Biding My Time

by Peter Block on March 14, 2011

Tagged as: Gifts / Hospitality / Association / Raising Children / Local Economy / Food / Safety / Health / Land/Environment / Care of People on the Margin

For those concerned about the side effects of consumerism, about the “new normal” recession that will not go away, about disparity of living standards, about the well-being of our children, our health, our elderly, our safety and our food supply (hang in I am almost to the point) it makes sense that we turn to our neighborhoods for answers.

A functioning, useful neighborhood can sustain us in the face of all the uncertainty. In historical terms, it was neighborliness that sustained peoples attempting to survive in the wilderness, which is how the world now feels to many people.

If this is so, why is it that when we speak of walking out into your neighborhood and discovering the talents, passions and gifts of your neighbors down the street, whom you may not know, is this suggestion met with so little enthusiasm?

The most common arguments against neighborhood building are time and privacy.  I don’t have time to talk to all those people. Plus I do not want to invade their privacy. Busy lives. Home is a Castle.

We want to suggest that these concerns should not be taken at face value. People have the time to watch TV over five hours a day, and when there is any kind of crisis in a neighborhood, people almost always open their arms in generosity. We want to focus on time for now; we will take up privacy later.

The dominant message in a consumer society is that whatever you are and whatever you have is not enough. This means that however hard you work, more is required. Whatever time you have should be productive. The constant message of systems and the consumer world is that more is required and desirable. More becomes the point.

Even in periods of economic prosperity, even during periods of record profits, like those we saw over the last twenty years, every workplace declared that you should do more with less. You are now on call 24/7. This is the calling card of how a scarcity based economy works. If you live under this umbrella long enough, you begin to think it is real.

This contraction of time, the love of speed, the world of multi-functioning is what the call for neighborliness brings into question. Community and neighbors take time. Relationships take time. Care takes time. Citizenship takes time. If I am going to produce a future of my own making, I need time to associate, to listen, to be curious about strangers. This will bear the fruit of my better health, local care for those on the margin, the well-being of children known and taught by neighbors.

My attitude about what I have time for is personally constructed, it is not in any way a given. We have it in our power to put time into our own hands. Taking back time will cost us something in the world of restless productivity. It might also save us. 

~ Peter ~