Two words: Love and Community. Where do the two meet?
It strikes me that without love, there is no community, in the most fundamental sense.
Love (of the romantic variety) gives way to partnership and children and growing families to extended families to villages to towns to commerce to cities to countries and so forth.
Then there are all the little communities within a community: the churches, the retirement homes, the neighborhood watches, the D&D groups, the cribbage clubs, the weekly soccer match, fill in the blank. Aren’t they all based, at least in part, on some form of love?
Part of me wants to argue that they are based in fear. Pessimism, perhaps, but there is safety in numbers: a concept which makes us the social creatures we are. Isn’t that where love originates – the need for safety and survival?
I look at the human race as a biological organism. Could it be love?
Some would argue that love itself is based in fear. It’s a notion which I can make arguments for or against. While I hesitate to fill a love column with an argument about how communities are based in fear, for the sake of dialogue, let’s explore…
The idea that communities are based in love would suggest that the more love there is, the stronger a community will be. It’s a very nice idea, but is it true? Has it ever been proven in the real world?
Books and movies tell stories of human nature ruining a Utopian society where community was supposedly based on love and mutual respect. These are works of fiction where the creator has followed human nature to its natural end, but it doesn’t really bode well for the idea of love as a strengthening force.
I can, however, point to many examples where fear brought a community together more than any other force. Something terrifying happens, an enemy is identified, and the frightened community huddles together and suddenly tolerates and even loves their formerly hated neighbor as they unite against their new common enemy.
To say that love is based in fear hits the ear wrong. The two are different things, but love may be a result of fear — fear and curiosity.
We are primates, after all. The evolutionary biologist says that we seek romance because we fear death.
Children are the closest path our genes have to immortality and so we have sex drives and seek a partner with whom to reproduce. We love our children because we are hard-wired to protect them, thus protecting our genes.
But what about friends, siblings, and parents? Why do we love them?
(Right about now, you may be asking yourself why this cyborg has a column about love and human emotion, but bear with me: this is a biologist using the Socratic method.)
Case study: I have a twin sister whom I love more than anything else in the world. She is truly all I need in this life. I have other people and other things that I love, but were love a 100 meter dash, my love for her would cross the finish line 4 entire seconds before the rest.
Where does that love come from? Why do I love my twin so much? I am not hard-wired to protect her like a parent to a child, but I would crush ten thousand people to protect her. If she never existed, I would still have people in my life and would not be lonesome. She wouldn’t have to give me anything or do anything for me and I would still feel the same about her. I just love her.
Is it the familiarity of her? That constant presence in my life? The thought of losing her or seeing her hurt or injured is very fearful to me, but my love for her comes from nothing fear-related.
This kind of love — the kind between our closest friends and family — is the realest that I can imagine, for the very fact that it doesn’t seem to come from any shadow of fear. Who can point out where that kind of love comes from fear?
Perhaps I can. I come back to the safety in numbers concept: the very thing that makes us social creatures and makes us create communities.
Being an outcast is one of the most fearful things for most humans. Why is extreme humiliation more cruel than physical torture? Why do people experience crippling stage fright? Why are we all so freaking awkward?
It’s because we fear, very possibly above all, ostracization. If we aren’t part of a community, our primitive brain thinks we’ll die. Obviously we’ve outgrown this danger as a species, but the hard-wiring is already there.
On a tangential topic, I wonder if that wiring is coming unravelled. As we plug into our devices and become more and more isolated with our noses in a screen, what is happening to that fear of ostracization? (School shootings, anyone?) Will we all become sociopaths in 200 years?
The simple definition of community per Merriam-Webster is as follows:
- a group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood)
- a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.
- a group of nations
According to the definition, you can have a community without love. The United Nations. The United States. Look at just about any group where the second definition does not come into play. It is a sad fact of life that unless a community has things in common, there isn’t a lot of love flying around until you look at the little sub-communities.
When I think of community, I think of a sense of community. Besides during the Olympics, who feels a sense of community with an entire country? We break it down to neighborhoods and clubs. What’s home? Where are we accepted? With which people do we rub shoulders day-to-day?
We find ones that fit and that’s where we go, or we conform to fit and stay put or just always were and stay put, and we find love and acceptance there. Whether it’s fear that drives us or not makes no difference — it’s a moot point. Love is there and we find it in the communities where we live.
To clarify, I don’t only mean geographically: I have found a sense of community in many places simply in the people I met there. We meet someone and realize that they are part of our tribe, even if they are from another continent, and we love them for it. We add numbers to our tribe and it feels good to connect. That connection is crucial to our primitive brain.
So, I will conclude that without love (of all kinds) there is no community. Fear is moot. Be kind to one another and love.