On the possibility of community

Is community possible?  Can people with lived experience come together in a community based on common identity, a sense of shared connection and purpose that facilitates the achievement of common goals and the individual welfare of its members?

The short answer is I don’t know.

I know people who believe this community already exists.  I know others who believe that if such a community ever existed it is hopelessly fractured, that we spend more time attacking each other and preoccupied with never ending conflicts and rivalries than anything else.

Community of any kind only exists when it is safe to belong and many people I know say it is simply not safe anymore.

A friend told me his opinion. “If there is a movement it is more like a church with many denominations than anything else. Everyone thinks they have the real faith : the right beliefs, the right positions, and the right worship.”

I don’t know that it is anywhere close to that simple but I do wonder…

I have a lot of questions and precious few answers…

Is there really a movement? Or is that movement more an article of faith that no longer exists in reality? Is there a somewhat homogeneous group of people with common beliefs, common identity and common purpose or is the notion of the movement a fiction, something like an idol we worship?

For many reasons I believe there is a community but wonder if the standard we hold up comes anywhere close to the reality we live.

In the age of the Murphy Bill, and the cultural rush to absolve themselves from responsibility for gun violence by targeting “the mentally ill” can this community have an effective political impact? If so, how? Do internal differences and conflicts marginalize our ability to make any impact?

Can we act? Is there a we to act? Or do we spend much of our time trying to decide who to act with?

Is there an entrance exam? Are there things people have to believe, have to prove in order to be accepted into this community? Can a community based on diversity tolerate diversity?

On a phone conference last night I listened to one person wonder why the “leaders” of this community, of this movement don’t often look like the people they lead.

I don’t know.

I have listened to others tell me they feel like others try to attack them or, in essence, try to disqualify them if say the wrong things. I hear people talk about being “stabbed in the back.” I hear people talk about wondering who can they trust or can they trust anyone. I hear people talk about cruelty and their amazement how a community based in part on the trauma and hurt its members have suffered can be so cruel to each other.

But yet I also know people who would say all this is much to do about nothing. They would say they don’t see the problem and would question whether or not it is just people overreacting to normal conflict between people. I think there are real issues. I think there are real problems but maybe this is one of those things that the truth is somewhere in the middle. I know I would feel better if it was.

I know people who believe that this movement is defined by the goal of abolishing psychiatry. I know others who, even if they agree to to some extent with the sentiment, see this as unrealistic. Psychiatry simply isn’t going to be abolished and if that is your fundamental value you will find your ability to affect real changes marginalized they would argue. Can this community welcome both views?

Some people believe that medication is almost inherently evil and should never be used. Other people say it saved their lives when nothing else helped. Can and does this community tolerate and welcome both views.

Some people believe that treatment doesn’t work and that in fact it hurts more often than not. Others again point to themselves and say that isn’t so. Can this community welcome both views?

Some people believe that the growing trend towards peer support is a bad idea. They say it is a sell out and makes change more unlikely rather than less. Others believe it is a very good thing and improves the quality of treatment and is one path towards making real change. Can or does this community welcome and tolerate both views?

There are probably many other areas where views widely differ. Some of them may reflect basic differences in the way people see things. One person when I told them I was writing this post told me I should look at it in Republican terms. When I asked him what he met he said it was all about immigration. Who was welcome to join? How much of their culture and identity could they maintain? And where there places we didn’t want to accept immigrants from? Again probably way too oversimplified but not without a measure of truth.

If there is a community how much of that community is about changing the wider community it exists in and hopefully making it a better and more welcoming place and how much is about providing a place for people who have been hurt by the wider community to be safe in. I know people who believe one is more important than the other. I know people who believe both are needed and that one assumes the other.

Are there conditions under which this or any other community become irrelevant or impotent to change in the wider community? Where do we stand?

Are there conditions under which this or any other community loses the ability to provide safe refuge for its members? Where do we stand?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. All of them can be answered in multiple ways that all have some justification. But I do have concerns and I have heard enough from enough people to convince me many people have concerns.

I know what I wish was more true. I wish there was less political correctness. I wish we had an overwhelming commitment to honesty even if that honesty sometimes took us to places we didn’t want to go. I remember hearing Robert Whittaker speak about the possibility of an honest mental health system. What if the only thing that mattered was what worked and helped people to find and build better lives. Even when what worked was not what we wanted to work or what we believed should work. We don’t have an honest mental health system…. Very, very far from it.

Is it simply too naive and simple minded to think though it would be worth working towards a more honest community? One more defined by what we see rather than how we see…

(I want to close with somewhat of a disclaimer and apology. Reading back over this I see much I think can be taken in ways I don’t intend. Nothing is meant as an attack or criticism of anyone. I have many more questions than answers. Maybe it is much to do about nothing. The biggest reason I write though is I think many people have questions. And questions never asked are never answered.)

Thanks as always for your time?

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3 thoughts on “On the possibility of community”

  1. I don’t think the problem is disagreement over issues or political positions. It is people attacking one another over nothing.

  2. I’m not much of a joiner or much interested in any kind of community. I support the idea for those who want it. To me, community (the one you mention above included) personally means that if there are 10 people, three of them have big loud mouths and will interrupt me every time I try to speak. Three more will be hopelessly lacking in executive function and attempt to drain resources I need to maintain myself by expecting me to hold their emotional space with them for free, or even find their socks and heat up their soup. A couple of the remaining ones may share mutuality with me and actually connect with me on a 1:1 basis. But, is that really a community, or is that just a couple of random friendships? I saw you write one other time, Larry, that some people feel “other people mean trouble”. I guess I am one of the people who feels that way.

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