In our previous Article The Value of Community, we discussed what makes a true community. Additionally, we highlighted some of the value it can bring to a person’s life. In this article, we will discuss how the loss of community impacts people.
One hundred years ago people depended on each other for survival. Impart this was because travel was greatly limited. Thus, people who lived near each other were not only neighbors, but their children also attended the same schools and they often attended the same church. Many people lived in a rural environment, which was a great opportunity to create community.
Over the last century, however, people have become more independent. Additionally, travel has increased and the population has become more metropolitan centric. Also, in the name of safety, more and more restrictions exist regarding interactions between individuals. Thus, changing the relationship between people and groups, volunteer activities, and schools.
These cultural shifts have led to a general loss of community. When people don’t know their neighbors, it is hard to have true community with them. The same is true of schools and churches, which may draw people from a wide area. People no longer have the same ties with those people that they once did.
Add to this that church membership has dwindled during the last century. Thus, the church community is no longer present in many people’s lives.
2020’s Contribution to The Loss of Community
The year 2020 has challenged community in ways never experienced before. The lockdown shuttered office doors, churches, and schools. Additionally, regulations prohibited groups from meeting in person.
People were shut-off from any groups or communities that they had been participants in. Even with online school or work, people were distanced from the relationships that they had only days before the lockdown. Working or learning remotely removes the strength of the relationship from the situation. You miss the personal interactions and the side conversations. Even the shared experience of going through the current situation is very impersonal.
Almost every group or organization had to figure out how to do things differently or stop meeting altogether. Many activities were completely closed down (e.g. gyms, yoga). For others, such as church, they became very one-way. Video services were possible for many churches, but they can’t capture the relationship aspect that church provides – no meet and greet, no breaking bread together, and no building of personal relationships.
Even situations that allow in-person attendance have less community than in the past. Two children, for instance, can’t share a private side joke because they are likely required to be six feet apart at all times. This may seem like a small thing, but it is these little moments that build trust, which is a key building block of community.
The regulations and varying opinions on them impact trust and relationships. Even wearing a face mask can dampen trust. This is through no fault of anyone. It is simply human nature to trust less what you can’t see.
Similarly, it is more challenging to know when a member of the community needs help if you can’t see their facial expressions or are viewing it over video conferencing. Although there isn’t strong agreement on how much communication is nonverbal, it is safe to say that the more nonverbal communication that is lost, the more difficult it can be to communicate even simple things. For instance, in a class, a teacher can take a quick look at her classroom and know if the students understand the material. This is much more challenging with masks and even more challenging over video.
Impact of Loss of Community on Individuals
As the sense of community is lessened either through cultural shifts or through the more extreme limitations that 2020 has brought, individuals can be greatly impacted. Unfortunately, the impacts are often the greatest to the most vulnerable.
The elderly and people that live alone without someone close to call for help need community relationships to survive. When those are lost, they struggle. Some of the struggles are to care for themselves and their home, but often the greatest struggles are with loneliness. Since humans are social beings, the loneliness and lack of human interaction can be devastating.
If the person is hearing impaired, as many older adults are, distancing and mask wearing take an additional toll. In this situation, the person may not understand what is being said to them. Thus, they become very frustrated trying to communicate. This may result in withdrawal from interactions with other people.
Another vulnerable community are those people with PTSD. When a person leaves the military, it is critical that they keep in touch with their military family as that is a very important community. If they don’t keep strong connections, the effects of PTSD can intensify.
Similarly, each time a person moves, changes jobs, graduates, etc., they should take special care to maintain their connections to those communities while building new relationships. Otherwise, they become vulnerable to loneliness and depression. It is important for people to recognize that if they don’t have a strong connection to people (a strong sense of community), it is much easier to simply not participate.
In the next article, we will discuss steps each person can take to build community for themselves and others.