too chaotic for community: connection in the age of convenience

by amanda swan

Trauma is a human experience. There is nothing more universally understood than the dichotomy of pain and pleasure. It is the lifeblood of our experience in this dimension.

Healing is a human experience, too. It is also a community experience. The mending of humans happens in community. If you are struggling to heal, it is not because you are weak or inferior. You are struggling because you do not exist in a system that supports your healing.

Precious few of us have the privilege of truly living in community in our society. If you were not born into that privilege, perhaps you stumbled into it by chance. Maybe you worked very hard to access the community you belong to.

Community isn’t a need we can fill by picking something up from the grocery store, clicking a “buy now” button, or scheduling a class or appointment. It is a need that must be filled slowly, carefully.

As social media makes emotional pain more and more visible and covid makes us more and more isolated, humans crave community. The online discussion of mental health issues has brought visibility to an important issue without offering much resolution.

We’ve been aggressively encouraged to ameliorate ourselves, to seek improvement as individuals, to be “better.” But we can’t find resolution for the emotional sickness and disconnection our society has created using the individualistic strategies of the very society that has broken us. We have created a world where we are so overwhelmed with responsibility and obligation, we lack space for each other emotionally.

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde | Biography, Books, & Facts | Britannica

We can’t self help our way out of this. There can be no healing where there is no space to heal. We cannot move forward as fragments of a whole.

But we’ve normalized 40 hour work weeks, praised 50 hour work weeks with gusto, enshrined 60 hour work weeks like a deity. The collective American opinion boasts work as life’s most important necessity.

We have the resources to automate many jobs. We could support a portion of the population not working, or working less, without placing those not working in acute economic distress. We could support people enough that they could construct communities, raise their children, and give attention to the human connections that are the bedrock of our society.

We behave as if humans who do not work in a job that directly equates their time to capital are lazy. We accuse them of lacking contribution. We reject the feminine-encoded work in the community and home that people of all genders would benefit from performing and supporting. We place value only on growing up, up, up, as our roots struggle to hold the ground beneath us.

As Americans, we do not live in a world of scarcity of resource. There is enough food to feed us and enough shelter to house us. We live in a world of scarcity of access, which is much more terrifying. People are so afraid to compromise their own safety by losing access to resources, they sabotage their communities by constructing a world where other humans are the enemies. But the real enemy to face is the structure that prevents greater security.

The moral judgment we impose on anyone who deviates from our work-driven, money-motivated culture is so severe, few have the emotional capacity to live outside this system, even if they could somehow scrape together the material resources.

If someone else didn’t “pay your price” long ago, or if you are unwilling to live caged and indebted to the person who did, you have little choice but to participate in modern America. Capitalism forces you to sell hours of your life, just to earn the privilege of existing in a safe and dignified way.

As we sell more and more hours of our lives, we are forced to find meaning in the work that we do. But that meaning is not satisfying as a monotherapy for emotional hurt. We live in a world of convenience stores, meal prep, and quick fixes. We need to move towards a world of meandering markets, cooking for pleasure, and long conversations.

The system we are enforcing and participating in prevents us from having space to authentically build connection because we lack time. Frequently we pay to exist in community, paying to take classes in community spaces or play on city sports teams. We also pay for emotional connection and support, or seek it out indirectly in a transactional way. We bond emotionally with our therapists, our massage therapists, our hairdressers, our nail techs, the owner of the restaurant we eat at every day. We have to individually purchase emotional support as part of a transaction, offer the money our bodies have earned for us to someone else as our dues, a price for the holding of space.

But our power is in our intentionally created community, in the collective. The elders of our community, the sage humans who have wisdom to offer us, should not be forced to offer their services for money in order to exist. The healers among us have to sell wisdom instead of offering it with the open generosity that often exists in their hearts. They have to throttle access and restrict their services to the privileged participants of society in order to maintain their own livelihoods. We are not interdependent and the healers among us are not exempt from the need to survive.

People who offer emotional connection are forced to streamline and systemize their relationships with other humans, based on the rules of a clinic or the policies of an insurance company. We force people to be responsible for themselves as individuals and deny them the depth of deep individual connection unless they can manage to afford it.

Online, some healers are trying to monetize their internal resources to share because they have no other choice to survive. These lower cost resources manifest in a way that is rarely helpful. Desperate and in pain, hurt humans jump towards these online groups, quick fix resources, and feel-good social media life coaching, not realizing they are diving right back into the painful emotional world that they already live in.

We can’t make healing convenient. There’s no 7/11 for trauma recovery. You have to walk all the way to the market, talk to the farmer about the fruit, take it home to ripen, wash it gently, and eat it slowly. If you don’t, your fruit will always be bitter or tasteless.

We have a collective responsibility to create a world in which the sage and the weak can each thrive and survive among us, in which we can survive amongst each other. We must create a place where we can gather fruit and wait for it to ripen, where we can wash produce with care and eat our food slowly enough to enjoy it. We must find each other again, to connect in networks that go beyond the digital. We must work towards this by eliminating the factors that render economies of convenience necessary, little by little.

Normalize not working 40 hours a week. Normalize the idea that work is valuable even if you are not paid for it. Normalize humans having value beyond labor and work. Normalize the idea that profit is not equivalent to value. Normalize being humans first, and capitalists second.

Then maybe, we can all sit down and experience sweetness.

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