No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.
–M. Scott Peck
Our individual processes of becoming do not take place in isolation, but in the midst of other people who are also in their own process of becoming. Whether we like to admit it or not, our lives are inextricably linked to not only the people with whom we interact each day, but also to people who we will never meet. Globalization and international trade have made us interdependent on vast populations of strangers, all of us acting in our own self-interest through markets that produce more goods & services at lower prices than any other form of economic organization.
Far from being an atomized system of disjointed selfish interests (to be distinguished from benign and healthy self-interest), capitalism and markets are predicated on complex interconnections between people, the removal of which would inaugurate mass world poverty, famine, disease, and war. Indeed, the Second World War was in many ways catalyzed by the destruction of these vital interconnections.
The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, in the Order for Compline, puts it this way, “O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
If anything should give us pause in our age of hyper-individualism, it ought to be the contemplation of how our lives would be different if we were cut off from even the most geographically distant people in the world. Contrary to Ayn Rand and her misguided followers’ chiding, capitalism is a communitarian (that is not to say communist) economic system. This is not at all to diminish the importance of the individuals involved in the system–quite the opposite–it enhances the value of each participant.
Community requires healthy, self-reliant individuals who are mutually interdependent on each other.
If this seems like a paradox, that is because it is. Community requires resilient men, but not Super Men (Übermensch)†. With the exception of the disabled, the infirm, the very young, and the very aged, we ought to be able to take care of ourselves and our own basic needs through the deployment of our own labor. Modern technology has empowered us occupationally in ways that would have been inconceivable to past generations. Few people legitimately lack the faculties to sell their labor in the marketplace for sufficient sums of monetary value to support themselves in meeting their basic needs. Yet in the midst of this, we are still deeply dependent on other people–not for their charity–but for their contribution to the same interconnected system.
The problem is not that we fail to have communitarian connections to the rest of the people in the world, but rather that we fail to recognize the connections that already exist. We fail to see ourselves as integrally connected, and hence we have misperceptions about what constitutes and benefits our own self-interest. Stock market sell-offs, for example, are not the result of atomized self-interest, but of a failure to recognize the multi-tiered effects of panic. Recessions and systemic failures of our economy are most often caused by a malfunction in our discernment process.
While all of this is rather important to our lives, it does not do much to satisfy our inner longing to belong. We may be part of a globally interconnected economy system, but that hardly makes us feel accepted, loved, and valued. Some people advocate a retreat from globalization into regionalist or localist economic structures so that we better value the other people around us. This would have the effect of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
What we need instead are reformed institutions for the cultivation, propagation, and sustainment of community within our tangible spheres of existence. We need places to gather, share, connect, and become vulnerable to one another in such ways as will engender collective support of each other’s families and children so that we might grow together. That is to say that our intentionality of becoming must be both an individual and a community process.
Becoming and Belonging are deeply intertwined. They cannot exist in isolation of one another.
In order for us to become more than what we are, we need interaction with and the feedback of other people. In order for us to belong, we must be growing, shedding ourselves of our infantile and selfish tendencies, and stretching our souls to make room for other people. Belonging and creating a place for others to Belong is as much a part of our vocation as Becoming.
Indeed, it is in the creation of and participation in true community that we are able to imitate with the human race the internal economy of the Divine Trinity. United by a single essence, humanity has only been divided by sin, through our free will, creating amongst us the appearance of atomization and the painful feelings of alienation. While the perpetual presence of sin in the world makes it impossible for us to fully realize the Divine Economy of the Godhead in our relations with our fellow man, we are nevertheless called to pursue it as our noble and holy calling.
This requires risk and vulnerability, as Peck observes, and our evolutionary bias is against these things in favor of self-preservation. But the future of humanity depends on our willingness to embrace our divine vocation to become and belong, and the perils associated with its passionate pursuit.
† The author apologizes for the overly gendered language in this sentence, but it was necessary for stylistic effect.