Years and years ago—when I still thought that I wanted to be a cowboy—I bought a feed store and a small hobby ranch in California. For a lot of reasons, including the runaway interest rates of the late 1970s, the venture was a total financial disaster for me. But I learned a lot.
One of the things I learned was that two people unloading or loading a feed truck finished the task more than twice as fast as a lone person humping 80 pound sacks of grain or hay cubes all by themselves. It was the first inkling I had that there was some magic in the method of cooperation. The fact of the matter is that the principle works on everything from tree stumps to parenting and canoeing to writing. (As to the latter, I once had a creative writing professor in her 70s who would often wink at the class and say: Writing is a lot like sex; you can do it alone but it is a lot more productive and rich when two are involved in the process.)
Understanding the power of two also opened my mind to the value of community, because what two can accomplish is impressive, but pales when compared to what a community can do when they are all pulling in the same direction. Unfortunately, in our often calamitous rush towards economies of scale and globalization, a myth of independence has been created that over time has worked to destroy community cohesion and structure.
Cabin and barn raisings have been replaced by construction companies and neighbor helping neighbor has been supplanted by wireless roadside service. We don’t “need” anyone anymore and we are decidedly poorer for the condition. We know that we have lost something somewhere that all of our searches at malls, websites, and reality shows just cannot seem to find. I would suggest that what we have lost in all of this is a sense of community and belonging.
So how do we get it back? Like with any relationship you work at it. Here are five actions that you can take to rebuild your own community. Think of them as social merit badges and see how many you can do.
1. Join a Food Coop or Community Credit Union
Food coops and community credit unions are in reality investments in your community. The good news is that most of them actually pay dividends so the benefits are mutual. Not all areas have either or both so if you are really ambitious you could join with neighbors and form one.
2. Frequent a Farmer’s Market
While not all areas have food coops or community credit unions, most locales have farmers markets. Great place to get health food and spend time with members of your community.
3. Join or Start a Book Club
Book clubs are wonderful institutions where people can come together with a shared experience and…well…share it. These can be simple meetings at homes or public places or can be hosted dinners or potlucks. The more you put into it, the more you get.
4. Start a Carbon Shredders Group
The Carbon Shredders was an effort initiated in a small valley in Vermont. Several folks regularly got together to share ideas about how to cut their personal carbon footprints. The idea caught on because the group held to three principles: 1) Protect the Planet; 2) Save Money; 3) Have Fun. Groups within and out of the context of Carbon Shredders who have followed these three dictums and met regularly have all done well.
5. Volunteer and Do Community Service
I guess the key message here is you do not have to wait until you are arrested or ordered to do community service to reach out and do something nice in the community. Find a local cause or charity and spend a few hours there a week and see if you do not feel more connected and better for the experience.
Any of the above actions work but there are dozens and dozens of other things that will bring the magic of cooperation and community into your life. Rebuild your community and support group and you might find that you need less stuff and are richer for the effort.