Having previously established that strong communities will be at the heart of a New Ism, Mel and Alex look at just how to create those communities.
Mel Young and Alexandra Matthews, the founders of The New Ism, are practising social distancing at home in Edinburgh and London respectively: we wanted to take the opportunity to discuss how this time of change and reflection could be harnessed to create a New Ism when all this is over. As members of different generations, we have different experiences and perspectives, but share a desire to create a new way forward.
Mel: In our last blog we wrote about community and how important it was. The pandemic has created a great deal of discussion about community as well. People have written about how people have come together during the pandemic in a positive way and how they have supported one another during very difficult times but will this persist after the pandemic has left town?
Alex: It would be nice to think that the community spirit will persist after the pandemic is over, but sadly part of me is sceptical. It’s easy to unite in the face of a common foe (in this case, the virus) and to look out for one another, but without effort from both individuals and institutions, I think it will be all too easy to fall back into our bad old ways. What do you think could be done to keep the ‘spirit’ alive?
Mel: Well I wonder if the whole issue about this new community spirit is a bit exaggerated. I mean where I live there always was a community and we supported each other quietly: the pandemic has simply brought that more into focus. The media and politicians have constantly talked about the new community spirit. If you look at countries across the world and how they have dealt with the pandemic, poorer countries have actually adapted better in many instances because there was a strong sense of community particularly in rural economies.
Alex: Interestingly, from my perspective I have definitely felt more that I am part of my (very) local community than before the pandemic. People seem friendlier and are watching out for one another. Maybe it’s because I’m a millennial and we have a tendency to exist in little bubbles – and also because I live in a big city – but I’ve never felt part of a local community before – often, I haven’t even known my neighbours.
How do you think that being a part of a community has helped poorer countries adapt? And what can we learn from them as we start to emerge from this crisis?
Mel: I think it is interesting what you are saying about not knowing the neighbours – I think this has to do with living in a huge city and rushing around. But in poorer countries people will support one another in order to survive – I have seen this many times. You can imagine how a small village would react to the pandemic where everyone knew each other. You can see people allocating tasks next to their skills and sharing with one another.
So, that’s what we need to learn – how to support one another all the time. We need to start by recognising that we are all human beings and can co-exist side by side – we need to stop being so individualistic. We need to realise – and perhaps this pandemic has taught us this – that everyone has an important role to play in any society, no matter what they do. People who work in supermarkets are very important to all of us right now – we couldn’t do without them – but before this, most people just ignored them and saw their job as unimportant, a type of ‘serf’ job if you like. We need to stop thinking like that again. Full stop. Everyone is important in a thriving community and we should look after each other. If we did that then our individual and collective mental wellbeing would improve greatly.
Alex: I agree and think that that will be a core value of a New Ism – if everyone is truly valued, then no one will be left behind.
I’m interested in figuring out exactly how we do this as a society. My feeling is, as I think we have mentioned in a previous blog, that we have to focus less on owning stuff, and more on belonging – after all, countless studies have shown that a sense of belonging is far more important to long-term wellbeing than wealth or the acquisition of stuff.
Is this shift something that needs to be implemented by people at an individual level, or do our leaders need to get involved, for example by investing in community initiatives and spaces?
Mel: I think that this is one of the key challenges for The New Ism. How do we create communities in a globally connected world – we understand the benefit of being part of a small community and we want to play a part, but we also want to be global citizens and enjoy the benefits of that: often these two are contradictory. We can’t go back in time. The challenge is how do we reconcile them both. Leaders should certainly invest locally and citizens need to take more control but that challenge will still remain.
Alex: These are all really good points but they’re huge and complex, and I’m a bit stuck, to be honest!
Mel: I think everyone is a bit stuck here. But we can create change. When I come to London I find the atmosphere to be unfriendly and impersonal but when the Olympics were on in 2012, it was like a completely different place, everyone was friendly and welcoming and it was fantastic. But about a week later it was back to being unfriendly. Why can’t that Olympic atmosphere prevail all the time?
Alex: Yes that was shortly after I moved to London and the atmosphere was amazing – so warm and inclusive – as you say, sadly that is the exception rather than the norm.
I wonder if the key here is purpose. The Olympics was something that we all got behind, to the extent that it made a huge city of 8 million people feel like a community; defeating coronavirus is another thing that we have united behind, sadly in much worse circumstances – but the commonality here is the purpose, which is bringing people together. Perhaps we need to create a longer term purpose, for example the fight against climate change, which would bring small and large communities together. To be discussed!