Over the past year I’ve read some amazing books from a range of disciplines and at least three of them sit well together as books that complement each other. While it may seem odd, at first, to place two books about trauma and its impacts alongside a book about the power of community connection they sit well together and support each other.
The first book of the trio I read is the truly great book by Cormac Russell and John McKnight The Connected Community. This small volume is probably one of the best books I have ever read on community building. The subtitle for the book is Discovering the health, wealth and power of neighbourhoods. And that is exactly what the book does.
Cormac Russell and John McKnight explore the how and why of a connected community. It uncovers the power of this connection using anecdote, social theory and comes with a strong research base. It is extremely readable and shows that when people connect with each other in their neighbourhoods there is nothing that is impossible for community to achieve. The book explores how people make this connection and follows them along on their journey of creating social change.
One of the strong sections of the book, for me, is where the authors discuss the functions and the results of this functioning of a connected community. In short, a connected community is one where people live longer, have lower rates of crime, are healthier, have lower rates of depression and anxiety, support local economy, care for the environment and provide a place to care for children. This is a place where “it takes a village to raise a child” is more than a cheesy saying. It is the lived experience of the neighbourhood.
While the other two books are equally inspiring they start from a different point. Both What Happened to You by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey and The Myth of Normal by Gabor and Daniel Mate have a starting point of trauma and what its potential impact can be on the lives of those who suffer the trauma. It is well established that childhood trauma impacts on brain development, can alter the architecture of the developing brain ad have long term physical and mental health impacts. But any trauma can be debilitating for those who have experienced it. Both of these books point to the potential for healing and that the healing point for us is to live in a connected community. Social connection, meeting with other people, sharing our lives is where we heal.
The authors of these books draw a comparison between contemporary developed societies and traditional societies. The comparison is quite startling. Our modern, western developed societies place a high value on the individual while many traditional societies place value on the extended family or tribe. Quite simply our modern societies are based on us living separate lives while the traditional mode is connection and mutual support. While this may have originally been about survival of the group it also provides a foundation for the child to grow in a supported and caring environment where trauma has a strong buffering of those charged with nurturing the child. The Myth of Normal goes further and labels our capitalist society as being toxic for healing with a focus on competition and the individual at the expense of the community.
The common thread that joins these three books is the power of community to nurture and heal. Without this social connection we flounder. It is only when we are connected to each other in meaningful relationships that we grow, heal and develop. This is the power of the community. It also shows the power of our brains that are forever changing. Community and the changing brain work together to heal and provide us with what Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey call “Post Traumatic Wisdom” i.e. the wisdom we have gained from life’s experiences to create change, be empathetic and care for those around us. After all the answer is always community.