Finding the Door

The need for safety, and the urgency to secure food for our table have become paramount concerns.  Our many problems are not simple.  We find ourselves facing the onslaught of multiple crises and unprecedented complexity.  Never before has humankind encountered such challenges. 

Our lives depend on a complex global economy, a fragile supply chain, and an international monetary system based solely on confidence.  We watch apprehensively as the world’s population explodes exponentially, even as food production dwindles.  And, hidden in plain sight, the interdependent digital systems which manage and coordinate almost everything we need, can be easily disrupted.

Long-time readers will recall my concerns about the capricious unpredictability of complexity.  This is a new threat we have never before encountered. Already confronted with personal hardship and civil disorder, we must also brace ourselves for the threat of complexity—the shockingly unexpected.  

The hand-holds to stability are loosening even as we reach for them.  As the horizon darkens, where can we find the door to stability?  How will we build a future we can accept and believe in?

My argument that dependable neighbors are essential and that safe, functional communities can actually be created, has usually fallen on deaf ears.  Sadly, this is difficult to imagine in today’s America.  Yet it is something we have had before.  America was built on the foundation of coherent local communities, and we can learn how to do this again.

The wholesale destruction of communities by the industrial revolution, and the subsequent domination of a faceless corporate society, has had major consequences.  The loss has blind-sided Americans, and I believe it to be the primary cause of growing distrust.

Throughout history, local communities have been the place where human beings develop our personal identity and where we learn what it means to belong somewhere.  This is where we build relationships and gain confidence in our ourselves as individuals.

Americans are intelligent and quite capable of thinking rationally.  But for many generations we have been enveloped in mass society—a corporate-dominated reality.  And, mass society has its own impersonal interests which are not our own.

Today true community very rarely exists.  We don’t know what this is.  Political community is often the only community we have, and partisan politics are defined by division and conflict.

Most of us barely know our next-door neighbors.

Few of us live in a neighborhood that provides the safety and organized coherence that communities have provided in the past.  While we may not be aware of everything that has been taken from us, we certainly know the uncertainty, insecurity and alienation that the loss of community has caused. 

Hurtful experiences are common in this uprooted reality, especially among young people. The natural consequences of resentments and alienation are often misconstrued as disrespect or disloyalty or worse.  But blame gets us nowhere.

Any of us might behave just as desperately if we were faced with similar insults and injustices over long periods of time. Let’s think before we draw conclusions.  If we are ever to understand people, we need to ask questions, and to listen with the intention of understanding.

Nothing I am saying requires us to alter our personal values or views.  But a civilized future can only be built with civility, respectfulness, and responsibility.

We learn that people are trustworthy and dependable by allowing ourselves to know them as friends and neighbors. The best way to learn what people are made of—and to actually build trust—is to work with them shoulder-to-shoulder, meeting shared needs and resolving local problems.

This is the door to safety.  Each of us is capable of walking through it on our own, without regard for the confusion or misbehavior of others.

Yes, building safe local communities will be challenging.  But we can learn this skill, just as we have many others.  Practical guidance is available, and I intend to assist.

However dark the future seems, each of us possesses a lamp we have the power to light. Even the smallest lamp will dispel the darkness, which has no existence of its own.

Tom

Note to readers:  You may watch for the next post on or about January 1.  A project description and several sample chapters from the forthcoming book are available in draft at the top of the homepage.