By Izzy Woods
We live in what seems like an increasingly disconnected world. Many of us yearn for the community spirit our grandparents so often talk about, but with so many people immersed in their virtual communities, and with the rise in commuter lifestyles, it feels like the times of befriending and supporting your neighbors is a thing of the past. More and more people are finding that they’re living in neighborhoods where they hardly even know the person who lives next door.
When we switch on the news all we hear are stories of war, murder, crime and fraud… It’s little wonder that depression, and stress related illnesses, are at an all-time high. The world ends up feeling like a dangerous place, where people don’t care and people don’t want to help.
However, when you switch off the TV, log out of Facebook, switch off your iPod, and get out into your local community, you may be surprised by what you find. This idea that everyone wants to live individually, disconnectedly, simply isn’t true. What is true is that people are a little nervous about reaching out; people don’t know where to start. They want to connect, but many are afraid of putting themselves forward. This is why community projects are so vital. They’re an invitation to get involved which requires no one to single themselves out and be vulnerable on their own. It might be intimidating to cross the street and greet your new neighbor, but joining in with a local building or gardening project is a great way to reconnect at a slightly slower, slightly more anonymous pace – at first. Once people get started, it’s like they remember how easy it is to smile at someone they pass on the street, and the comfort a simple cup of coffee with a neighbor can bring.
The rise in depression is often linked to disconnection of some sort. Whether it’s from family, friends, or from your own sense of self. So it makes sense that sufferers of depression are often advised to reach out for help from others. Whilst some of us may enjoy some peace and solitude from time to time, not many of us want to truly be alone in life, to not have someone we can turn to, to not have a support network.
Humans are social creatures, and when communities come together you can see the benefits almost immediately. You can feel it in the air. There will often be laughter and joy. New friendships are formed. People from different generations work together side by side to help build something they can all be proud of. It’s really a beautiful thing, and it has a real, tangible impact on people’s well-being. When we feel useful, involved and appreciated we can’t help but feel better for it. Plus, taking part in physical work, especially when it’s out in the fresh air, is additionally beneficial: it gets your energy moving, your blood pumping, you get vitamin D from the sunshine, and it connects you with your body and with nature. So really, these community projects are vital for our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, as well as beneficial for our environment and communities as a whole.
When a community is strong and united, crime rates in that area often decrease. With a greater sense of collective responsibility and connectivity, it becomes harder for people to hurt one another. Crimes such as theft and vandalism are easier to commit when it is against something or someone unknown. But when a community of people are more involved with each other, this becomes harder to do. Even with heavy issues such as child abuse and drugs, community spirit can make a huge difference. These problems become more severe the more isolated a person is. But when a parent has a local support network, or there are local drug abuse treatment programs, these issues are less able to grow and spread.
All For One, and One For All
When a community comes together to work toward something good, everyone and everything around them will benefit. A project is never just single-faceted; the building of an eco-friendly home is never just about building a house, the clearing of wasteland to grow a vegetable garden is never just about area development or sustainable food. It is always an exercise in healing, for the land, the people and the spirit of the community.