What about me? How does this look for my image? What does my house, car, outfit, career, vacation, relationships look like? How will this affect my family? What does my future look like? Who will I marry? How are my children affected by my decisions? Me, my, mine, I, I, I. This is a totally acceptable thought process and one that was on a running loop in my head.
Am I completely obsessed with myself? I didn’t think so. Always the first to help out, volunteer for a good cause, see the need and ready to help out to see what I could do, but all of that was voluntary and not something that I really HAD to do.
Individual vs. Community Mindset
However this line of thinking was not that strange in today’s America. We are always looking at what we are doing, whether that’s through our various social feeds or IRL, there is this idealogy that you have the power to make your life better or at least look better. You don’t like your relationship? Change it. You don’t like your job? Find a new one! Does that friend completely annoy you? Say no to negative energy and find friends that match your energy. We live life through a false lens that not ony do you have the ultimate power to easily change anything that’s not working for you and that your choices only affect you.
With so much real and perceived division in the U.S., there are few places where we are asked to think as one nation. And whenever we do have to consider a larger sense of the greater public, it’s extremely difficult for many to exercise that muscle and turn off the individualism spiggot. (Que up the last 2 years, 2 months, or the last week) Mind you this isn’t an issue for everyone, it’s just enough people to make a lot of community based needs fall apart.
Acting as a “WE”
Thinking as more of one nation seems like a very foreign concept but coming to Singapore, it’s been interesting to be a bit of a “amateur cultural reporter” (hmm… does that job description exist on LinkedIn?) and see how a country that has so many different cultures & religions are living, working and going to school together, and can act with so much focus on the greater WE. This is something that has been worked into the design of the countries laws and regulations (including integrated neighorhoods, schools and the preservation of home country languages along with a common language). As you can imagine this is not something that comes naturally here either, even with the small size of this country in comparison to the U.S. It wasn’t until after the 1964 race riots in Singapore more laws and rules were put in place to promote racial harmony and a change in world view between smaller cultural groups to start thinking of Singapore as one. That’s not to say that there aren’t issues here, but it’s interesting to notice the differences of a public that now have a strong trust in their goverment to take care of the public good and how that trust permeates their everyday experience.
The difference was vicerally felt when we arrived in Sept 2021, as we still had to quarrantine for 2 weeks in a hotel, could only dine as 2 people per table, couldn’t take off the mask inside or outside besides when eating. And all of this was for the greater public health. While lots of Western society was already dropping restrictions, we knew that acting in lockstep to Singapore’s rules wasn’t going to be a choice if we wanted to stay.
We were prepared to see authoratative figures enforce the rules. What we weren’t ready for was how many citizens would also come out to ensure these rules were adhered to if people started to stray. People would take pictures of minor infractions (incorrect mask wearing or sitting too close together) to send into authorities or just walk up to strangers on the street to correct them. There was also so much signage telling people how to behave all around the city (Give up your seat for those in need, wear your mask, don’t sit too close to others, make sure to take your trash with you, please let bikers and people running pass you, get enough exercise to improve your heath— these were just the signs I see in a 10 minute walk). All common sense rules. And just like other media, you could see how the shear volume of messages impacted the general population.
It was clear to me that the rules were going to be encouraged and followed, one way or the other!
This really does change the tone and tenor of conversations from how will this affect me to how this will affect us. That shift starts to move people to give up a little of their personal taste/desires for the greater good. But it’s a delicate balance that almost tipped over within these years of seperation and sacrifice. It’s ok to ask for some concessions, but the moment people didn’t see a light at the end of an already long tunnel, even the most community minded society can come apart. People still felt annoyed with the restrictions in Singapore, they just gave the government a really long runway to figure things out before pushing back.
What is community to me?
Although my social media feeds are always up to date, my community has always been a very important part of my life and something that I am constantly trying to factor in, but it doesn’t come as naturally as it could.
Who are my people?
I'm so thankful to have these gorgeous communities that I care about so deeply. Leaving them was the hardest part of moving by far.
I have my family, the community you are born into, that can get larger through marriages, births, additional members that are friends but feel like family and shrink through divorce, death and fights that don’t resolve. But it’s the touchstone that I keep returning back to. They are the ones who know me, understand the genesis of my weaknesses and see me clearer than anyone else. Family to me always feel like arriving home on a snowy day and knowing there would be a warm meal and cup of tea to warm you up from the cold.
A lot of my friendships now reach back for 20+ years. (Cuz I’m lucky to have amazing friends that you kinda want to stick around for a few decades or so) These ladies and I have grown up together, from partying in NYC through our 20’s, lots of relationships & lots of break-ups, some marriages, some divorces, careers when they were up and down, kids, death and all the everyday stuff in between. They continue to be my touchstone.
And my community of neighbors started out being friendly folks that you live next to. But over the years, as we’ve helped each other, looked out for one another’s kids as our children grew together, leaned on one another, we counted them all as part of our friendship circle. They made life that much richer.
From the time when I was little, I was always aware of the community of women in our lives. When I was small that community consisted of my mother, grandmother, aunts, sister and cousins. It was quite normal to see the women congregating together at a party while the men were huddled together debating Haitian politics loudly (that really is the only accepted volume for talking about Haitian politics)
Now I’ve found a dynamic community of women in Singapore. It’s consists of so many supportive, helpful, smart, saavy, brave and caring people. What is shocking is not that these women exist, as I’ve been surrounded by exceptional women my entire life, but just how quickly and instinctively we all have come together, helping to construct this new village. Community is about feeling apart of something bigger than you. And many within this new community of women are “away from home”, searching for connection, support, friendship or someone to just have a laugh with.
One thing I know is that I want to be part of building a stronger community. Life is way sweeter when we are winning together.
What about you?
So now I ask you, after this age of being seperated from your community do you have a different outlook about the role it plays in your life? Have you decided to grow or shrink your community? What's missing? How do we all become just a little more cognizant of each others impact? Would love to know your thoughts!