Many of us understand love as an immutable emotion that we can summon ad hoc. In the same breath, we do not immediately connect a shared living with a sense of love.
Bertrand Russell once expressed: “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.”
The point of this article is not to explore intimate partner love but a love of community and its implications. Take from it what you wish for your context.
Small town travels
Have you ever travelled along a small-town-infested dust road in the countryside and stopped to observe the town’s ways? Maybe even pausing briefly to fill up for your next journey? Well, I have, and I will share my experiences with you.
Once upon a time, for a brief period after finishing school, I worked for a rusty wholesale company. Cash-and-carry is what we call it. My typical workload involved stock packing. I was responsible for placing items where customers wanted to see them. It was not an exciting job at all; it lacked it all, technicality, stimulation and the sorts. I remember walking in to submit my application and having the manager give me a look of disapproval, almost as if he was warning me against taking dead man jobs. But I needed the money, and I was fresh and excited. And I was about to embark on a provincial tour as I have never before.
So enough about deadbeat jobs, let me walk you through my travels and what I noticed. So every Monday and Wednesday, we would embark on our travels, where we would deliver stock to partner retailers. That often meant we were out of town for a while. Sometimes we’d remain in these towns for hours, mingling with the locals.
Down memory lane
Some of my fondest memories are when we’d drive into the towns and the resident’s welcoming stares. It seemed like they knew immediately that we weren’t from around! Their commotion was palpable, and occasionally they would follow the truck we were in till its endpoint. As we arrived, offloaded stuff and just started observing around, we noticed some anomalies. It seemed everyone knew everyone else, their family, their histories, and the likes! Maybe even their most embarrassing private moments. Everyone knew EVERYONE!
It soon became apparent that with one mishap on our side, then we were not leaving this town in full. Cries could trickle to the corners of the town in an instant. I mention a relatively large town with a diameter of about 2-4kilometers on either side. So I found instantaneity to be quite an oddity. So soon after, we left for a pub called mega-village to de-escalate ourselves.
That was when I began eavesdropping around. The conversations were interesting, at the least. Locals spoke a similar language; it revolved around the town’s welfare and its inhabitants. It went around fundraising money to put kids in school. It went around forging schemes to root out evil the out-of-towners brought. It went around rallying for common causes and shared social ills, etc. I was stunned!
It is all about the shared hierarchy
A pattern became apparent with time: They had a hierarchy that worked. They had not more than two clusters at any time. The township was one, and suburbia the other. The township had a councillor, and so did the suburb. I learned that any local was welcome to attend their weekly meetups in a chosen community hall. I discovered that during times of expansion and uncertainty, like when outsiders moved into the town, then specific protocols had to be followed.
The outsiders had to be demarcated at certain lands, and the distinction between them and the old town had to be clear. The new town would, in essence, be its own supercluster. This peculiarity was present in every town we went to.
The new residents had to assimilate themselves with the mainframe. Information about their backgrounds and history had to be produced. They had to be stripped naked, all this for the sanity of the new town. But with all that having been done, they had to learn to love their neighbour. That involved participating in the town’s events and learning the old way.
The famous adage ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ could be expanded in this case. Not only does it breed contempt, but maybe also love. I am pressed to say that only a deep-rooted shared love could lead a community to such measures to protect its identity and unity. It seemed to me that micromanaging was the key.
I was astonished when the hard data got expressed. Hendrik, a local farmer of the suburban cluster, told the town’s new data when stuff got quite interesting. Together they had put thirteen kids through top-league schools in the larger town. They had also put four deserving students through their first year of university. They had united and forced the government to build six elderly couples’ new homes. Not only did their alumnus prosper in other cities, but they had a heightened sense of pride. They were more willing to help others because they knew firsthand the power of sharing.
They had more vitality because in them was the impression of a whole community. It dawned on me that raising a child really takes a village. Immediate family is the most essential, true! But a community catches you when you go out the gate. Only a structure can decide whether you leave your yard into a hyena clan or a more attentive one. In the end, we need people when we need them; we need them ad hoc. And only a shared purpose, driven by some shared love, can achieve that. That does not imply that a community should always be in your face; instead, a bigger purpose binds you, and a family must rise when duty calls.
It’s also true in the new world, although we never raise or talk of it. We do live in communities, in clusters, but it seems at times that we’d rather be anywhere but with each other.
Ultimately, I hope we can see it for what it is and move towards more grounded and community-centric ways.
Thanks for reading. Happy living.
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