June 1, 2018

A Cup of Sugar

We love neighbours. We aren’t talking about Ramsey Street.

We are talking about Fletcher Street, Johnson Street, Lawson Street and Marvell Street. We are talking about all the people in those houses and the local shopkeepers, who make our community. Our neighbours in our towns are the most important social assets we have.

We need to cherish and celebrate those relationships because they are our vaccine against loneliness.

Despite the advent of new channels for digital connection, we are getting lonelier. Of all the ways and means we have to reach out and communicate, we don’t seem to be able to do it in a way that is anthropologically meaningful.

The impact of loneliness is pretty dire, with one study suggesting that it increases mortality by 26%. Some studies have placed loneliness as one of the most significant public health issues, placing it in the same strata as substance abuse and diabetes.

It’s the way things are in the modern world though, isn’t it? Our urban organisation sees modern people living in insulated and nuclear family units, disconnected from extended families and without the support of extended families, surrounded by friends who are facing the same isolation. The insular organisations decrease the ability to defray the resources required for caregiving and support and the rising cost of childcare is an issue that disproportionately impacts the vulnerable members of our society.

In a recent blog about the cultural life of ‘women’ in Byron Bay and the Northern River’s region, local real estate agent Su Reynolds described our community as a welcoming place where people come to ‘heal’. If you look at the reasons why people might be drawn to the community for healing, these loneliness studies indicate that what they might be looking for is a place to belong.

We are designed to and have evolved to live in a connected social community. In early times, the ability to learn and communicate about where to find resources and how to avoid threats was critical to our survival. Technology has evolved to make this sharing of ‘news’ easier than ever before…however, what we seem to be missing, and longing for is the ‘sharing’ part; which is just as important.

Our community is famous for the authentic way it expresses itself, and the way it embraces new people and all ideas. That isn’t an accident. It is based on a community value that preserves the quality of relationships, over quantity. It preserves offline, over online. It preserves human over, digital. As our population grows, we must always take steps to preserve our neighbourly ways.

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