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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Loneliness and Our Craving for Community

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We are, a lot of us, a great deal sadder, more anxious, more incomplete and more restless

than we really need to be because of something very large that is missing from our lives.

Whats worse, we dont even know what this thing is and how much we crave it, because

we dont have the right concepts, experience or encouragement to help us locate it. What

we long for and are slowly dying without is: community.

They tell us that we are suffering for all sorts of reasons: because were afraid of

intimacy or are low on serotonin, are beset by anxiety or trauma or are chronically dysfunctional

around attachment or trust. These may be accurate enough descriptions

of our symptoms but they arguably leave the real causes of our miseries untouched. To

come to the point, its worth holding on to a basic historical insight: for most of

our time on this planet (by which one really means, for 99% of homo sapienss evolutionary

existence), we lived in communities. That is, groups of 20 or 30 people who worked together,

cooked communal meals, and lived and died around each other. For most of history, wed

watch the sun going down with the same people we knew deeply, trusted, sometimes bickered

with but overall felt overwhelmingly connected to. Wed shoot the breeze, wed comfort

each other when we were sad, wed drop in unannounced on one anothers quarters, wed

chat over our pains and stresses and at special moments, wed dance together and occasionally

fall into ritual ecstatic states where the normal barriers between egos would dissolve.

Its only very late on in history that weve started living in condominiums, commuting

to work in offices with people whose values we dont share and eating for one in cities

of ten million strangers. Of course, arguments from evolutionary history arent always

useful. For most of history we suffered from chronic toothache and didnt have access

to hot bathsbut no one would argue against our abandonment of our natural state in these

areas. Nevertheless, holding on to the idea that we were once tribal and now most definitely

are not can help us to put a finger on something that we may legitimately miss and urgently

need to recover a semblance of.

What happens to us outside of life in a tight-knit community? Firstly, we get very concerned

far too concernedwith falling in love with one special person who (were

told) will end our customary sadness and provide an answer to all our societal needs. Unsurprisingly,

this enormous pressure on what a relationship should be is the single greatest contributor

to the collapse of unions that might, with more manageable expectations and a more close-knit

friendship circle, be entirely viable. We end up having to throw a lot of people away

when we want them to be that most cruel of things: everything. Secondly, the very pressure

to be in a couple means we bolt into relationships that should never have started and stick far

too long inside toxic situations out of terror of singlehood. Thirdly, in our alienated condition,

the desire for connection can morph into a longing for extreme success, fame and reknown:

we grow materially wildly and insatiably ambitious out of an unquenched emotional need for nothing

more esoteric than some good friends. Even if we do have some, theyre liable to be

scattered around the world, cocooned in their own relationships or unavailable to us most

of the time: weve let our terror of intruding on one another scupper a yet more precious

need for an atmosphere of near-constant mutual assistance. Finally, our picture of what that

nebulous categoryother peopleis like grows very sombre because we meet one another

not in person, but via the media, which constantly gives us cause to believe that other people

are fundamentally mad, extreme, dangerous and cruel.

Even though we collectively pride ourselves on living in highly innovative times, we remain

absurdly traditional in thinking about social set ups. We have a million new apps a year,

but no one ever seeks to reinvent how people might live together. Sadly but understandably,

communes dont have a good reputation: one thinks of religious extremists, weird fanatics

and messianic leaders. None of the genuine advantages of bourgeois life or simply of

reasoned existence seem compatible with communal living. Furthermore, everything legal and

commercial seems set up to frustrate any wish to live together: land costs a fortune, building

is only for the very brave or the naive, how would one work, who would do the laundry,

what would everyone think…? Nevertheless, its worth pushing the imagination

a little, and sidestepping some of the practical hurdles for long enough to get the mind working

(the material questions can always be solved once an idea properly takes root).

Imagine, for a moment therefore, what it would be like to live in an ideal kind of community.

It might be an elegant set of buildings in a desert or on the edge of a forest. Everyone

would have a room, twenty or thirty in all, modest but dignified, laid out amidst an array

of charming communal areas. Breakfast, lunch and dinner (simple and nutritious) would be

eaten in company at long tables. Thered be a commitment to look after one another,

and fellowship based around shared ideals and values. The craving toget ahead

would subside: it would be enough just to be accepted by this group. This would be ones

tribeto whom one would open ones heart and entrust a substantial part of ones

life. Wed have a joint sense of what meaningful labour was and some of the most important

work would be offering one another reassurance. We might have partners, but we wouldnt

expect them to be everything; a chance to share thoughts and emotions with others would

take a lot of the pressure off couples. Wed have a daily impression of mattering to people.

Our impulses to addiction, power and paranoia would lessen. Wed rarely go online.

The point isnt, right now, to have an exact blueprint for a commune but to wake ourselves

up to our desire for one; after which everything can flow. Our ancestors were unfortunate in

a thousand ways, but they may well have had something were unknowingly dying for: their

own tribe.

Our perspective cards feature tools for a wiser, calmer perspective on life. They help to restore calm and clarity, even during difficult times.

The Description of Loneliness and Our Craving for Community