We have a very diverse mix of friends in Liverpool City Center. Old & young, rich & poor, British nationals & those from other countries. One of the things I have observed that often goes unnoticed, is the way people who come from countries/places with more robust understandings and practices of community (as opposed to the more individualistic notions in Britain and much of the West) struggle. While many of them understand western individualism cognitively, there is a deep sense of loss that accompanies the reality of being away from family and also away from cultures where a more open way of living is part of the DNA.
Many of our friends are used to open doors, communal eating, business conducted in the context of relationships etc. The loneliness of moving to a new country is one thing, but the isolation people experience because of the nature of our culture, is another thing all together. It is a loneliness many do not know how to cope with even though they understand it intellectually.
Sensing this loss in people I have talked to makes me think there are very simple ways we can make a difference — and help ourselves at the same time. Open our doors. Create more porous communities and families. Give up some of the idols of isolation and autonomy that are so deep in us; so deep they seem unequivocally ‘right’, ‘good’, and ‘natural’. Our friends from other places could use more robust community, and to offer this is a gift to them. But its probably true that it is us that need the gift even more than them. We, in the West, are more sickly than we understand because we live lives that are often so closed off from our neighbors.
For myself, I have seen a way of living in many of these people that is inspiring. They are helping me to think about my own cultural dysfunction. I think, with all of the immigration we are experiencing in Britain, we have an opportunity to learn some things about life; learning that might make us healthier people. Let’s receive the gift that many of them are bringing and allow it to be a mirror reflecting back to us the blemishes of our culture that we cannot see on our own.