The Communities of Man | May 2000

FMBR Editorial: May, 2000

The Communities of Man

Marshall Pease

Everybody participates in many communities ranging from family, neighbors and friends through coworkers and professional associates, formal and informal clubs of various sorts, religion and political parties, even nationality and, unfortunately, often race or ethnic origin. I use the term as naming any group in which one feels a member. The existence of a complex system of such groups is a human characteristic. Some animals do live in groups the pack, pride, or band. However, in humans the concept has broadened out to an enormous degree. Even in Paleolithic times, the cave paintings and petroglyphs suggest a matrix of associations with animals, people and other groups. There were also trade routes spanning the whole of Europe even in Paleolithic times. These imply communities spanning large distances and many diverse groups. In modern times, most of us spend much of our waking life as well as time, energy and resources in all the many communities of their lives. Psychological health is almost defined by the ability of an individual to participate effectively in this variety of communities. On the larger stage, an elaborate system of functional and functioning communities seem to be essential for the health of nations, cultures, and probably civilizations. Some of these are formal communities the institutions on which we depend. Others are informal but no less potent. Dependence on this system seems to have become a dominant and uniquely human characteristic.

The negative side of this dependence on communities is that they not only identify their members but also those who are not members. By its very nature a community is not only inclusive but also exclusive. Some organizations pride themselves on being open to everyone, but they still identify who belongs and who does not. Others set up rules as who is a member, and so who is not. A community therefore remains a tribal force, distinguishing "us" from "them" with the implicit danger of setting "us" against "them." In addition, any community rather automatically sets priorities for its members at least by setting its customs and belief system and often using more formal and sometimes coercive ways. A member who refuses to accept the community's priorities is at least looked on with some suspicion and may even be labeled a traitor "to his class."

These priorities can prevent its members from using a more global viewpoint. If the community is a business for example, it must emphasize the "bottom line." This is true both for the corporate entity and for those who are its leaders or hope to become one. If the business is ecologically damaging or such that it threatens the health of its workers or customers, its managers are almost forced to seek ways to ignore the risks or damage and even deny they exist. The customers are "them" and the bottom line must rule.

The obvious answer to all this is to recognize the community of humanity, taken as a whole. Or, even better, the community that is the Earth and all its living things. Most people acknowledge both these communities intellectually, but only abstractly. We, as a people, are very far from living them or seeing them as essential to our own mental and spiritual heath. Using a modern phrase, these global communities are not recognized by individuals as the foundation for their own sense of self-worth.

There is reason to be hopeful that we are moving towards knowing the importance of participation in the global communities. We are a long ways from that goal, but we have also moved a long way towards it. Perhaps we will manage to get there before we destroy ourselves and the Earth. At least we can hope.

Marshall Pease, May 2000