Alison Dalziel asked me a question in relation to my little piece on community-friendly working conditions : Were you thinking there was anything any of us could do individually or collectively to raise the profile of this conversation?”  Her question inspired my habitual first response: avoidance.  That forced me to a second response; a confession: “I don’t know!”

And that led to a slow, glimmering third response – not even bright enough to name, but important to keep looking for, and looking at, and talking about.  A favourite saying came to mind as this third response glimmered: “it’s better to light a small candle than to curse the darkness”.  That ‘candle lighting’ often turns the darkness of un-knowing from a defeated ending to a creative beginning.  And, used wisely, “not knowing” is a much better starting point for collaboration than knowing it all. Switch on a fluorescent light in the darkness and it will probably attract people.  But it might be in the wrong place, and leave us all blind to what other needs and riches and possibilities are out there in the darkness.

So perhaps that’s the starting point of what we can do – look away from the fluorescent light.  It’s not the darkness that’s hurting us, but that damned light; that blinding artificial tube of distractions.    The politics of fear (‘boats!’ ‘sharks!’),  the lives of strangers (‘Shapelle!’), the God of money (‘taxes!’), the bombardment of unbounded information. You know the stuff – it draws our attention; we all talk about it, but it diminishes us.  And it distracts us from pursuing what matters in our lives and our communities.

To be more prosaic: step 1 might be daring to look away from the dominant paradigms and certainties. Step 2 might be to name new gathering points. To name, for example, ‘community’ – that network of natural and informal connections – as an essential foundation of our personal and national life, and worthy of our attention.

Step 3 might be to both call for and develop structures that draw our attention to these new gathering points.  I notice, for example, that the Productivity Commission is to be a key player in the review of working conditions. What might ‘the Community Commission’ have to say about the matter? Oh wait – we don’t have one. 3,000 years of western civilisation have led to this: enticing people to work longer and harder has become more important than fostering connection between us.   We need bodies that bring light to different perspectives.

And Step 4 might be to ask those bodies to assess government and corporate actions through the lens of ‘community’; the lens of human connection.  Questions like (from the top of my head on a Saturday morning): How is the design of shopping centres impacting community connection? What effect will Council amalgamations have on community cohesion, and sense of place? How is the current (bilateral) brutalisation of asylum seekers affecting community values of compassion and generosity? When a Council arbitrates, rather than mediates, on local differences, how is community resilience affected? What are the impacts of “Fly-in; Fly out” working arrangements on community life? Is it possible to protect local, community level capitalism from global corporatism?

So there was my ‘4 step plan’.

Fanciful, I thought. Alison, though, kept exploring and found ‘The Australia Institute’ – which, while not focusing specifically on community, attempts to light different candles through “insightful questions combined with excellent research”. Have a look. Join up. Donate even!! We need all the hope we can get.

And by the way: if you have an interest in Community Development, you might want to link in with the network that started this conversation for me: contact James Jarvis (click here) to join in the Community Development Network of WA (an on-line discussion network).