Guest blog – Neighbours Every Day Ambassador Hugh Mackay AO
We become deeply attached to particular places because of the life we associate with them.
The most lavish house in the world will ultimately seem pointless and empty – except as the equivalent of a velvet-lined cave that provides shelter – unless it works as a symbol of our connectedness.
This is why the true meaning of ‘home’ has little to do with bricks and mortar. Indigenous people’s attachment to the land – expressed as a quasi-mystical sense of place – points to the social significance of those places, their meanings for a tribal group, their cultural and ancestral significance, not their significance as a pile of rocks or a running stream per se.
We are not only defined, but actually sustained by our social networks. We thrive on being a part of a community – whether that is familial, social, residential, intellectual, cultural, political, religious, professional or vocational.
In the end, it makes no real sense – no biological sense, no psychological sense –for us to dwell on our identity as individuals. That’s not who we are. We’re tribal. We’re social. We’re communal. We need to belong.
But here’s the rub: communities don’t just happen. We have to create them and build them. That means participating in the life of the community – socially, commercially, culturally.
Yes, we’re sustained by our communities, but they don’t have a life of their own: we must nurture them. For communities to survive, we must engage with them and attend to them.
Being by nature ‘social creatures’, we need to feel that we belong to strong communities, but those communities also need us. Neighbourhoods, communities – even entire societies – can lose their ‘soul’ unless community-minded people are prepared to become involved in the life of the local community. It’s up to each one of us to take responsibility for the places where we live by engaging, volunteering, joining up and joining in.
Part of the magic of communities is that, however imperceptibly, they shape us to fit them. Any community we belong to – any setting where we gradually come to ‘feel at home’ – will make a rich contribution to the story of who we are.
This Neighbour Day, I encourage you to get up, get out, have a chat, organise a neighbourhood catch-up, attend a community event or reach out to someone nearby that needs a hand. You’ll feel better for it and you’ll be helping to nurture and support a community – and that benefits all of us.
Together we create belonging.
After all, ‘the state of the nation starts in the street where you live’.
Neighbours Every Day Ambassador Hugh Mackay AO is one of Australia’s best known social researchers and the author of twenty-three books – fourteen in the fields of social psychology and ethics, and nine novels. Hugh’s book, ‘The Art of Belonging’, explores the reasons why some communities thrive, and others break down, and explains how community engagement enriches us all. In this blog, Hugh talks about the importance of being socially connected to others.