Revival of community is the key to our survival

HOPE IN HARD TIMES : Working together gives us a better chance of recovery

HOPE IN HARD TIMES: Working together gives us a better chance of recovery

"Hope is something you create together"Kaethe Weingarten

PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH highlights the importance of hope as an essential precondition to human happiness, particularly in the face of loss, change and adversity. While hope is often considered an individual human trait or feeling, family therapist Kaethe Weingarten has conceived it as a shared creation between people.

When people are overwhelmed by adversity and feel hopelessness or despair, it is their contact with other caring people that lifts them or creates the conditions for renewed hope. For this reason, she argues that people in despair should resist isolation and seek connection, and people who possess some hope should resist indifference and reach out and support others. This is the basis of a resourceful and resilient community.


One of the casualties of the Celtic Tiger was the sense of local community. As a nation, achievement and wealth became valued over individual character and decency. Value was equated with the monetary cost – a service that cost more was considered higher quality. This devalued community volunteering, local neighbourliness and people who freely contributed.

However, the imposed values of the Celtic Tiger are a recent aberration and against a deeper Irish spirit of friendliness, community and neighbourliness. As we move forward in these challenging times, it is the revival of the Irish community that will be crucial to our individual and collective wellbeing. A resourceful community pools resources and talents for the benefit of everyone. We have a much better chance of solving our problems if we work together rather than apart, both on a community and on a national level.

One of the traditional sources of community in Ireland has been the local parish or church. Traditionally, it was the church that kept communities together and gave people a sense of hope when dealing with suffering. While the Catholic church has suffered deserved criticism and taken a battering in recent years, we have not replaced it with anything else and there is a danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Making sense of the world spiritually and finding collective meaning with others has always been a feature of human society, and some sort of revival of our spirituality and sense of church may be crucial as we move forward in challenging times.

Dissatisfied with our political leadership, people are looking for communities that can put them in touch with like-minded people who can work together. One of the most innovative initiatives is the Transition Town Movement (transitionnetwork. org) which believes it is the responses of small communities and towns that will be key in our survival. By bringing people together around shared concerns, building collective vision and meaning, and focusing on constructive action, such movements do much to create hope in individuals and communities.

Furthermore, the Transition Town Movement not only builds resilience in local economies by pooling resources and reducing outside dependence but it also builds resilience in local communities by creating a space for people to co-operate and work together. Critics of community movements who argue that many of the local actions are not sufficient for dealing with what are national or global problems miss the point completely. While the current actions may not solve the problems (indeed, no one knows exactly the correct actions needed), over time the movement creates a resourceful community that will be best placed to adapt to future challenges and thus preserve hope for future generations.

One of the most interesting aspects of the severe weather in the past few weeks has been how local communities have responded. Whether it has been simple things such as looking in on neighbours or clearing shared pathways, people have discovered personal and local resources which they may not have realised were there – these are hopeful signs.

Over the coming years, we face significant problems as a nation which make it crucial that we realise our community spirit. The challenge will be to remain together and hopeful rather than isolated and in despair. As Kathe Weingarten says, “You can do hope without feeling hope” – hope is created by engaging in constructive action out of concern for others as well as for ourselves.

John Sharry has contributed a chapter to the newly launched book, Fleeing Vesuvius: Overcoming Economic and Environmental Collapse, edited by Richard Douthwaite and Gillian Fallon. See