"The community approach is now essential, not just necessary and desirable. We need to turn our political system on its head to enable people to take control of their own lives and give everyone a stake in society". This statement from English Liberal MP Paddy Ashdown reflected the sentiments of a Cities of Pride conference in Birmingham late last year. It highlights the need to rethink our approach to the structure society is to take as we near the turn of another century and millennium. The huge advances in economic structure and consumerism in society this century has also carried with it an alternative body of theory and policy which emphasises the necessity for people to empower themselves, become more self-sustaining and to work with the local environment.
So what is the "community approach"? To me it means a group of people who can live together in an area small enough for good communication, and large enough to have personal space for each individual. It sounds simple. It is, although there's obviously a lot more involved, otherwise we'd all be doing it!
It seems we have gone as far as we can as individuals in our longing for pleasure and knowledge, and these things have become instinctive. Maybe the next evolutionary step is for people to come together and pool this knowledge. Now, that's not to say that if a group of like-minded people came together they would live happily ever after. Invariably this does not work, as was illustrated by communities formed out of the New Left Movement of the 60's, which dissolved soon after they were formed.
"There's a lot of evidence that for a community to be sustainable and successful, it must be "unintentional", i.e. it must be the by-product of bigger thinking. It must be a means to an end, rather than the end itself," according to Stephen Davies, who has been studying community lifestyles for years. "There's a subtle but very important difference between forming a football team for the sake of forming a team, and forming a football team because it's the best way to satisfy the desire to play football."
In ancient times in Ireland, and all over the world, people lived in tribes, where the basic social structure was the 'extended' family. Strong and supportive relationships were built up to enable this community life to continue. The same principles can be applied today. In order for a community to stick together it needs individual members with the will to live together, and with the ability to communicate their feelings, all their feelings.
We are very lucky in this beautiful country of ours that we have a chance to keep it green and fruitful, to empower it in our care, and consequently empower ourselves. Imagine planting a tree seed, and then waiting. With lots of patience and gentle nurturing, a fragile seed becomes a sturdy tree. It's a natural, organic process. So let me plant this idea in your head. If we take responsibility for our own lives, and spread this further to encompass a community of people, then slowly and organically this community gains strength, and the quality of our lives improves. Given half a chance. It sounds easy. It is...