Cecile Andrews --
Simplicity as Community
Taken from the December 1997 introduction
New Dream Conversation of the Month
Simplicity as Community
the stranger says: "What is the meaning of this city? Do you huddle
together because you love one another? " What will you answer?
" We all dwell together to make money from each other," or "This
is a community"?
is central to the vision of Voluntary Simplicity because our lack
of community is both a cause and an effect of our extreme consumerism.
People feel lonely so they go to the malls to be around people.
Or, they go home to an empty house and turn on the TV for the
sound of a human voice. (In 1950, only 10% of households consisted
of just one person, but by 1994, 24% of households had only one
on the other hand, people not only fill the emptiness that drives
them to consume, they can begin to save money and preserve resources
by sharing, bartering, or purchasing things together.
So, as we
urge people to reduce their extreme consumerism, it's not enough
to just point out the problems. We have to offer them alternatives
to lives of shopping and television. One of the alternatives is
a life lived in community.
When I was
just out of college, I worked with the American Friends Service
Committee in North Carolina, living and working in a poor, African-American
community. I was stunned to discover the experience of community
that existed there. I had read Paul Goodman's book, Growing Up
Absurd, and when he said that middle-class Americans grow up without
experiencing community, I didn't know what he was talking about.
But there in that poor, black neighborhood, I discovered what
hot summer nights, people sat out on their porches, chatting and
watching the kids play in the streets. Because it was a poor neighborhood,
the houses were small and close together, so as you sat out during
the evening, you could call to your neighbor and talk about the
were no secrets in that community. You could hear couples fighting
through the thin walls, you could hear doors slammed in anger.
So there was no pretending, no putting on a false image. People
knew who you were. People might gossip, but you were recognized
that was from my sterile suburban upbringing where the houses
were far apart, there were no front porches, and people escaped
to their back patios to hide from their neighbors. There was no
corner grocery store to walk to, there weren't even any sidewalks
beckoning you to walk. You could only drive to the anonymity of
the shopping mall, where you filled your sense of emptiness with
a new sweater or new pair of shoes.
But why do
I tell you this?
I tell this
experience because we are at a crucial time in terms of the development
of community. The experts and authorities are beginning to study
it! They are developing their definitions and analyses. They're
telling us what's wrong and what we should be doing.
But the Simplicity
movement is a people's movement. The definitions and analyses
must come from people's authentic, lived experiences. One of the
reasons we are a nation of consumers is because the experts and
authorities have taken over so many aspects of our lives. We do
what we're told, even though the orders are subtle, expressed
in the flashing colors of advertising. We are easily manipulated
because we are passive observers of life.
We must keep
the simplicity movement a movement of the people, and the definition
of community must come from us.
So in my
work helping people form simplicity circles (a small-group, egalitarian,
participatory, form of learning)- my focus is giving people the
opportunity to develop their own ideas, values, and visions by
studying the lessons of their own experience.
One of the
reasons simplicity circles are so popular is that people are able
to begin to satisfy their need for community. People not only
experience community, they are defining it and learning to build
it in the rest of their lives. As they experience the delight
of talking with kindred spirits about matters of substance, they
can move beyond the "weather-restaurants-movies" conversations.
The simplicity circles revolve around questions that are answered
from people's real life experience.
One of the
simplicity circle questions is: "When in your life have you experienced
community? What was the core of the experience?" From the telling
of these life stories, people begin to define community for themselves.
stories we move to an analysis of our society. We ask "What in
today's society keeps us from experiencing community?" The next
step is to take action - each participant states what concrete
action to build community that he or she will take that week.
The next week the circle begins with a discussion of the actions.
Some people succeed in their intentions, some people fail. But
they all learn as they trade stories and ideas and practical suggestions.
is how I would like to approach this on-line discussion of "Simplicity
with your own experience. Describe a time in your life when you
experienced community. What was the core of that experience? Feeling
accepted? Feeling free to be authentic? Shared values?
say a few words about what is blocking you from experiencing community
today. Is it television, the car, air-conditioning? What is it
3. And finally,
what can you do (or are you doing) to increase community in your
life, both on a personal level and a societal level. Society,
of course, has many levels -- it might be your neighborhood, your
city, the country, or the world.
All the levels
are important. We need policies that increase community - things
like shorter work hours, new designs for neighborhoods, or maybe
a limit on television advertising or broadcast hours. But we can't
neglect the personal level, because if we don't experience community
ourselves, we will never know what it really is, and once again
the authorities and experts will take control and define community
the way it best serves them.
Most of all,
we must nurture the voice of the people. Simplicity and community
cannot be defined by the experts - we must do it ourselves.
your response. Some of you will choose to ignore this approach,
but I would encourage people to look to their own experience.
No more second-hand ideas!
information on Simplicity Circles you can read Cecile's book.
For simplicity circles near you, consult the Simple Living Networks
State-by-State Study Group page at http://www.simpleliving.net/