Fighting Alienation: Finding & Creating Meaning in Everyday Life

Do you have meaning in your life?

I have long been frustrated by how difficult it is for people in our modern (postmodern?) society to come together, create a community, and foster meaning. Everyone’s life has meaning, whether they believe so or not, and some more than others strive to find meaning in their work, school, children, friends, lovers, and an array of other outlets. For me, this has never been enough. I’ve always been frustrated that every community I enter, I have to leave. And when I speak of community, I speak of feeling as if you belong in a group of people, whether or not they have direct relationships with you.

For some context, I must explain that for most of my life I have not felt I had a literal, physical ‘community’, and I suspect that I am not alone in this. Each school I attended was not in my neighbourhood, I can count on two hands the number of friends I have ever been able to walk to in my lifetime, and my home until two years ago was not located in an area that had a lot of community events (that I was aware of). Even community soccer teams, which I did join as a kid, didn’t seem to stick.

School, from kindergarten to university, provides an excellent opportunity to foster communities. School spirit initiatives, charity drives, and social events all contribute to this feeling of belonging, this feeling of being part of a group. This can be more condensed for people who join smaller groups at school – sports teams, drama groups, and music kids all come to mind, for me.

But what do we do when school is gone?

I’ve had this conversation with my Nanny, a wonderful, incredibly spiritual and intuitive woman. Maureen, my Nanny, is part of a worldwide religious community, and found my plight interesting. I strongly believe that a sense of community is conspicuously absent in Western society – or at least the slice I’ve seen – and is indelibly linked to the escalating capitalism and consumerism rampant in our culture. This hole can be filled, I think, by belonging to religious groups and organizations, but why can’t I find somewhere else? In an age when so many young people seem to be saying “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious”, religious communities don’t represent a legitimate option when looking for community. But why does this mean that we must end up alienated?

I read once, and this is horrible of me but I cannot remember who to cite, that the greatest coup of capitalism was giving the Western world the impression that individualism results in empowered individuals. In truth, individualism removes our power – we are so focused on ourselves that we refuse to risk our personal goals in pursuit of something greater. Could the Industrial Revolution have happened in this climate? I don’t think so. The cost of individualism is obvious when you look at how work is being treated in the newspapers, by the government, and legislation. By picking off groups of workers one area at a time, people have refrained from banding together to protect workers’ rights because it did not concern them – and then, when it does, the momentum is too strong to stop. I might write another time about union busting and the new two-tiered systems that employer after employer is implementing, as it is so incredibly reflective of neo-Marxism that I keep waiting for it to show up in a textbook (if it hasn’t already), but I’m going to try not to get further from the point I wanted to make than I already have.

My point? There is hope. There is community, if you know where to look for it. Even in London Ontario, a conservative (lowercase c) city full of chain restaurants, suburbs, and temporary student residents, there is a community focused on supporting small businesses, shopping local, sustainable living/working models, and having healthy relations with people, the economy, and the environment all at once.

The Root Cellar is right – where you buy your food is political, but beyond that, it can give your life that third dimension it may be missing. Buying Christmas presents and meeting the person who made them at the same time can give your shopping a meaning that consumerism – even Christmas shopping – usually lacks. Finding out that one of your local theatres – for me, I am speaking of The Palace – is actually run completely by volunteers. The food at the Root Cellar is not only organic, but directly supports local farmers. On top of that, going to a co-op (are you guys officially a co-op yet?) for your lunch is really fun! Ellie always has a smile, and Max is really such an amazing chef. And how many places can you go and always know who will be there, by name?

The community I have stumbled across not only gives me chances to make necessary purchases mean something, but makes me feel connected to my city in a way I never have before. I call this a community because it is – while we may not have a Christmas party, all of the people that are passionate about local art and local business are connected. If this is something you care about, it adds a third dimension to your life, being aware of this connection and incorporating it into your life.

This involvement is, to an extent, not achievable for everyone. Shopping local, going to a local yoga studio, or supporting local artists can be more expensive than mainstream alternatives. However, volunteering is always free, and there are lots of deals to be had if you look carefully enough!

