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.