What is the place of community in a boy’s rite of passage?
It is to nurture and rear a confident individual, one who feels a sense of belonging and commitment, and invests in its well-being. It also means realizing that one cannot always make decisions or act in purely selfish ways.
Sensitive new-age radical guy (SNARG) Robert Campbell feels that community is compromised by the current spate of solitary pastimes such as tv, computer, headphones, and videogames. These pastimes give the idea of being involed with others while in fact they frequently isolate us. And, the more time spent in isolation, the harder it is to integrate gracefully into group activities and to develop a comfortable repertoire of social skills to enable us to become fully functioning and participating adults.
One might argue that a degree of solitude is restful and necessary to discover one’s own interests and examine one’s own behaviour. However, solitary activity is not necessarily the same as solitude and what Robert is referring to is more of an escape than a time of reflection and self-examination.
These ideas make me wonder about the Stanley Cup riots that recently rocked our city. Would they have happened if those involved had felt a true sense of community? I wonder if a small community that knows and depends on each other would foster such behaviour. Could this happen in a primitive community or a community struck by a natural disaster where the need to work together becomes glaringly apparent?
Of course there is the element of scale to this kind of contemporary riot and others precipitated by sporting events or populist frustration over economic or government policies.
For thousands of people to converge on a downtown core, even though many (most?) did not even live in the city itself, seems like a strange modern phenomenon both from the perspective of being attached to a community and from the perspective of mass media marketing of organized sport. So much for the home team where all the players grew up and lived in that community and were an intrinsic part of it.
And the physically localized community of home-grown businesses and multiple generations of families and a symbiotic relationship that the home team represented is sadly now, also a thing of the past. The big box stores and transiant nature of North Americans, growth of suburban communities, economic opportunism, and over-structuring of everyone including young children have all contributed to the demise of the local community and consequently the feeling of responsibility for each other and the physical place where we live.
The Stanley Cup riots were probably just the manifestation this lack of community: a cohort of young people invited to a mass public gathering representing no real community based around a lavishly marketed entity (hockey), with lots of beer advertising and aggressive and sexist cheer-leading to boot.
Studies show that almost all social problems are actually community problems. Crime, alcoholism, domestic violence, child poverty, homelessness, and more. They stem from a community that has stopped caring and being involved on one hand and a community that feels despondent and alone on the other. Everyone is out for themselves even though hurting one ultimately hurts all.
But in our world where the capitalist model of elbowing out the competition founded on a fear of falling behind has seeped into our social world as well so that now we cannot be content to do a simple job very well. The desire for fame and notoriety is so great now it seems that we cannot be happy for someone else who is doing well or making an improvement in their lives. The rush to acquire, be seen to succeed, and somehow feel innured from the onslaught of economic and social ills that plague our communities only gives a false and temporary sense of security, making people scrappy about what they still hold and blind to the true culprits of the scene.
Witness the recent announcement in the U.S. that banks are going to demolish houses that have been foreclosed but for which they still can’t get back their money, despite the fact that thousands of middle class people have now joined the multiplicity of homeless people – including children – in that country. Is this going to help people get back on their feet, regain their confidence, or feel supported by their community?
Many things have contributed to our plummeting sense of community and I think many people who are coming of age in 2011 feel this lack of true community so accutely that they are willing to do stupid, innane things just to get noticed. Notoriety, no matter how damaging to your personal integrity, seems to be a powerful driving force.
If we can turn back the tide of rootlessness by instilling in boys (and girls) a sense of their place and importance in our communities, and mark the transition from childhood to adulthood with a meaningful ritual, perhaps we can move one step closer to giving support for the suffering that occurs when there is no community and eventually creating a community to grow and thrive in.