I do want to say that there is a lot more to this issue of alienation than I am delving into here. There are serious causes and enormous consequences to this issue, and I am particularly passionate about how criminology (often referred to as the ‘new’ criminology) tackles this issue. However, I am 85% sure a rant on this topic would be just for me, so let me know if you’re interested!

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, since I moved into an area that seems to be a central node for this community (but location really doesn’t have to matter). This blog was inspired by AAF, An Artist’s afFair, which I visited spontaneously today and really loved. In the half hour I had before it closed, I picked up a Christmas present from Ausable River Soap Co., a couple of amazing magnets for Zach and I to look at, and a little something for me – an ‘upcycled’ (love that word) necklace from a local jewelry artist/yoga instructor who creates all of her jewelry using reclaimed pieces!

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What do you think?

Do you feel that you are part of a community? What is it like?

I’m new to the London scene (despite living here most of my life), so if you have any tips on where I should be going next, please let me know!

For those of you on Twitter, that social media outlet is really a mindblowing way to connect and explore these options. If you live in London, Ontario, here are some to get you started:

@Downtown_London, @MorrisseyHouse, @KantinaLondon, @WFFarmerMkt and @WFArtisansMkt, @joelcadams

@CityLightsLdn – A local used bookstore that has a lot to say!

@atthePalace – The Palace theatre, the previously mentioned volunteer-run local theatre!

Aside from Twitter, all of these places (and so many more) exist in this city, and it is so rewarding to find them.

Thank you for reading, and please share your thoughts – discussions are so much more fun than monologues!

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Competition

There is an interesting phenomenon I’ve observed. This phenomenon has happened, from my perspective, mostly to women, but there aren’t any men that I currently talk to in enough depth to know if this happens to them, too. And this phenomenon is the destructive nature of perceived happiness competition.

If you haven’t experienced it or watched your friends experience it, you will likely have no clue what I’m talking about. If you have felt it or seen it, you probably don’t even need to read the rest of this blog, but you should, and share with me what you think.

This perceived happiness competition is, essentially, a feeling that your happiness relies on comparing your life to someone else’s and coming out on top. The competition may take place with both parties being aware – perhaps over drinks or coffee, texting or telephone calls, as two “friends” share details of their relationships that are intended to show that they are the happiest. Or two people – colleagues, peers, coworkers – that feel that they need to be, not just good, but the best; this means that they have won the competition, and they have a right to be happier than their competitor.

Sadly, though, sometimes this can happen without one of the parties being aware. Perhaps you have a frenemy on Facebook who secretly checks your profile page once a week, and analyzes every status, profile picture, and friend post to see if you’re happy, and how happy you are. Your profile picture no longer features your significant other? You must be on the rocks. A friend posted “where were you last night”? That must mean you are a hermit, a shut-in. Ultimately, your invisible watcher – in another age, ‘stalker’ – feels gratified that their life must be better than yours, and they can move on with their day.

What is this?

I am happy. I am so happy. I am in a program that I enjoy and am capable of finishing. I live with someone I am deeply in love with, and I get to see him every day. My parents and sisters live right down the street, and they are all healthy. I am not rich, but I can buy food, and pay for school, and rent, and even internet.

I am blogging about this today because I have felt myself sliding into this trap yet again. I am far from proud of it, and it’s a slimy, horrid feeling. This has largely been absent from my life since high school ended (thankfully), although I have a couple of friends who are particularly prone to this type of self-doubt. My trigger seems to be that, if I feel someone else is doing this to me… game on.

I’m blogging about it because I want it to go away. I want to remind myself that I like me, whether or not other people do. I don’t want to be someone else, and I don’t need to aspire to the things others have.

If a person is obviously comparing their life to mine, and is trying to make me feel as if their life is better than mine, it does not matter.

I do not need to win. I’ve already won.

I am perfectly happy right now, thankful that I am, and need to remain so.

Have you ever felt this happiness competition?

Why do you think this happens?