or not, I think it is fair to say that in the present age we are closer to people from all over the globe than ever before. This metaphorical shrinking of the world has now made the creation of a global community possible and has changed the way people think about community the world over.
It used to be that the definition of community was easily agreed upon as one s family members, friends and neighbors. However, as time has gone by a new definition is needed. To me, community is one s feeling of connection to others. As I mentioned in the introduction, a girl helping a woman across the street, even if they are strangers and never meet again, creates community. Any time a person goes out of their way to help someone else or love is shared, the feeling of closeness creates a web of connections. This web, like the protective mesh used by acrobats, serves as a safety net that will be there to support the person if they fall. Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, says For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people's love and concern for each other.
Human beings are communal animals. Ever since we started walking upright on our two hind legs we have organized ourselves into groups. The original purpose of these groups remains pertinent to this day; to provide protection for the group members. Remaining a member of the group meant survival while expulsion doomed the outcast to a rocky life and quick death.
In Madurai there is an untold number of roaming undomesticated dogs. These dogs move around in packs foraging, stealing food and causing trouble for the human citizens of Madurai. They, just like their cousins in the wild have internal politics which keep order. When one of the dogs causes problems for the group it is attacked by all the other members with the result being that it is either killed or wanders off alone. The dogs that live through the attack then become excessively aggressive or apathetic. Either way, the expulsed dogs rarely live very long away from the group. There are exceptions be it human or canine. Yet we may not be as far away from this scenario as we think. Hester Prynne, the main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne s The Scarlet Letter remains to this day a searing example of what happens when one is ostracized from their group.
As time marches on, traditions change and alter. Old customs become outdated and new ones arise to meet the demands of the new times. Although these changes may happen so gradually that while occurring they are nearly invisible, they are changing nonetheless. Whenever a custom has outgrown its usefulness, provided people have the choice, it is eventually discarded. Conversely, all practices that remain functional will never disappear. Amartya Sen writes, If a traditional way of life has to be sacrificed to escape grinding poverty or miniscule longevity (as many traditional societies have had for thousands of years), then it is the people directly involved who must have the opportunity to participate in deciding what should be chosen. The real conflict is between:
1) The basic value that the people must be allowed to decide freely what traditions they wish or not wish to follow
2) The insistence that established traditions be followed (no matter what), or, alternatively, people must obey the decisions by religious or secular authorities who enforce traditions- real or imagined.
Although throughout time people have come up against barriers to change, change has happened, witnesses by the almost complete elimination of the practices of cannibalism and human sacrifice. Yet after all this time the so-called herd instinct remains. I do not say this meaning to belittle anyone, nor to demean our communal instincts. Instead, I think that it is telling that after so many years and so much technological advancement people continue rely on others.