What is it that keeps society together, ordering ways we behave and how we view one another and our collective existence? Is it having a common vision, traditions received from the past, the regulation of law, or something else? It’s interesting to consider and all those things play a part; but how aware are we of our role within it all?
The ‘project’ of nationhood is, of course, fairly recent and far from smooth sailing: slightly disparate peoples were drawn together under banners of national mythology, based on some degree of commonality and the inspiring visions of a few. That sense of belonging, identity and mutual benefit became a legacy: something we’re born into, likely take for granted more than our predecessors, and uphold with varying intensity.
My question here though is how this works on a personal level: how an individual learns to understand and relate to society; and where the attitudes, beliefs and actions that serve to sustain shared values and systems come from.
Society’s surely something we have to understand and appreciate. With that, there’s how things came to be and the ideals underpinning a way of life; then what’s expected of individuals in terms of behaviour and responsibility (see Notes One). Family begins shaping our social awareness, emotions and expectations; a task reaffirmed by community and culture, and developed through schooling and personal relationships (Notes Two).
By the time we take our place in the world we hopefully have a good sense of our worth and value; how our actions weave with those of others; and what we can contribute and gain. Whether that understanding’s reciprocal and heart-felt or more transactional is another matter. It also seems that people secure in themselves don’t tend to take more than they need; able to stand and give more freely.
All these things have changed so much in the last hundred years or so. Whereas people once spoke of love for country, obligation, and sacrifice for the common good; now we more often speak subjectively of experiences, identity and image. This individualism is a beautiful part of modern life, yet something still needs to hold us together.
Understanding what we form part of and how vital our constructive involvement is seems more important than ever, but also seems to be wavering. Whereas tradition or moralising once sustained things, these have little place in a modern society grounding itself on more certain knowledge. However, if we’re not acting out of mutual consideration, society must be forever pulling apart.
In so many ways, looking out mainly for ourselves may be creating problems for others (Notes Three). Whether we’re talking empathy, environment or economics, our choices have consequences that strengthen or strain apart our shared realities.
While belief, tradition and community may be fading, letting what they offered pass away completely may leave us with a fragmented reality. Finding a more living understanding of social existence and the parts we have to play within it seems an important project for modern times.
Notes and References:
Note 1: “The Spirit of Community”
Note 1: Laws and lawlessness
Note 2: Antisocial behaviour & the young
Note 2: Community – what it was, what we lost
Note 2: Learning to be human
Note 3: Created a system we seek to escape?
Note 3: Listening, tolerance & communication
Note 3: Anger as a voice