Saturday, 31 March 2018

Lacking Community?

I have been reading a lot on peace-building and relationships recently. This morning, the passage was on grief and bereavement. Associated with grief and bereavement are changes in relationships and our reaction to them. Retirement is one of those situations where relationships are changing.
Considering that we moved half way around the world to spend time with our daughter, her husband, and our two grandchildren only to have them move to the US and then back to New Zealand, you might think we were used to seeing relationships break up and having to establish new relationships. However, as I reflect on my planned retirement in July, I am conscious that outside the workplace, I actually have few close relationships. It therefore seems strange that I should sever the workplace relationships to enter the uncertainty of retirement.
However, reflecting this morning, I came to the conclusion that part of why I am prepared to walk away is that few of the relationships in the workplace are actually valuable for my health and have little to do with enabling people to be who they should be. Even the closest relationships in our small research group are focused on obtaining research outcomes. Other relationships are all about teaching outcomes. I am not sure I could identify any that are really about the people involved. There is not a sense of being part of a community from which I am withdrawing.
I would like to think as a lecturer, I treat my students as people that I want to encourage and help to grow but I have to admit that the reality is that it has become more about ensuring they jump the hurdles in order to obtain their degree. There are some friendships that I have established with students that have tentatively lasted beyond the teaching sessions but most are fleeting interactions in a lecture, tutorial, or laboratory session. The larger the classes, the fewer opportunities to get to know the students and to really help them find what it is that inspires their interest. There is no sense of community here.
I look around and although we might call our middle class neighbourhood a community, I do not really see it operating as one. I think back to my childhood and how the neighbourhood children played on our back lawn, how my parents shared the produce from the garden, and how we meet regularly with our cousins. I would not call it a brilliant community but I know that my mum was part of the local church community and supported by it after dad died. There was something there that I sense is missing from our modern maximising income and profit society.
I look across town at a group that I have some distant links with and I see them active in local community building. They are looking at the potential of the local community and how to build relationships. It is not an affluent community and I wonder whether that makes a difference. Does it also make a difference that key people in that community are working in areas where they are actively helping the disadvantaged?
Could I join such a community and feel that I could be part of it? I fear that I might actually be disruptive to what they have operating even though I know that in Auckland, we were actively involved in helping a small struggling church survive without a pastor through working at sharing the responsibilities. Yes, it put pressure on myself and some of the other key leaders. We departed after I found I could no longer keep up computing contract work, theological study, and leading the church community. The strain just proved too much. Could we have organised differently so there was less pressure on the few key people?
Building good healthy relationships and communities is not easy but I see it as vital to individual health. The operation of modern society does not encourage healthy relationships or community building. Most people are involved in a range of communities. Some are beneficial to them. Others put substantial strain on them (i.e. the education community). I really wonder what would happen if we gave people more time away from the workplace to focus on being part of a community. In fact,
  • What would happen if we made the local community the centre of our economic life rather than the workplace?
  • What would happen if that local community focused on ensuring that all its members had the resources that they need to survive?
  • What would happen if those local communities then interacted with their neighbouring communities to exchange surplus resources to meet needs of the other community?
  • What would happen if instead of maximising what we gained for ourselves, we were more focused on an obligation to meet the needs of others and to the enabling of their potential?
  • What type of society would we have and would we fear so much for our own security?
I wonder whether our problems actually stem from the emphasis on maximising personal and organisational gain. I know the objection. Someone will always try and rip others off but I ask whether that is in actual fact the result of generating an individualistic society focused on personal security and wellbeing rather than a community that shared together and worked to meet each others needs.
As I conclude this blog, I realise that it is not just the lack of meaningful relationships in the workplace that makes it easy for me to walk away. Ultimately, I am walking away because I no longer believe in the system that education is designed to support and create. It is increasingly something that I do not believe in and I no longer want to spend time supporting. If someone was to come to me and offer an opportunity to be part of a small group education programme focused on individual learning that was prepared to help people find what it was that inspired individual participants and that operated without time limits or artificial performance goals then I suspect, I might sign up.
So, yes, I am leaving an artificial community that contradicts what I have become but I am looking for a community that respects who I am and my potential so that I can help others be respected and fulfil their potential. That means getting to know who the other person is and what really inspires them.

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