How well do you know your neighbours? This question may well become a life or death question as our world continues to become more stressed and chaotic.

During the ice storm of 1998 in eastern Ontario, the people on the street that I live on started paying attention to each other in a way that we hadn’t before. We lost our hydro. Trees limbs were snapping making sounds like gun shots. Telephone and utility poles were giving way like huge dominoes. The roads were all but blocked by fallen debris. As our houses grew silent and dark we started wondering if the folks next door were OK.

We checked on each other, especially the older folks.  When the power came back on I was visiting an elderly couple.  The lights started flickering and quickly came to life.  We all cheered except for the elderly gentleman.  “Oh darn – it’s over”; he said.  “You can be serious!”, his exasperated wife said.  “I am”, said the old chap, “Since the ice came we started visiting and talking to each other and now it’s all going to stop just because the lights came back!”

How sad that it takes a natural disaster for people to make a point of getting to know their neighbours and making a regular habit of visiting together.  I can’t help but think that we have lost a lot over the last few generations.  As life has become materially easier we have withdrawn from each other.  Community seems to have gone the way of the family as a social force in our cities, towns and villages.

I work part-time in a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.  The program is built around the idea of a therapeutic community.  Often I ask the young men in the program if they have ever lived in a community where they knew and cared about their neighbours.  Few understand the concept.  Many have experienced the jail community which is a cruel parody of what true community is all about.   We work hard to encourage the residents to become part of our community and engage in our collective values of right living.  The ones that do have a real chance at becoming sober and productive citizens.

I wonder how many other people have the same paucity of experience when it comes to what community is all about?  The concept of community and how its presence or lack enhances or impoverishes our lives is worth exploring.  I would appreciate your help.  If you have experiences about how community helped you or your family, please share them.  Any thoughts and opinions about what is important to strengthen communities would also be appreciated.