If we’re going to get back to being serious about community, we need to learn the lessons that have been taught – we need to learn about community killers and create new ethics. We’re going to need to make sure our communities have enough fresh air and sunlight, and we’re going to have to choke out the known parasites before they get going.
Curiosity as an ethic is something that hasn’t been tried yet, and being a curious sort myself, I’d love to see it get going. Functionally, curiosity can serve as a way to get that fresh air into a community – if it’s not just okay to learn new things and investigate new groups and try new skills, but it is *expected* and *valued*, then we will see people naturally move around within the larger community, making wider nets, but also move from community to community.
Wait! Isn’t too much movement bad? Yes. But you have to have some. And we aren’t going back, we’re going forward! We are NOT going back to “you were born here and you will die here”. Some folks will, because once the love of the soil returns, that’s a powerful tie. But some won’t – some will want to go to communities that fill their passions. And that’s just fine. Passion is a good thing. Some will go to the places and people who do the thing (whatever the thing) best, and then bring that great thing home.
What passions? Of course being classically minded, I think of crafts. If you fall in love with glassblowing, there are centers where glassblowing is particularly excellent – generally because of centuries of practice and naturally good sand resources. But there are others as well – theatre, dance, song, weaving… skiing, rock-climbing, soccer… etc. You get the idea. These passions are things you might be fortunate enough to do as your work, but probably you are doing for joy. And you have to try on a lot of passions before you find the one or ones you want to chase down in this lifetime. An ethic of curiosity and openness gives you not only the opportunity to do this as a youth, but to continue to try new things throughout your life, which again – gives you the opportunity to grow and change while still staying in your community, but it also gives your community fresh air. As you bring in new things, new ideas, new conversations, you make sure your community doesn’t calcify. A strong center is one thing, calcifications on the outer parts are for insects, not people. Just ask anyone whose squishy parts get hard – it hurts. Not a good thing. And that kind of calcification drives people away.
So then, you have the ethic of curiosity, where “oh what did you learn?” and sharing passions, sharing crafts, becomes a status marker. (There will always be status markers, may as well find ones that bring light). We then fold in the ethic of openness and invitation, because we need to let folks try lots of things out and not necessarily commit to them or get good at them, just let them try and see what’s up. This same ethic of openness extends to the World Outside, inviting them to see how good community can be. Think of how water flows in nature… the ethic of curiosity and openness keeps our pond from forming algae.
A negative ethic is a strong prohibition on gossip. Go ask someone who has lived in a small community about “why did you leave” and every one of them will mention people getting into their business who had no business being there. Gossip is a very human sin, and every religion preaches against it, because it’s terribly damaging. I spent some time thinking about this, because how do we (without using religious ethics – and even in religious communities, gossip can be rampant) squash this urge?
- Use contempt. “I don’t need to know that.” “Ew. Are we really dissecting X’s love life? Nah, I’m out”. Etc.
- Particularly in the early wading-in stages, make it clear that it’s just “not done” – if you must indulge, indulge in those who have volunteered (anyone on reality TV). We don’t do that to OUR people.
- Develop a solid definition of what is and is not gossip, and exactly where the lines are. Yes, you can say, “please pray for Susie, she has illness in her family”. No, you can not say, “Please pray for Susie, that woman can not keep a clean kitchen and her family has food poisoning yet again”.
Developing new ethics will be difficult, and we’ll have to have each others’ backs as we go forward, but if we are determined to bring community (with its costs) back because of all its benefits, we can at least think about how to avoid the pitfalls of those who have gone before.
What ethics do you think we should encourage? Comment here or join the party over at Historical Femininity! Current participation code is HISTFEMTRIAL3 (use your PC to apply – easier than phone) and I will be keeping a coupon until I feel like the party’s really hopping.