For Community

Communal Fire

Something to knowTwo humans, Cameron and Rayla, run this blogyou can read more about us if you are interested, but for the meantime, we just want to say this particular post is written from Rayla’s point of view, but we do our writing together, and it is a reflection of both of us.

When I graduated high school I was lucky to get into a “bridge year” (read: gap year) program. It was a transformative year for me. I definitely learned more about myself and the world around me in a short span of time than it seemed like I had in my entire life. After said bridge year though, instead of going on to college like the majority of my cohort, I went home. I missed my family, my dogs, my community—I missed the green trees and misty rain of the pacific northwest (I had been living in the Sub-Saharan desert, after all) and most of all, I missed the feeling of being comfortable in my skin.

However, idle comfort quickly lead to a feeling of boredom, so I did the “adult” things that I felt were the correct next steps: get a job and maybe save up for community college or something. I enjoyed my work, I made new friends, I strengthened my relationship with Cameron, but slowly, quiet discontent started to sink in. Even though I had ideas for what I might do from there, I had no clear next steps.

Life kept going—the way it tends to. Despite feeling fairly positive about most things, I began to have a deep seated anxiety that would seep in at night. My world felt mundane; at times where I once dreamed about hot air balloons and anthropology, about quests for the truth of humanity and the origin of thought, I worried instead about getting my oil changed and if I wrote that email to my client correctly.

Certainly I have faced some hard times, but for the most part I am extremely privileged. Being dissatisfied wasn’t really fair when so many people had so much more to deal with. I tried to be happy. I tried to do as much social justice as I could. I tried to be good in all the ways I knew how, but I kept coming back to these thoughts:  

What if I am just a loser?

What if I have no impact in this world except contributing to climate change and injustice?

I am so insignificant, that even my insignificance is insignificant.

These thoughts hit me pretty hard. I have always wanted to become my “self-actualized” self (Doesn’t everyone want that, despite the psychobabble-ness of it?). As a girl who grew up reading epic fantasy, I always knew in my heart of hearts that I was going to grow up to be this bad-ass warrior, who would kick down doors and take the world by storm. I spent the entire year that I was eleven waiting for my Hogwarts acceptance letter. I dreamt constantly of the way I was chosen or special or magic, just waiting for my powers to kick in or to find some magic stone that would transport me to the real Narnia.

The more I age though, the more I realize that I am not “the chosen one”, and that if there is true adventure in this world, I will not find it alone. I have realized that very rarely, if ever, has any one person actually made a difference; that the one true innate power of our species is our ability to work together.

Slowly I have come to know that the magic of Harry Potter isn’t in the wands, it’s in a group of people living their lives together. Fighting together. Failing together. Learning together.  

But finding those connections in the real world isn’t so easy. We all have jobs, rent to pay, chores to do; our own little worlds circling each other but rarely colliding. We are a society that is, in many ways, run down and apathetic; some days it feels as if we are only hanging on by the threads, especially in today’s political (and literal) climate. With these feelings and this context, I often wonder how any of us can expect to find or create genuine community. At the same time, I know that one of the main pleasures missing from my life is solid community—people who get together on a frequent basis for the pure joy of being together.

I have heard these feelings echoed to me by my friends, peers, coworkers, people on Reddit, even strangers in coffee shops. Community is a buzzword right now. It seems like every business in Silicon Valley is trying to create “community in the workplace,” and there are endless articles about how community can cure whatever issue you are dealing with… but all this buzz seems to be falling short—at least it is for me.  

Certainly, there are opportunities to connect with other people in the “post-school” world, but they often have downsides that don’t work for most of us. Gyms, yoga studios and networking events can facilitate some intermingling, but those social experiences are usually very task specific, and don’t persist once the task is done. It is easy to make a lot of friends at the rock climbing gym, and not so difficult to keep individual friendships outside of that gym, but it’s fairly unusual to find a group of people that all hangout at the gym, whose community also transcends the climbing wall.

Religious organizations also offer many possibilities for community. The upside here is that rather than friendships being based on a certain task, they tend to be centered around a shared set of values. Instead of just finding individual friendships, many people seem to have an easier time finding an entire community to connect with at places of worship. Even better, these groups often meet outside of the confines of the religious organization. Of course, the downside is that if you are like us, and you don’t have a local place of worship that shares your beliefs, this isn’t really an option.

The secular world recognizes the utility of community, both via stories and science, but it has done a terrible job of creating communal institutions. The problem with secular terms like “atheist” and “agnostic” is that they simply denote a relationship to the supernatural, and say nothing of shared values. Without shared values, or at least a common goal or task, a group of strangers doesn’t really have any reason to regularly spend time together.

Alternatively, Hedonism is a secular term that refers to a clear vision and set of values. Whereas getting a group of people together because they don’t believe in the supernatural might be a hard sell, getting a group of people together to discuss and experience pleasure is likely to sound like a good (or at least interesting) time whether or not you define yourself as a Hedonist.

For this reason, we are very hopeful that Hedonism can serve as a solid grounding point for communities that are not necessarily based in the supernatural.

We think it would be pretty clear to a Real Hedonist that a tight-knit community would immensely improve their ability to find pleasure on a regular basis. Certainly, Cameron and I have come to understand how great a strong community could be for ourselves and the world around us; we crave it, but it's not the type of thing that we can just magically manifest, so we are actively researching and strategizing how we can build a Hedonist community.

Our first instinct in this digital age is social media, but even though using social media would allow us to spread Hedonist ideas by connecting with many people all over the world, that is not our primary goal. A large number of disparate Hedonists doesn’t sound quite as satisfying as a smaller group of connected individuals, devoted to each others’ happiness. Consequently, our focus is to clarify our vision and connect with the people who share it.

Right now, nothing sounds more pleasurable than a group of friends having meaningful experiences together.

So far in our young adult lives, it has been difficult to find meaning and feel like we are doing something important. When there are so many articles online about the post-graduation slump, it seems that other people feel this way too. We always thought we would be shaking things up by our mid-twenties, but that dream seems to be falling a little short.

A big part of that dream was this idea that we would grow up to truly make the world a better place, but as time goes on, it is easy to lose that idealism. It is even easier when faced with the problems of today; whether your anxiety of the day is about our political climate or our literal one, it is hard to feel optimistic about the future of our cities, countries, and planet. Part of this is because it is not easy to imagine how any of us, as individuals, can do anything to change the world.

However, we are often reminded of that Margaret Mead quote: “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Within community, it is easier to pursue your calling, and hopefully, make a difference. In the same way that it is difficult to have your communal needs met without having your basic needs met, community is a prerequisite to self-actualization.

If we cannot find community, society has left us without the tools to become our best selves.

One of our main hopes for Real Hedonism is to create a community of like minded individuals, with whom we can become the best version of ourselves. It might be a little easier to feel optimistic about the world, because of our collective ability to change the world.

Creating paradise on earth is a very tall order. We aren’t sure exactly how to get there, but we recognize that it is impossible to simply will a better world into existence. It will require many people to reach self-actualization and for that to happen, our only hope is to invest in our greatest asset: community.

. . .

Let us know if you resonate with any of these ideas, or are inspired about brainstorming, taking part in, or even co-creating a hedonist group!

Cameron Dawson2 Comments