We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If we are to survive, if we are to avoid destroying the planet and its people, we need to learn to care about each other and the common good. We need a new culture that isn't competitive and cutthroat, that isn't every man for himself. We have to realize that we're all in this together. That we need each other.
There are some things we need to do. We need to help people understand the new, more positive, visions of human nature and happiness. We need to support community, the "sharing revolution," and localization.
The Empathy Connection: Caring For People You Don't Even Know
We need to engage people, but it's not just what we do but the way we do it. If we want people to care for the common good, we must evoke empathy — the idea that caring for the common good means caring for people you don't even know. Empathy is an emotion that connects you to others, helps you see life through their eyes. We've seen that empathy comes through all sorts of community activities like "stop and chats," study circles, and sharing your tools.
But all of these things can be done in a half-hearted way. Too many people just go through the motions with no enthusiasm.
The necessary emotion is joy. We must have more than community. It must be joyful community.
Community: Inspiring People Through Joyful Solidarity
Why is joy so important? Because to inspire people to bring about change — to work to create a culture of caring — we need the strongest, most motivating emotion there is, and joy is the ultimate experience of happiness, the essential desire of our lives. We are a depressed, cynical, lonely people, and only joy will move us.
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On a personal level we're isolated and unhappy; on a national level we're so divided by hostility that our government is paralyzed. Not only is civic responsibility declining, there's a decline in any kind of group activity. We have no sense of mutual responsibility, no joy of solidarity. And solidarity is all we have to use against the powers that be.
We must inspire people to come together. To paraphrase Antoine de St. Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, if you want someone to build you a boat, you don't just give them tools, wood, and plans; no, you teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. We can't just shake a finger at people. We have to give people a vision of the joyful life so that they'll throw themselves into its creation.
Dancing in the Streets: Rediscovering Communal Joy
How do we do this? We need the equivalent of what Barbara Ehrenreich has described as "dancing in the streets." In her book of that name, she discovers that as civilization has advanced, people quit dancing in the streets. Dancing in the streets is something real that people used to do, but it's also a symbol — a symbol of communal joy. Ehrenreich says that people in power realize that people who dance in the streets are people you can't control — so it's gradually driven out of the culture.
Ehrenreich does a fascinating job of tracing the rise of civilization and the demise of the experience of collective joy. As capitalism rose, joyful ecstasy fell. In particular, the people at the top learned to look at the joyful dancing of the "primitive" people as something disgusting. Disgust and disdain are tools the powerful use to control the underlings. Feeling "disrespected" is one of the primary forces behind rage and anger.
This is Progress??? From Community... to Lack of Participation... to Isolation... to Depression
In the 17th century, people were apparently hit with an epidemic of depression — something new to people. At the same time, people went to events like plays and concerts to be entertained, not to participate as they had done earlier. As the caste system was solidified, people became obsessed with self-presentation and status. And individualism and isolation grew.
Then, in the 19th century there was a rise in suicide. Max Weber, an influential sociologist and political economist, saw this as the rise of Calvinism and capitalism — two ideologies that created an "unprecedented inner loneliness" in a competitive, sink-or-swim economy. You existed to work, not to enjoy yourself with other people. Both Calvinism and capitalism destroyed spontaneous impulsive enjoyment.
This all seemed to occur, argues Ehrenreich, when the class system arose (again wealth inequality). She quotes an anthropologist, Victor Turner, as seeing the dancing of peasants as "an expression of communitas — love and solidarity in a community of equals."That is something we no longer have — but it is the vision that we're searching for.
So to create a new culture, we need to create the equivalent of dancing in the streets — people coming together for joyful community, finding joy in the other fellow. This was what we were doing in the '60s. All the movements were centered around music and people dancing and marching to the music.
Reclaiming Exuberance and Enthusiasm through Community Celebrations
"Dancing in the Streets" was recorded by Martha and the Vandellas in 1964 when the civil rights movement really became visible to the rest of the country. It was in 1964 that northern students went south to work in the movement and everything changed. Lyrics in the song called out, "This is an invitation, across the nation, A chance for folks to meet!" Exactly! Who among us can not feel the lure and excitement of the civil rights movement when we hear the music of the '60s?
We need to reclaim those feelings. It's more than empathy; it's joy in the other fellow. It's what Kay Jamison, in her book Exuberance: The Passion for Life, refers to as the "wine of the gods." Exuberance is an ebullient, effervescent emotion that is unrestrained and irrepressible. Pasteur said the Greeks gave us a wonderful word — enthusiasm, "a God within." "Happy is he who bears a God within, and who obeys it," said Pasteur.
What happens when people no longer care? Depression and loneliness and a loss of connection to others. A decline in happiness.
How can we evoke joy and exuberance?
One thing comes to mind — community celebrations (i.e. Farmers Markets, Festivals & Fairs)
©2013 by Cecile Andrews. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New Society Publishers. http://newsociety.com
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community and the Common Good
by Cecile Andrews.
The heart of happiness is joining with others in good talk and laughter. Living Room Revolution provides a practical toolkit of concrete strategies to facilitate personal and social change by bringing people together in community and conversation. The regeneration of social ties and the sense of caring and purpose that comes from creating community drive this essential transformation. Each person can make a difference, and it can all start in your own living room!
About the Author
Cecile Andrews is a community educator focusing on voluntary simplicity, "take back your time," the "Sharing Economy," and Pursuit of Happiness Conversation Circles. She is the author of Slow is Beautiful, Circle of Simplicity and co-author of Less is More. She has a doctorate in education from Stanford University. Cecile is very active in the Transition Movement in the US. She and her husband are founders of Seattle's Phinney Ecovillage, a neighborhood-based sustainable community.