The faces and fibre of our communities

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Invisible threads are the strongest ties.  

                                         Fredrich Nietzsche

It shouldn’t but it still  surprises me when the universe delivers synchronistically interwoven gossamer threads that tie a thought or an idea to another with seamless perfection.

I recently wrote about the joys of being a tourist in your own country.  Last weekend I visited the Museum of Brisbane, the city I call home, to engage with a new and exciting exhibition called 100% Brisbane. The exhibition uniquely draws together the stories of 100 residents and examines what it is about their city that they love. It goes deeper than that, it shapes for the viewer through touch, sound, smell, film and text the heart of the city, the human community with its complexities of origin, sexuality, race, gender, age, defining life experiences and so on.  It delivers an impressive and captivating self-portrait of a city and its people; a provocative self portrait of a community. I felt both a tourist and a sense of belonging and connection.

Looking in on something I take for granted and have neglected to examine closely (in this way) gave me a sense of being a bystander or a visitor learning about this place. It was fascinating to take a helicopter view of my city and examine it differently. 100% Brisbane is provocative on so any levels.  Too many thoughts surfaced, eddied and flowed to share them all, though I’ve walked away with a sense of pride, with a deeper level of understanding and with questions too. Questions about myself and my place here. Questions that will tick over in my mind as I interact with this city and it’s people, looking for answers, insights and elaborations. These questions percolated as a result of a series of questions I answered while there.

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A feature of the exhibition is an interactive survey that gathers information about visitors to the exhibition and provides statistics that inform you of your likeness and difference to those who have previously visited and to those 100 people, who each represent a 1% slice of Brisbane, on whom the exhibition is based.  As I submitted my results I got to see which of the 100 I was most like in each of three sections. I answered a range of questions from basic demographics to my attitudes and beliefs on key social issues and I discovered that I am not as unique as I’d imagined nor am I quite as conventional either.  In part one I was like only 1% of my fellow citizens and in sections 2 and 3 I was like  9% of my fellow Brisbaneites. That’s pretty interesting data to walk away with.  You can see why I might now have a few questions whirling away in my mind.

Have you ever considered the face of your city or  how similar you are to the community you live in? Can you see the elements that link you to those who live around you? Do you recognise those points of difference that make you unique?  This exhibition has made me realise that while we might think of ourselves as ‘just one face in a crowd’ we are each representatives of the place we live. We are each the face of our community; our individual voices, stories and perspectives interlace to create the fabric that swathes us and weaves the shape and spirit of where we live.

 

 

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The great human endeavour

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You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.  Albert Camus

Have you noticed a preoccupation with discovering the meaning of life? Meaning making is a great human endeavour. We witness people go on soul journeys, sea changes or pilgrimages to discover themselves and their place in the world, to seek answers and meaning.  We hunger to be part of something. There exists a gnawing unrelenting need when we lack community, a sense of belonging and purpose. The sense that life is meaningless could be the most desolate of thoughts. Desolate is the one who finds themselves alone, unattached, adrift in life.

This phenomenon, I imagine, has always existed though there seems to me to be an intensification in recent times, a swell of seekers.  My limited view and observations lead me to believe this is a side effect borne mainly by those in western cultures. Could it be due to a lack of traditions, of ritual, of religion, of an intimacy and belief in story and myth? Professor of sociology, John Carroll suggests there is an emerging poverty in western cultures due to a move away from myth.

Myths have been central to all cultures. I recently listened to Saga Land, a radio podcast by Richard Fidler, about the Icelandic sagas. These stories have endured for centuries and link the people to their ancestors and heritage. My childhood was full of the stories of the Australian Dreamtime. The stories, songs and dance of the traditional owners of the country I call home still captivate and educate me.  I was educated in catholic schools and am familiar with many Christian myths.

Why are myths important? Why might a lack of myth in our life affect us so very much?

Myths are enduring, they are rich with metaphorical weight.  Myths give us a sense of ourselves in relation to others. Hugh Mackay, author and social researcher, deduces that myth and story help us identify where we place our faith and that faith unites us and equips us to live with doubt and uncertainty. Through his research he has found that humans yearn something beyond the material, something other than themselves to use as a reference point to draw strength from, something that inspires them.

Religion and attending church used to fill that yearning, satisfy the hunger, give us something to inspire us and provide a sense of community. The role of religion has been to provide potent narratives to guide us along our journey to discover meaning. Interestingly only 8% of Australians are regular church goers. Why have so many turned away from the church? Perhaps it’s because the myths and narratives are served up as doctrine and often expected to be swallowed whole. For me, my move away from the church was the incongruence between doctrine and the behaviours of those most strongly advocating it. Mackay has found that dogma definitely divides us. He advocates faith beyond dogma.

I can attest that faith can exist without a literal adherence to dogma.  I can also attest to the desire for community. While my faith is strong I do not worship in a church and I do at times crave to be part of a community.  For a time I found it in a group of like-minded souls. We learned together, we practiced ritual, we communed and we grew individually and as a group. It was quenching. It was so deeply satisfying I wanted for nothing more. We eventually drifted apart, each to go their own way to continue our individual journeys. I miss that gathering of minds and souls. I miss the kinship.

It’s fascinating this hardwired need in humans to have a story that keeps the darkness at bay and to satisfy our longing to belong.  It is, I believe, the impetus for the great human endeavour – to seek meaning and purpose in life.