A recent article I wrote talked about community. What it is and why it’s important to prioritize and care for it. You can read it here if you like. This article is going to expand upon that one by detailing a recent experience of mine with my good friend D.
A few weeks ago I visited D in his home and got to experience first-hand the community he has become a part of over the last few years. It was wonderful.
My goal for this article is to communicate the priceless nature of community. Through the lens of my experience you will appreciate how community makes life good.
A community cannot be bought nor sold. It can only be built through consistent daily action. There is nothing we can do to speed up the formation of community; it takes tremendous time and energy. But in return for these things we receive that which human beings need most; to be attached and to be authentic.
Building and maintaining a community isn’t glamorous. But it is, in my humble opinion, one of the best uses of our resources.
So read on if you feel like this is for you.
The Start – I Visit My Friend
To get the most out of this article I suggest you read this one first. It will give you the context regarding my close friendship with D. He’s one of my best friends, we’ve been close since 2006. Just a few weeks ago I visited him in his home in Tlaxcala, a state two hours east of Mexico City. I stayed for two and a half days.
Before continuing you need to know a little more about my friendship with D.
My friendship with D, as well as with my other high school friends, has always been characterized by unremitting, mutual teasing. We call each other names, question our competencies in everything and use all manner of profane language to describe the other’s sensibilities.
There’s something about teenage boys friendship’s that demand you make to fun of each other endlessly. D and I have been friends since we were teenagers, so the habit of teasing each other has carried forward into young adulthood.
We’ve been giving each other a hard time since 2006 and it appears we will continue doing so until the ends of our lives.
No sooner had I arrived in Tlaxcala than D and I were already making fun of each other. It felt like homecoming. This is the dynamic with all of my close childhood friends. This is also how it goes with my male college friends, who are all American. Goes to show you the teasing dynamic transcends cultures.
Why Do We Tease Each Other?
If you’re a male, you’re going to tease your male friends. And you’re going to tease your female friends too, in different ways.
I’ve come to see it this way: the more you know someone the easier it is to make fun of them. Furthermore, the more you trust that person, the more likely you are to express your uninhibited thoughts/feelings to them. The more trusting a relationship the more authentic it allows us to be.
Making fun of your friends shows you care. It shows that you get them and that you’re unafraid to express yourself truthfully with them. It’s also massive fun.
Interestingly, this is a dynamic which also presents itself in hunter-gatherer communities. Hunter-gatherers make fun of each other incessantly. For example, if a hunter succeeds in bringing down an animal during a hunt he will be teased; he will be called lucky, the size of the animal will be diminished and the credit for the kill will be spread among the tribe.
Making fun of tribe members insures that no one gets too big for their britches. This happens mostly with men. Hunter-gatherer tribes are fiercely egalitarian; this mutual teasing is key to maintaining equality among all members. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are at something, if you don’t behave humbly, you will always be put in your place by your fellow tribe members.
It seems like humans have evolved to build and maintain bonds with each other through teasing.
Knowing this is key to understand the next parts of the story.
The Middle – I Meet D’s Community
The day after my arrival in Tlaxcala D and his fiancé, L, took me around their home town. L has a massive family and almost all of them live in or around the same town.
We first went to visit L’s mother, who was working at the family business, a water purification shop. Most tap water in Mexico has to be purified before being potable.
At the shop I met L’s mother and three of her young nephews of 4, 5 and 6 years of age, who were running around doing what little boys do. L’s mother takes care of the three children while their mother, L’s sister, works during the day.
It was a slow day at the shop. The children were engaged in play while L’s mother entertained us.
L’s mother put out a few chairs for us so that we could sit outside, next to the shop. She cut up a pineapple and laid it out for us on a table she placed next to the chairs. Throughout it all the children were playing, approaching us to ask us questions and show us things. The youngest of the boys was dirty from having played in a nearby river.
And so we hung out and talked. I had never met any of these people before. Through D I knew that they were a tight nit family who lived relaxed, community-oriented lives. But I had never had the opportunity to interact with them personally.
I Chat With L’s Mother
I started talking with L’s mother. I asked her questions about the family business and she told me all about it. She also told me that the entire extended family amounted to 200 people.
Yes, 200 people. L’s father has around 10 siblings and most of them have children, some already have grandchildren. So that was how the family got so big.
