The Social Immune System
I listened to a tape by David Whyte a couple of days ago and it had an idea inside it, that I found interesting.
He tells a story about a time when he went to Stuttgart as a young man.
Frankly, the story itself seems very far-fetched to me.
But he is trying to make a point about the German word “Nachbarschaft” which literally translates into neighborhood, but apparently has much stronger connotations in German than in English.
He stays is a middle-class neighborhood and everyone there hangs their duvet out on their balconies in exactly the same fashion.
So he washes his socks and proceeds to dry them out on the balcony. Only fifteen minutes later, a delegation of neighbors shows up on his doorstep, demanding to know what these socks are doing out there, messing up the order of duvets.
And he could feel, as he sais, the whole immune system of the neighborhood, trying to restore peace and order.
I was fascinated by this idea, that a neighborhood, or any group of people for that matter could have, or represent an immune system.
(Of course, an immune system that reacts to a pair of drying socks may be called somewhat allergic.)
As you know, I am not very fond of surveillance, or the surveillance state that is being built around us. I am all for freedom and hanging your socks where you please (as long as you don’t diminish another’s freedom to put his or her socks where they please). But as the surveillance and police state grows, I feel people are giving responsibility away, too.
I find it a rare enough thing these days to hear people speaking up against things they dislike, or disagree with, acting as a moral collective with moral courage.
Every so often you hear about people being kicked to death in public because they spoke up against something they disagreed with – while a crowd of bystanders did nothing.
There is a phenomenon called the bystander-effect which basically states that the likelihood of help for a victim decreases as the number of bystanders increases.
It is assumed that this is related to three things:
1. A declining sense of personal responsibility when many others are present that could also help.
2. An ambiguity about what to do, or not to do
3. Social cohesion, which is about not wanting to behave in a way that could alienate you from a group, in that case your “group” of bystanders
This whole thing made me re-evaluate the old lady that used to live next door when I was a child, who was constantly looking out her window, sometimes with binoculars.
Back then I disliked her intrusiveness, but now I can see how she was also watching over us, as part of the immune system of our street. I am very sure she would have acted immediately, had she seen us kids get in trouble or the likes.
So my invitation this week for you is to
1. Feel responsible, quite likely there is no one else but you who gives a shit
2.Act, any mistake is better than inaction in the face of injustice
And I am not just talking socks on balconies, and people being beat up in the street.
I’m talking about friends that don’t talk to each other over petty issues, people who drink too much and no one blinks an eye. People throwing trash on the road.
I am talking about confronting people, with love, about unhealthy things.
(that includes yourself)
Have a great week!