Community and Sustainability

feast.jpgI have been trying to figure out how to build community within our self-centered, capitalistic, system. It doesn’t seem like the two go hand-in-hand. I remember I tried to set up a community freelance site for writers and it flopped before I got it done. I think it didn’t work because people don’t want to have to work without cash to get a community system up – they expect to be paid for it. I also tried to set up a community website at a non-profit, and again, the community refused to step up to the plate. People say they are going to be involved but then the majority find ways to excuse themselves from being involved in a community project. It takes up too much of their time and they are simply too busy unless it has a dollar attached to it. But, then, places like Craigslist and Wikipedia are able to set up communities without paying people, however, not eveyone makes a profit either. So, how would you set up a community that is sustainable without engaging in overt greed and profit mongering?

Church Communities

I’ve noticed church communities are great for building sustainable communities, but the wealth is really not spread across its membership. If you give to the church, they take that money and use it to pay their staff and the buildings. Extra doesn’t go back to the membership. Yet, many volunteers donate lots of time to run a church and they don’t get paid for their services. However, we all need to survive in a capitalistic economy, so why aren’t they compensated if they need their services so much? There should be other ways besides money to compensate volunteers. If we are engaged in a capitalistic system, it doesn’t seem fair then to engage free labor. I think it’s this mentality that volunteers are free labor that is killing non-profits. There is a conflict between our economic environment and the needs of the volunteers. It’s hardly a sustainable community if the membership isn’t being supported materially as well as spiritually.

Tribal Communities

When you look at how some of the older tribal communities worked, things were a bit more even and co-operative. If one person had too much wealth, they were expected to share that wealth with others in their village by hosting feasts. It was a privilege to be asked to host a feast because people recognized that you were in God’s favor and had wealth to spare. It also provided a great deal of unity within a village and helped those who were less well off. This type of community isn’t just about supporting a structure or a building, but about taking care of all the villager’s needs. There was some sense of social responsibility that, to put it bluntly, we just don’t have in the United States. Everyone is in it for themselves. Is it a difference in culture or is it just our own self-centeredness and short-sightedness that keeps us from helping others in need? Or is the capitalistic system just set up as a competitive game that will never make it easy to build community within? I wish I knew. I do know that you do have to return something back to the community that gives to you, even if you don’t give it back to the individual. Otherwise, it is not sustainable. Community and sustainability go hand-in-hand, even if they conflict with capitalism right now.

*Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by ^riza^

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2 responses to “Community and Sustainability

  1. You have discussed an interesting topic and the only people that I have found that may shed some light on this are the Amish. They seem to have found a place where spirituality and community come together. I’ve spent a number of hours discussing various topics with members, young and old and have found them to be very business savvy and I must say capitalistic as well. The Amish seem to me to be very close to what you are looking for, I’m not entirely sure if it is necessary to adopt all of their customs but it may.

  2. Bill, I do think the Amish are very smart, business-wise. It may be that the trouble isn’t so much the business structures in place, but a very basic ideology that rules people’s behaviors. If you grow up Catholic, odds are you will retain many of those behaviors, because they are inbred from when you were young. Similarly, young people in the United States are inbred with an ideal of “wealth at all costs.” This recession is going to be a hard lesson, but a necessary one. There are now individuals who indebted themselves by $100,000 or more to become lawyers who are living in their parent’s homes, unable to get a job. Their main aim in being a lawyer, they will admit, was the creation of monetary wealth. When that becomes uncertain, it’s going to impact that value system tremendously, and then community values may have more of a fair shake in the American psyche.

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