People in mental or emotional distress need human nurturing and other kinds of personal support, yet often end up isolated. This can conceivably slow any potential healing process and make things worse for both the person and the community.
But I have a dream, to paraphrase the late Martin Luther King Jr, of a ‘community’ that gives the concept real, and deep, meaning. It is a dream of inclusion: Part of the community’s ‘meaning in life’ would be a nurturing human relationship with all the residents, intentionally and purposefully including those in distress.
My dream would eliminate isolation for starters. Each small neighbourhood would have a voluntary ‘association’ of interested individuals who would take on the more formal activities of regular contact – as opposed to random. The group – what some might like to call ‘the caring circle’ – would continuously keep up with learning about the individual’s issues (or if it were a small group home – the group’s issues). In turn, they would share the learning with the neighbours – through meetings, emails, etc. They would also receive any concerns neighbours might have, and help resolve any conflicts.
Modern technological advances would make it possible to take care of some of the once tedious aspects of such a relationship such as paperwork, appointments, and communication.
Members of the caring group would maintain daily contact with the individual/group; would learn helping skills – including conflict resolution, mediation, communication, support – as well as picking up other knowledge such as understanding an individual’s food preferences (e.g. vegan). Some would help with such concrete activities as taking a person food-shopping or finding alternate accommodation, for example.
These voluntary functions would go far beyond the kind of activities currently covered by various government agencies. One of the functions that government sponsored professionals seldom have time for, for example, is ‘active listening’. Neighbours can be trained in this skill and, in the process of nourishing a distressed individual, find themselves enriched, and their loved ones nourished as well. And for those who yearn to ‘live’ their religious beliefs, what better way than to actually act with compassion.
The ‘inclusion movement’ so far appears to be primarily focused on people with physical disabilities. This tends to involve a lot of practical, concrete activities such as organizing wheelchair ramps or transportation. It’s been important to influence cities to make accommodating changes in this direction, so that people with physical disabilities can more easily participate in everyday activities.
But people tend to be less comfortable with those in mental distress or with mental ‘disabilities’. There is something threatening about unpredictable behavior or appearance, and without knowledge or training, people avoid such discomfort.
In my dream community, the volunteers would take on the task of, first, becoming knowledgeable and then becoming active, and sharing all with the community. In line with the philosophy “be the change you want to see in the world”, I hope to nudge my own community in this direction.