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I remember growing up in a little village. It had local village shops where the store owners knew their customers by name. I spend my early years with the same school friends and I knew all my neighbours. My next door neighbour became Santa at the local village hall every year, there were local fundraisers and village fetes that brought the local residents together. There was a strong sense of camaraderie, support and common purpose.
I moved from this village at the age of 12 to a larger town. It was a culture shock to go from being part of a community to a more impersonal world of a bigger town. I started a new school where friendships had already being formed, neighbours kept themselves to themselves and there was very little in the way of community projects. Whereas I’d once had community I now lost myself in books and had a much smaller network of people to interact with.
I went on to University at 19 and suddenly my social life became much richer. There were societies I joined and I met people with common interests. There were also the people on my course who I shared the same goals with.
This experience taught me that although community may no longer be on the doorstep it can still be found if I went looking for it. I had gone from village life where community was an organic and a natural occurrence, to realising that if I still wanted to feel a part of something that I would need to go looking for it. Whether that be joining groups and societies of people with common interests or enrolling on a course.
There was a psychologist and a historian called Philip Cushman who coined the term ‘the empty self’. Cushman says:
It is empty [the self] in part because of the loss of family, community and tradition. It is a self that seeks the experience of being continually filled up by consuming goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners and empathic therapists in an attempt to combat the growing alienation and fragmentation of its era
This lack of sense of community, Cushman believes, leads people to try and fill this emptiness from external sources. Although some people find benign sources to try and fill this gap, others may turn to drugs & alcohol, gambling, shopping addictions, self harm, and at the worse end of the spectrum even to suicide.