Updated: May 8, 2021
We can’t really avoid being part of a community. Even the most reclusive members of society are in a sense part of a community of recluses. A community in this sense is not something physical, like a collection of houses or a village or road. In this sense a community is more like a relation. One is a part of a community then if one shares something with another. This thing shared could be an attribute, a set of beliefs or norms, values, interests, goals and ends, and so on. But even if two people do not share any of these things in common, they would still share membership of the same species, Homo sapiens.
If we think along these lines we’ll notice that we not only share something with everyone we meet but we are actually a part of the same community as them i.e. a community of human beings. There’s an infinite number of strands stretching out across time and space uniting every person in the world together in this community of human beings. And it’s easy enough to recognise that someone we meet is a part of this community: there is something that is intuited when we meet another of the same kind, much like how dogs recognise other dogs!
In a community the relations are more than just tenuous links between things of the same kind, though. Communities are reliant for their flourishing on the members that make up the whole. If the flourishing of the community is reliant on the members, then so too the flourishing of the members is reliant on the community and other members too. Someone could point out that not all members need to flourish in order for the community as a whole to flourish. But does a community really flourish if some of its members are cast aside and are forgotten about and neglected?
We are all interrelated and also all interdependent (we rely on each other). In Buddhism, it’s the illusion of an ontological ‘self’ that prevents us from seeing that we are interdependent not just with other people, but with everything. Our capacity for self-consciousness might in some sense be our original sin: that I subjectively experience the world from my position in time and space allows me to think that I am separate from other subjective consciousnesses and other things. But really, other than the fact that nobody can read my thoughts or feel what I feel, there is no reason to think this. How do we separate objects from each other but by subjective application of consciousness through perception? Even categories like species are applied in this way. Who knows what it would look like without the boundaries imposed by the human mind.
For one we’d probably notice that everything really is reliant on everything else. If we think in biological terms, humans are dependent on our environment. We need oxygen to breath and food to eat. And just these two requirements (out of many others we have) encompass the processes and inhabitants of the whole planet. We are in a relation of interdependence with the animals and plants that provide oxygen and food, and they in turn rely on us to take care of their ecosystems so that they too can flourish. This is good enough reason to take care of the earth and other animals and it’s a good enough reason too to take care of the least well off in the world.
If our community cannot flourish, then we can’t truly flourish either. We’re all interrelated and interdependent in countless ways. Just like we are trying to look after the environment and animals etc. we should also try to look out for those who are most vulnerable in our societies, treating them with respect and dignity and helping them to flourish.
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