Are We Paying a Price for the Eclipse of Community?

It’s sad and disturbing.

And, it isn’t the result of anything we’ve done but rather more about what we haven’t done—myself included.

When a lone gunman went on a murderous rampage in the Washington Navy Yard this week, we barely broke stride. Even though it resulted in 12 people being killed and another 8 injured, it barely registered as a bleep on our radar, we all just went about our business.

Have mass killings become so commonplace that we’ve become immune?

When exactly is enough, enough? How many innocent bystanders have to be killed before we (especially our American neighbours) say that’s it, and meaningful action is taken to determine why they’re happening in the first place.

While it clearly is a complex issue, every mass murder has had two things in common.

At the heart of each killing has been an angry young or middle-aged man who clearly demonstrated a need for psychological help long before he saw a massacre as a solution.

Secondly, that angry man had access to lethal assault weapons.

In the United States, lax gun laws make it far easier to get guns including automatic weapons.

However, it might just be that there’s another issue at play that could ultimately impact each and every one of us.

In a recent interview, Jack Levin, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston put it this way;

“The most important trigger for mass murder is the eclipse of community, the decline of neighbourhoods, the reduction in the communal aspects of everyday life.”

“In other words”, as one reporter put it, “The huge decades-old relocation of Americans seeking employment and a better life has created a sort of mass loneliness and hardened the American soul”.

While there are many of us working at the grassroots of communities who intuitively have seen the value of community in addressing violence, we have also sensed and are worried about its decline.

Even though many practitioners are using community development as a vehicle for building and strengthening a sense of community and belonging and for strengthening the community’s capacity and resiliency to address complex issues such as violence and mental illness, there isn’t a widespread appreciation for its importance.

As a result, community building is rarely legitimized as a core service, often done off the side of a practitioner’s desk, and rarely addressed as a responsibility of those in serving in leadership roles.

So perhaps the simplest and yet perhaps most complex solution is to help ensure we know one another and have a sense of belonging. Maybe in the end all we really want is to know we are connected to someone who has our back.

Posted on 09-19-13

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