Because there are so many family members and they are so close-knit, family celebrations are a regular affair. Someone has a party going on almost every week; whether it’s a birthday, a graduation or a plain old get-together just for the fun of it.
D had told me that L’s family was big and they liked to party, so I had been expecting this. But it’s one thing to hear about it through the grapevine and another to get it straight from one of the people involved.
As I talked with L’s mother I noted how relaxed and open she was with me. There was no pretense, no hiding. She warmly invited me into her life. This happened over and over again with the other members of L’s family I met.
We Visit The Family’s Stomping Grounds
The time came for us to move on from the water purification shop. D wanted to show me a parcel of land on the outskirts of town which belonged to L and her family. We got into their car and drove up a hill for five minutes. The youngest of the children, O, decided to join us. O sat in the car and chatted with us as we drove along.
The parcel of land D wanted to show me was located next to L’s family home, which was up the hill a ways. There were several other houses surrounding it. I learned that all of them belonged to L’s relatives.
Can you imagine the feeling of safety and comfort which comes from being surrounded by the people you love 24/7?
Human beings are the most social of social animals. For hundreds of millions of years, before they were even homo sapiens, our ancestors lived in small, tight-knit bands wherein every member of the group could rely on everyone else come hell or high water.
The isolation from others which characterizes modern civilization is actually an aberration in our evolutionary history. We have lived in small, close-knit groups for far longer than we have lived in individuated, nuclear families in single-family homes.
We evolved to be our happiest in community. It’s when we’re part of healthy, happy communities that we thrive. Isolated, we crumble.
Somehow, L’s family has managed to keep that spirit of community alive in the modern world. And they have been greatly rewarded for doing so. They enjoy a piece of mind and a sense of security most Western adults would envy.
D Shows Me Around
We got out of the car. Music was playing from a loudspeaker placed outside of a nearby house. O got out of the car and walked over to the house with the loudspeaker. A little girl was playing in the front yard. O and the girl were cousins and they both immediately began playing together.
The moment I saw O go off on his own to find a playmate I knew I was witnessing something special. Something which I didn’t grow up having, in spite of my having the latest video games.
I was witnessing community and the power it has to free us. To encourage us explore the world while feeling safe and secure. To experience the world as a place of cooperation and abundant opportunities rather than competition and scarcity.
Having grown up in Mexico City, I was always taught to be distrustful of others; to be wary of where I went, what I said and to whom I said it to. To look over my shoulder to make sure I was safe.
I had never been able to waltz outside of my home and find someone who wanted to play with me within the span of a few seconds. That’s real privilege right there.
D then invited me on a walk. He showed me around the area. L’s family has resided there for generations, so they own some sizable parcels of land, dense with vegetation, all laid out next to each other. D told me that he appreciated the peace he felt when he walked around the parcels now and then. I told him I couldn’t agree more. We belong in nature, after all.
We walked for about thirty minutes, before we headed over to meet more of D’s family.
I Meet More Of D’s People
We left the parcels of land behind and walked towards the family homes. We came upon a small field with a volleyball court. Behind the court was a house. It belonged to L’s cousin, who lived there with his wife, son, father, mother and others. It was a multifamily home.
Shortly, two young men joined us, along with a little boy around 3 years old. The young men were brothers and the little boy was the elder brother’s son. They had beer with them. D had kindly told them in advance that I don’t drink alcohol, so they had brought non-alcoholic beer for me. We opened our drinks, sat down on the grass and started talking.
Meeting a new person is always exciting. Meeting a new group of people can be so exciting it’s stressful. I usually stay silent and listen closely when I meet new groups of people. Eventually I pick up a thread of conversation and contribute.
The two men were L’s cousins. Every weekend the family gathered in that field, played volleyball and drank beer.
I Tell The Brothers My Story
The youngest brother asked me where I was from. I told him I was from both the United States and Mexico and that I was currently living in Canada. This interested him and he followed up with several other questions about what it was like to live there. I showed him some of the pictures of the Rocky Mountains my girlfriend and I had taken during our time in Canada.
These were some of the pictures I showed him:
He was blown away by the beauty as he let me know with his enthusiastic praise. He was happy for me.
