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We’re starting a new column this month called “Home on Wheels”; it focuses on alternative places to live and alternative communities. The first introductory article was written by Any Nobody; you may have previously read her article “Why read at all”. In the new piece, Any Nobody explains what communities are and how healthy communities differ from unhealthy ones.

Any Nobody

“This is relevant because. We’re all now in immigration. Sticking with each other in one way or another, and would be beneficial if those communities were healthy”.

The author is known

In this article, I’m going to discuss communities and what makes them healthy. By ‘community’, I mean a group of people who know each other personally, are engaged in a common endeavour, and/or have been in a specific area for an extended period. I’m speaking from the perspective of a hypersensitive person (meaning I naturally notice things that aren’t visible to others; see Wikipedia for details). I will primarily reflect on my experiences, but I will also try to incorporate various texts I’ve read and conversations I’ve had where possible.

Warning one:
This article is not intended to be comprehensive but should be considered an invitation to discussion. Share your experiences, leave comments, and provide feedback in any form.

Warning two: In this text, I present a vision of healthy communities based more on negative experiences than positive ones. Therefore, this text may be considered visionary (or disconnected from reality, if you prefer).

Warning three: The author of this text grew up (to her deepest regret) in a society based on oppression and discrimination. Consequently, she may carry all kinds of prejudices and stereotypes. Be patient if you can. So, let’s begin.

Syrena squat, Poland. Photo from the squat’s personal archive

Unhealthy Communities

The first thing that characterises unhealthy communities is the imbalance between the individual and the collective.
This imbalance can manifest in various ways. To begin with, let’s examine the predominance of the collective, which is more characteristic of post-Soviet countries (this article was first published in Russian and intended for their citizens). The key sign of the predominance of the collective over the individual is the community’s unwillingness to change to meet the needs and characteristics of its members. For most people, this type of community will be a workplace or a school. Which has deadlines, schedules, and obligatory tasks to fulfil, even if you, as a worker or student, do not see much sense in them and/or are unable to complete them within the given schedule. Let me say right away that when organising anything with more than 5–6 people, a willingness to sacrifice something and adjust to the interests of others is required.

A separate topic is the predominance of the super-collective over community activity, or the predominance of theory over practice. In its most extreme form, this is how discrimination works: if you are a woman or man, black or white, gay or heterosexual, it is assumed that you have certain characteristics and abilities, and your role and status in the community are based on those. There are also more subtle examples—views or positions on certain issues take the form of non-negotiable dogma, and any attempt to question them or even just clarify ends in expulsion from the community. I should note that some (supra-collective) factors influence the life of the community regardless of the participants’ will: climate, political and economic environment, etc.

A good illustration of the predominance of the individual over the collective can be found in the fable ‘The Swan, the Crayfish, and the Pike’ by Ivan Krylov. The moral of this fable, in short, is that if we do not choose a certain compromise direction, there will be no movement. In a community with the predominance of the individual, everyone pursues their personal goals without finding a suitable collective form.

The second axis of our discussion is the imbalance of openness and closeness. Here, I will be brief. People who have tried food fermentation (making alcohol, sauerkraut, or leavening dough) understand what I mean. If the fermentation product is not open or closed enough, nothing will work out. Any community needs an inflow of new information, people, and ideas to develop, but if that inflow exceeds the community’s ability to process it, the community dissolves into the surrounding culture.

Squat A.D.A. PULAWSKA, Poland. Photo from the squat’s personal archive

Healthy Communities

Here we should probably start by saying that there is no single form for healthy communities; they are as diverse as life itself. However, I think there are signs that indicate they are healthy. These include:
Participants, for the most part, are able to take on roles they find acceptable and/or enjoyable. I will use cooking borscht as an example. When cooking borscht, you need to: wash ingredients, peel, chop, grate carrots and beets, keep an eye on the pot and pan, and clean up after cooking. In a healthy community, after these tasks are voiced, everyone can take on a pleasant (acceptable) task or do nothing (we all have different energy levels, and the same task may require different amounts of effort).

A lack of people with authority by default. In other words, authority is fluid and requires constant validation. As one teacher told me, authority is narrow and distant from life. With today’s volumes of information and the state of culture as a global multitude of cultures, any authority is limited and far from reality as a whole. Just because I’m a great cook doesn’t mean my judgement is more valid outside the kitchen.

Coexistence of alternative positions and opinions. There (remark for the picky ones) is no question of everyone saying and doing whatever they want. Every culture I know assumes a code of behaviour, taboo topics, and some common understanding of reality, upon which a beautiful garden of unity and diversity might grow (or not). A good example of this is the academic community. A university may have a history department where everyone studies history and educates a new generation of teachers (a common goal). Although theories about history, views on certain events, and interests in particular historical periods may vary, they coexist (diversive approaches and practices).

Consistency of community activities with stated goals and values. A good example of inconsistency is schooling. The stated goals and values are to develop the child and teach knowledge that will be useful in the future. In reality, it often results in the formation of an obedient personality, with a habit of having no control over their life, blindly following authority, and filling their head with useless information.

P.S.: If I were to summarise what I wanted to convey in this article, it would be: try to understand rather than judge, and be kind rather than demanding. The world is already cruel enough; we don’t need to breed more cruelty.