Bill McKibben on food, independence, and oil

A great article at Incharacter.org by Bill McKibben.

We’re used to independence as the prime virtue — so used to it that three quarters of American Christians believe the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible, instead of Ben Franklin. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is harder advice, but sweeter and more sage. We don’t need to live on communes (though more and more old people are finding themselves enrolling in “retirement communities” that are gray-haired, upscale versions). But we will, I think, need to figure out how to stop relying on both oil and ourselves, and instead learn the lesson that the other primates and the other human cultures never forgot: we’re built to rely on each other.

I was personally struck by some of his ideas. I do happen to know my neighbors, but only the ones who live in my building. I barely even say hello to other people I see as I walk down our little residential street. And when I go to the farmer’s market? No, I don’t talk to people. But the idea that I might (especially if I were going every week) is compelling. And come to think of it, there is one vendor at the City Hall farmer’s market that I’ve talked to — and at a supermarket or Harvest coop, I wouldn’t do even that.

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

3 Replies to “Bill McKibben on food, independence, and oil”

  1. interesting. here in the burbs, we do talk to each other. i know many neighbors on my street, i recognize most of the cars that drive up and down this street, i have met or know something about the people who live in houses on the most direct walk into our little town, and i know many other people in the town. i have neighbors i know i can rely on for small and large favors, and other neighbors i suspect strongly that i could rely on.

    as i walk around town, i make eye contact with others and even say hello. i have to remember not to do that in the city, lest i be a candidate for a mental institution.

    when i travel through the city to my job, i notice many people with ipods, there’s little-to-no eye contact, and even if there was an elderly one-legged person on the subway, no one would notice them long enough to stand up and offer a seat.

    i used to think this latter behavior was because of self-absorption and addiction to activity and noise. Now I understand it as needing personal space. At home, I have my little half acre and my house doesn’t share any walls, floors, or ceiling with another house. I have enough space to allow me to be outgoing. In the city, there’s never enough space, especially at rush hour, so we need to create it for ourselves.

    I guess the challenge here is in how to build community in a place where space is at a premium. Certainly the dance community feels very real to me, though we are not colocated during every day life. Church provides another form of community. My friends with children and dogs report that they meet people easily. But how do we create community with just ourselves?

  2. I find myself living in many different physical circumstances – and would agree some circumstances allow the social animal to come out. I find myself also as I get older, much less inhibited about talking to people and learning who they are and thier lives.

    And I have found that most people enjoy talking about their life, hopes and dreams and are never asked. Most people have an interesting story to tell as well.

    And while there are times when it is not appropriate (when someone is trying to “be alone in a crowd” – body language, iPods and other things can clue you) – many people are happy to break down the alienation we build up around us!

    I have found this in the ‘burbs, but also in San Jose, San Fransisco, New York (especially NY, actually), St. Louis, and other fairly large cities – and in the heart of those cities.

    This won’t mean that you won’t make “mistakes” – meaning once in a blue moon you might find someone you mis-read who doesn’t want to talk, 99% of the time people are really happy to tell their story!

    I cannot, therefore, blame alienation on physcial circumstances (burbs, cities, wealth, and so on) but on our own fear an inhibition! 😉

  3. I grew up in a tiny village where people knew each other and everyone greeted others. I have lived in towns where this was not the case, and I missed that a lot: the feeling of belonging. Now I live in a small town (in Holland) and greeting is done by (still) a greater part of the people, but I have a feeling that it is disappearing.
    I really think one can contribute a little by greeting, or say a few friendly words to people one meets. I have experienced that a friendly hallo can make your day a better one.

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