Saturday, January 17, 2009

Community equals long life

What would Reagan say?
When Russia switched from a communist economy to a capitalist free market economy, life expectancy for men dropped from 67 to 60. A similar drop occurred in most of the former Soviet countries, a new study says:

There were a few exceptions where this didn't happen Poland and the Czech Republic. What was the difference? Social support.

"The authors suggest that the existence of trade unions, churches, sports, political organizations and other social organizations played a significant role in cushioning adults’ stress during the transitions.

“ ‘In countries in which more than 45 percent of the population was a member of a social organization, mass privatization had no significant adverse association with mortality rates,’ the report said."

As we face the traumas of our economy, we need to make sure there is this kind of support. We need to create community to help people weather the storm. I’ve actually had people say to me that the happiest time of their lives was during the Depression. Why? Because people helped each other out.

In those days, probably a lot of people belonged to various social groups, particularly churches. People got together because that’s all there was to do! But today participation in social groups is down, as we were shown by Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone. (Sure we’re still bowling, but not in leagues!)

What can replace this decline social support? The new localization. All over the country people are building community in their neighborhoods. For instance, in our neighborhood in Seattle that we call Phinney Ecovillage ( we have all sorts of groups: We have a climate change group, a democracy conversations group, a neighborhood council, and of course a simplicity circle. These kinds of groups help support the projects to encourage people to shop locally and eat local food. You’re much more likely to support local businesses if you know your neighbors, because you care more about your neighborhood.

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