I liked the two brothers. They were totally at ease, sitting there on the grass next to the volleyball court, talking and drinking. And because they felt totally at ease, I felt so too. We make others feel how we feel, a phenomenon known as emotional contagion. That’s why the best leaders are those who remain calm under intense stress. When the leader is calm, so are those being led. And we make our best decisions when we’re calm.
We talked for about an hour. At some point an older man joined us and started teasing the two young men. It turned out he was their father.
We were then called into the house for a late lunch.
Lunch With New Friends
We walked into the house. I could tell it was old; my grandfather had lived in a house much like it. The kitchen doubled as a dining room; the room was filled with the vibrant sound of human life and the scents of Mexican food.
I was invited to take a seat in front of a bowl of pasta soup. People were engaged in loud conversation, marked by periodic bursts of laughter. Children who had already eaten were running around outside, yelling, laughing and crying. L’s mom was there, seated on the far end of the table from me. I ate and listened, laughing along with the crowd.
They all teased each other. The conversation comprised tease after tease after tease. There was no end to it and they all did it except for L’s mom who seemed to be beyond teasing. But everyone else engaged in it with gusto, especially the men.
I noticed feeling completely at peace. I laughed along with my hosts as they made fun of each other, a warm glow of acceptance suffused me. My hosts were being their genuine selves and within that genuineness was an invitation to share. I had only just met most of them and I already felt like part of the family.
There was never a dull moment. Cats and dogs roamed inside and outside. People came and went, cared for crying children, heated more food and went off to work; the kitchen/dining area was a vibrant community space. There was always someone to listen to and something to see.
It was liberating. A transcendence of the drudgery most adults have imposed upon ourselves. Even though I had just met these people, I felt safe. I felt protected.
We Leave To Run An Errand
Dinner lasted for about an hour. At the end of it D, L and I left to fulfill an errand. We were helping D’s mother settle into a new apartment in town. Some members of L’s family (which is D’s family, now) joined us later and pitched in. As we carried boxes and furniture around their tomfoolery and laughter turned the experience into a party. I laughed along with them at every joke they cracked at each other’s expense.
When we finished with the move we then all went back to D and L’s place and had dinner together. It was ten of us. We sat around D and L’s dinning table and shared pizza and stories. L’s father was there, he told his stories with such energy that just listening to him speak was a joy.
Dinner ended, we all said goodnight and retired to our rooms.
Intermission – The Power Of Community
I want to take this section to focus on the power community has to make us feel safe, empowered and free. I was not exaggerating in the last couple of sections when I wrote about how I felt totally at peace and safe when surrounded by all of these new people.
Living in a healthy community is, I believe, the optimal living arrangement for a human being. Whether we are aware of it or not, every human being needs two things to live, on top of our biological requirements.
We need to feel attached and we need to feel authentic.
What Is Attachment?
Attachment is the feeling of being cared for. Authenticity is the ability to sense and rely on our feelings to make decisions. For most of our time on this planet, human beings have relied on these two needs to thrive.
Human babies are the most vulnerable animal on the planet, without constant care and attention no human baby would survive long in the wild. Humans also have the longest developmental period of any animal, extending past adolescence, into our early twenties.
We never fully outgrow our need to be attached to others. According to “Born For Love” by Bruce D Perry and Maia Szavalitz, human beings are incapable of reaching a state of optimal health through self-regulation. This means we depend on our relationships with others to achieve lasting health and vitality.
One relationship can influence us as much as a substance, for both good or ill.
What Is Authenticity?
Authenticity means being true to ourselves. Being true to our soul. Expressing ourselves truthfully. Being honest about what we like and what we don’t like. Investing our energy into work we find meaningful.
According to Dr. Gabor Mate, an expert in trauma and healing, the pressures of the modern world often put our need for attachment and our need for authenticity into conflict. What if being our authentic selves pushes away the people we are attached to?
What happens if a child longs for artistic expression but receives messages from his parents that little boys who do art are destined to live a life of poverty?
What happens is that the child suppresses authenticity; his need for attachment wins.
What Happens When We Suppress Authenticity?
When we suppress authenticity long enough we end up dissociating from our experience. We ignore the messages our body is constantly giving us. We make choices which do not reflect our true nature. Then one day we begin asking ourselves, Who is this person living this life now? How did I end up here?
That happened to me. You can read about it here, if you like. There is a way to recover our connection to ourselves. It requires the desire to do so and a little guidance always helps. But believe me when I say that recovering our authenticity is possible.
