Monday, 26 November 2012

How much do People need People?

Shades of Appley Green is about the lives of individuals but it is also about ‘community life’. This is what I often say, but what does that actually mean? Different things to different people, I expect, depending on your interests, age and general circumstances. How much do people need other people? Are they necessary to give you an identity?
You may know I was brought up in Tetbury, a small Gloucestershire town of about 4,000 inhabitants; it gave that sense of belonging, where you felt connected.
Now living in Surrey since 1977, and many more places before that, I have never forgotten that feeling, where you could go down several roads and name each family who lived there. Here in 2012, it is a different world, where former villages have merged into something of a suburban sprawl and acquaintances are nationwide, even global.

Look on any map of Great Britain and you see an enormous mass of villages, but in towns, and even in the London metropolis, there are pockets where you can spot the hub of a community – an old ‘village green’ or park, a church, community hall, a school and a small parade of shops – where residents find a local identity.  
Before retiring in 2008 I was working as a Community Support Worker – a modest kind of job that involved supporting people with information and a listening ear. For two years I was with an organisation that helped teenage mothers, often lonely, who had little help from family or friends; and following that I went out, armed with a lot of empathy and leaflets, to see people with Parkinson’s. If you read Shades of Appley Green you can see and feel the pulse of village life, and strong characters who struggle and overcome on the one hand, single parenthood and on the other, the loneliness that can come with Parkinson’s. It is, I hope, an uplifting book, not a miserable one, but it does look at the downs as well as the ups of life!

Homo sapiens is hard-wired to be tribal – that is my belief. There is a basic instinct in us that drives us to belong – whether to a family, friends,neighbourhood, club, profession or via the Internet – social networking! ‘No man is an island’ – who said that?  Birthdays, weddings, and funerals are usually celebrated or marked in the company of our ‘tribal group’. In evolution, there was strength in numbers, co-operation was key to survival. Lone individuals or nuclear families proved inadequate to defend themselves or their territory. They needed back-up and, later, division of labour.
Of course, there are introverts and extroverts, requiring company and solitary hours in varying proportions. Personally I happily spend hours alone absorbed in what I am doing, but always in the knowledge that I regularly meet up with friends and family. I know gregarious people who can scarcely bear to spend five minutes on their own. I have visited (and been welcomed!) by people living alone insisting they are quite happy and do not need people at all; but then it slips out in conversation that they are on anti-depressants and wonder why they have a constant feeling of anxiety hanging over them.

I was wondering how the rest of you feel on this? Would you be one of those who claim you would be fine on that ‘desert island’? Or, are you a socialite who needs constant interaction? Are you able to achieve the optimum levels of company/solitude or is this something you don’t even think about or aim for? I’d love to know.
I was going to write about things I get up to in my patch of Surrey that help me, now that I do not work, with community spirit, but clearly that will have to wait until next time. Enough, already … !

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  1. Interesting post Miriam. I do believe that it's inherent in us all to 'need' people. I think sometimes that can be hard to admit, especially for those who find themselves on their own for a number of reasons, but not by choice. But sometimes it is nice to have time on our own - have our own space. If I had to choose between permanent isolation or no 'alone' time, I'd recoil from total isolation. A trouble shared is a trouble halved, and a joyful moment is magnified when it's shared!

  2. Very interesting post. As someone who has so little opportunity to be 'alone' I do find myself craving some isolation at times. Though, I suppose ultimately, if isolation was my only option I'd crave people! I do dream often of living in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. Not sure how great the reality would be though!

  3. I guess I'm a balance between both Miriam. I'm hopeless at small talk and now parties hold absolutely no interest for me, although when I was in my twenties I loved organising them and inviting all sorts of different people along for food, wine, dancing and chat. Now I much prefer to invite friends or be invited by them, to dinner. What I also value, however, are friends whom I have made over the years. My oldest I was at school with, I've known her 50+ years. For me she's the sister I never had. At leaat once a year I also see the two women I shared the office with in my very first job. I've lots of these friends - singles, couples, small groups that I keep in touch with and see regularly and I enjoy and value their company. However, being a writer I also like to have time alone to concentrate on the creative stuff. Time when I can close the door and be totally cut off from the world as I step into the parallel universe which is my current WIP.

  4. What a fascinating post. A topic I’ve not given much thought to before. I suppose it’s very much a matter if people prefer to be on their own by choice or whether they are forced into that situation. I’m more than happy in my own company, finding crowds and parties very daunting as I struggle to strike up a conversation with someone I don’t know. Take me to a desert island, an isolated cottage and as long as I have books and my music I would be content. But only for a short time. Without my circle of family and friends I would be exceedingly lonely and unhappy indeed.

  5. Hi Miriam - interesting post and very relevant to our times. I'm conscious of a lack of sense of community in many towns and cities now, exacerbated I think by improvements in housing which have given us more privacy but also unintentionally cut us off from neighbours. then there are developments in economics, transport etc which means we spend more time outside the home and have less time to forge local bonds. But people do need some sense of community, which is partly why online communities have grown up, which also make us spend more time in our own little corners.Luckily it's not all bad news and even in my own new suburb there are lots of local facilities and events, but I don't like the prevailing trend to individualism when IMO people need to be together! AliB

  6. I think it was John Donne, the poet, who said "No man is an island" :-)

  7. Go to the top of the class Square Sparrow!! Sorry - I only just noticed that.