Me or We

A couple of weeks ago, I watched PBS' American Experience, The Amish, which was fascinating on several levels, not least of which was a re-introduction to the power of community.

I was struck by the high percentage of young Amish who, when they are given the choice in their late teens to join the church or no, choose to remain. There is comfort in the familiar, in acceptance, in knowing where you fit in the general scheme of things.

Today we have become so enamored of the individual that not only are these virtues no longer practiced by the larger population, they are, indeed, held to be inimical to progress, to self-realization, to living one's dream.

But there is also value in the idea of community, of service, of bending one's will to the needs of others. Women members of my writers' group have taken me to task from time to time for writing women characters who concern themselves with serving the needs of others. Not because others are demanding it, but because the characters take it upon themselves to provide what needs provision.

My take was that providing what is needed is always an honorable task to perform. That just because cooking and cleaning have been left to women for too long, without giving them access to other possibilities, does not mean that cooking and cleaning do not need to be done. Nor is there anything demeaning about them.

There are tourist buses that prowl the Amish landscape. One Amish farmer postulated that people come to stare at them because they wish they could be like them. I agree. I think the same holds true for places like monasteries, convents, ashrams, those places in which we go aside from the world at large, in which we seek to find our essential selves in service to others.

But that's easy for me to say. I'm going to go ahead and sit here and type away on my computer about the loveliness of submission. Pretty soon, I'm going to go get in my car and drive to the store. I'll get something micowaveable, because currently there's no room to cook in my kitchen. I'm available to my friends if they need help, but I don't show up at their houses to do their dishes and I hope they don't find a need to call me. I have things to do.

Not long ago I wrote a piece under the Prose tab citing some of my favorite idea writers. One of my very favorites is Lewis Mumford, whose argument for the value of cities I find convincing. Because villages are by nature conservative. The innovator doesn't find a warm welcome there. It is in cities that the individual can thrive.

All the same, individuals, whether on an Amish farm or in an artist's colony, still need community. They still need to serve something, to participate in the social good as a whole.

The political/philosophical/cultural conversation is still poised somewhere between me and we. I'm not moving to an Amish farm anytime soon. I never even wanted to join a hippie commune. My sense of me has gotten even stronger in my later years. But I also recognize the value of we. We are all in this thing together.

We make the world go 'round.