For That Day I Felt Attached And I Felt Authentic
Throughout the entire day I spent with these new people I felt attached. I felt safe. I felt like these were people I could rely on if and when the going got tough. And I had just met them! D was probably influencing me through his own feeling of attachment (remember emotional contagion).
I also felt authentic. Because I could sense they were being authentic. With all of their joking, hospitality and genuine interest in what I had to say, there was no way I could feel anything but authentic with them.
My two fundamental human needs being met, I felt relaxed and happy; right at home. The present was all that mattered and the future was bright. How could it be anything but?
That’s a human’s natural state. It’s how God made us. To be happy, healthy and loved.
That’s the power community has over the quality of our experience.
The Next Day
The next day D, part of his family and I went out on a nature walk. We walked up a hill outside of town. We followed a dirt road lined on both sides with trees and shrubs. Throughout it all I spoke with D.
The walk lasted about 3 hours; by the end of it we were all ready for lunch. We walked to L’s family home.
As we approached the house, I noticed a small group of children congregated outside. They were all part of the family and were playing together. I walked up to them and started talking with them. I asked them a few questions about what they were doing. They all gathered around me and showered me with words. Then, O, the youngest of the group, hugged me and called me “tío”, which is Spanish for “uncle”.
I was touched. I hugged him back. He then went off to play with his cousins and brothers. Look no further for proof of how freely children express themselves. Children are authentic by nature.
We then entered the house.
A Final Lunch With The Family
We were greeted by a whirlwind of activity. The kitchen was full of cooks and the dining room packed with diners. Some people I hadn’t met before were sitting in wooden chairs, amicably chatting away with people on the other side of the room. L’s mother was busy at the stove, L’s father was at work, so he wasn’t around. Children ran around outside, playing and hollering.
I noticed that there was not enough seating for everyone in the room, so I took to standing. I was promptly ordered to take a seat so that I could eat. I was served beans, rice and cacti with a side of tortillas and salsa. I ate and listened as people talked.
Then, one of L’s aunts began telling me about a piece of land she owned around the area. Since I was such a good friend of D’s she was offering to sell it to me, so that I could build a house and live in the area. I told her, truthfully, that it seemed like a good idea, but that I was not looking at owning a house yet.
She then said that the offer remained, should I ever choose to accept it.
Living With D And His Family?
The offer of living nearby D and his family struck a chord in me. I felt so welcomed, so safe, what else could a person want from a living arrangement?
No community is perfect, every group of people have their internal conflicts. But it seemed like this particular group of people had been able to handle their conflicts while focusing on what made their lives good. I could tell they were all happy by how often they laughed and smiled. I could see the effect living in community had on their children, who were friendly and curious. I could see it in my friend D who was happily building his life there with L.
This was what I wanted. Maybe not in this specific form, but being part of a dynamic, trusting community which I can rely on through thick and thin.
I believe it’s what we all want, whether we’re aware of it or not.
The End – I Depart Feeling Accepted
I finished my lunch and stood from the table to say goodbye. As I said farewell, people reassured me that I was welcome back any time. They told me I had a home there if I ever chose to return. I could tell they meant it.
If I chose to, I could build a life in Tlaxcala and they would happily welcome me into their community. It set my heart singing to know that such an option existed for me.
D then drove me to the bus station where we said goodbye. I told him that he was going down a good path. I am confident my friend is right where he needs to be and am happy that he is happy and surrounded by so many people who love him.
I boarded a bus to Mexico City. I felt a light heart and a full soul all the way.
In Conclusion: Why Be Part Of A Community?
I hope this article has given you a feel for what it means to be part of a healthy community.
The modern world has grown increasingly fractured. Human beings have evolved to live together, yet at every turn we are guided into separating ourselves ever further. We categorize ourselves into countries, religions, social classes and political groups. All the while we forget that we’re all human beings and we all have more things in common with each other than not.
We want to be at peace, happy and prosperous. Most of all, we want to love and be loved.
Making time to build a healthy community seems to run counter to all the values we are taught in our hyper-competitive, productivity-oriented civilization. But based on personal experience, I can tell you doing so sets us up for lasting health, happiness and success.
This message is encompassed in the African proverb which says:
“If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.”
Here’s to going together.
To our wealth and success.