Restoring Community – Our Longing for Belonging.

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life  Winter Issue 2017

“The hunger to belong is at the heart of our nature. Cut off from others, we atrophy and turn in on ourselves.”  John O’Donohue

Last September I travelled around the country hosting an event called ‘ Stories and Conversations for a Healthy, Happy and Sustainable Ireland’ as part of Convergence, the annual festival that we have coordinated since 2000. This participative session was held in Dublin, Carlow, Cloughjordan, Galway, Cork and Limerick and offered a platform for local projects and social enterprises to tell their stories. We wanted to celebrate people-powered responses to challenges like housing, inequality, energy, food, waste and climate change. Following these short presentations I facilitated a conversation where participants explored questions designed to bring a deeper understanding of common ground, and to discover what holds back or what would help these community-led endeavors to flourish.

The process was fascinating. We heard stories about happy regions, smart neighbourhoods and sustainable energy communities; we listened to people working on biodiversity, permaculture, health and inclusion projects; we heard about new co-operatives and social enterprises that are strengthening local economies and offering meaningful livelihoods; and were introduced to fresh ideas from social innovators that are helping to make their communities healthier and more resilient. There is a wide variety of innovative community-led activity going on in Ireland; we need to hear more of these stories to inspire transformational change.

In the conversations that followed it became clear that it is the passion and enthusiasm of a small number of people that drive these initiatives and they tend to be poorly resourced. However these citizen-driven projects provide an opportunity to connect and cultivate a deeper sense of belonging. One of the biggest barriers identified was the dominant culture of individualism and consumerism, making it very difficult for local projects or enterprises to attract and maintain engagement with their activities, or for people to value what they offer.

It is this story of separation that is making us lonelier, tearing our communities apart, and now threatening the living systems on which our lives depend. We navigate the world together, through stories, and the one that currently influences our behavior, and how our society is shaped, is toxic. It is a narrative that completely misrepresents our altruistic nature and dulls our human values. A new story rooted in community and belonging is emerging that offers path to a healthier and more convivial future that fits our current reality, socially and ecologically.

In his latest book, ‘Out of the Wreckage’ George Monbiot suggests that, ‘it is through restoring community, renewing civic life and claiming our place in the world, we build a society in which our extraordinary nature – our altruism, empathy and deep connection – is released.’  A good life is built through good relationships, when we come together we overcome alienation and social fragmentation. This makes us happier and healthier, and strengthens our ability to adapt to change.  In the last two weeks in May at Convergence 18 we will be facilitating conversations around the country exploring the restoration of our communities and celebrating the people that are nurturing a deeper sense of place and belonging.  Join us!

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