The Role of Community in the Development Process, Part 1

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model

 

Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development (www.cbdus.org)

 

In the last series of articles we looked at the role of individuals in the development process and its impact on society. Here, we are going to take a look at the role of the community in the global development trends. In this regard, we will examine the impact of the family, friends, neighbors and nations as components of the greater community.

 

The Family

The most basic unit of society is the family. The popular trends in the family are reflected in the community and within the development process. Harmony in the family leads to social balance within the larger society, while conflict breaks the foundation of society. In fact, the crumbling of the social values and morality can be attributed directly to the universal phenomenon of decay in the family structure. Therefore, in addressing social ills, we need to simultaneously address and foster family unity. This requires fundamental changes in some of our assumptions, and our perspectives on the very institution of marriage. A man and a woman committed to marriage are like the two wings of a bird. Flight is impossible with only one wing.

 

It seems like in the past, when life was not so hectic and there was more respect for human and social values, the family was a much more stable and unified entity. Over-emphasis on individualism and materialism has been placing tremendous pressure on the family. Long hours at work, commuting on the heavily congested roads of most major cities where higher paying jobs are located, and the politics and pressures of the work place have gradually taken their toll on the individual. After a long day and becoming totally stressed out, we take refuge at home from the impersonal and chaotic competitive world in search of intimacy, love and being able to spend time with our family. Lack of compassion and not understanding the prevailing social conditions can put unnecessary strain on family relations and often lead to separation in search of peace and composure. Divorce and family break-ups have become common elements of the social landscape in modern countries. The number of single-parent households is on the rise. Based on the latest reports, there are more than 20 million kids in the US that live with one parent. Children in broken homes are more likely to become psychologically scarred and emotionally injured for life.

 

The family as a economic unit is also diminishing in the developed counties and some fast-growing economies. Except in certain agriculture endeavors and some very large family-run businesses, for the most part in today’s world, no longer do we see the family functioning as an economic unit. The nuclear family is the popular structure of modern developed countries. In this model, everyone is in search of privacy and comfort. We put tremendous amounts of resources in a variety of products and services that focus on making the individual feel good and escape from the harsh realities of life. Children often learn early on that “self” is at the center of it all. Our youth usually can’t wait to get their own private place, and the elderly are relegated to living alone or in a nursing home. However, in many poor countries the idea of the extended family, meaning that grandparents and relatives all living together, is still popular. The rate of divorce in these underdeveloped regions is usually much lower than developed countries. Obviously, we are not promoting anti-development agenda but it’s important that in the development process we put the family and family values in the balance.

 

Friends & Co-Workers

According to ancient cultures and philosophy, friendship is an integral part of the social structure and well-being. Friends are committed to take care of each other under all conditions and circumstances. Traditionally, in Russia, the status of “friend” is given to a few people who stay together in thick and thin. They are considered as confidants and keep in touch even when they are far away. In China, friendship is considered as a relationship that continues forever. It’s not unusual to see friends having been together for decades. In the Middle East, friends exchange the greeting “I sacrifice myself for you.”  

 

As our world has gotten more complicated so has our concept of friendship. Today, when you look around, it’s hard to find a friend outside of our work place. The whole idea of friendship in the modern social structure is actually going through major changes. In our list of priorities there is very little time for “just friends”. However, there is room for co-workers as friends as we do spend a great deal of time at work or work-related activities. For some, there are also friends that are found through religious association. Overall however, it’s getting harder to find a friend – a confidant whom you can trust and share your deepest thoughts. Research shows that in the US, 25% of people have no close personal confidant. This is a trend that is happening in varying degrees in the fast-growing economies of the world today.

 

Neighbors

The traditional concept of neighbors is almost like an extension of the family. This relationship still exists somewhat among people in many cultures, most of which are not absorbed in extreme materialism. It seems like in the industrialized modern cities we have become more and more cut off from our neighbors. It’s getting really difficult to keep a balance between our social relations and economic prosperity. Today, it’s not unusual to know very little about who our neighbors are and what they go through. We might merely say no more than “Hello” to our neighbor as we rush to work or come home after a long day.

 

It is likely that children would take the initiative in a neighborhood to play with each other, and as a result parents get know other parents. As a single person, however, life can be pretty isolated in the neighborhood. It’s common that the neighborhood comes together to address security issues or emergency situations. However, the neighborhood is about living in walled fortresses where we protect ourselves from the chaotic outside world. Altogether, the trends in neighborhood relations are reflective of our social understanding and attitude. This trend and how we view society has a profound effect on the development process. It’s, in effect, representative of a fragmented approach to life which lead to lack of social harmony. As a result we suffer spiritually, emotionally and mentally.

 

In a balanced development model, the community and its needs come first. In addressing those needs, and as we foster unity in the community, we ourselves become enlightened and empowered to be all that we can be.

 

In the next article, we will continue to examine the role of community in the development process. 

 

Ramses Rashidi (ramses@cbdus.org) is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.

 

BD Article 031 En.doc