The reason I’m going on about communities is that we live in a time of atomization; many civic and religious communities are weakening (see Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam). We can try to replace these groupings with individual friendships, which are important, but they are intrinsically less stable. Communities nourish our mental, emotional, and spiritual health in a way that individual friendships cannot. Doing things together has many benefits, including supporting our motivation to keep developing and providing a more beneficial influence in the wider community.
Social capital is defined as the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.
From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_capital) – In the first half of the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville had observations about American life that seemed to outline and define social capital. He observed that Americans were prone to meeting at as many gatherings as possible to discuss all possible issues of state, economics, or the world that could be witnessed. The high levels of transparency caused greater participation from the people and thus allowed for democracy to work better. The French writer highlighted also that the level of social participation (social capital) in American society was directly linked to the equality of conditions (Ferragina, 2010; 2012; 2013).
We could conclude that the documented decline in social capital in the USA and other places is a causal factor in the decline of participatory democracy and equal opportunity.
And what’s causing the decline in the fabric of our cultures? Robert Putnam names technology as a factor, starting with television in the 1950’s. Before then, we used to do all manner of activities in person, together. Once each home had it’s own television, interest in being with others dropped off. This trend has only been magnified by the development of more and more attractive opportunities to live in our isolated electronic universes.
In such a world, how can we resist the tide? It’s true that many wisdom teachings, including the Buddha’s, are now more widely available than ever through electronic channels, and no doubt this is a great benefit. But to put those teachings into practice, we must have real relationships with real, living, breathing, imperfect humans. It might take an act of will to participate in an activity that cuts into our “down” time surfing the net or living in a fantasy world. But, even if there are inconveniences about communal activities, it usually feels good to participate in a situation where our awareness of others is heightened and we are encouraged to connect. Too much time looking inward without a skilful framework is a recipe for delusion. We each need to find our own balance of looking inward and embracing others.