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The Purpose of Community

How many laughed and nodded when they first saw the evolution image; monkey to man sitting at the computer?

This was the first image that came to mind when I saw the black and white images below. The combination made me stop and think about the current state of education, technology, families, work, and how for many, preparation for adult life is not the main purpose or indeed the reality that exists after education.

Take a good look at the black and white images below and try to imagine how it was for those children working at such young ages. At first it made me realise how important it was that we'd progressed away from using children as cheap labor in factories. Then I thought about it some more.

At the time those children working in the mills, those in the pictures below, didn't think it odd, in fact it was normal, especially as all their friends were there too. I concluded that they indeed had a form of purpose, were rewarded, in one way or another, and from a very young age learnt about contribution. They had learnt three important lessons - nothing in life is free, life is not always fair, and contribution to the family and community was a prerequisite.

Now I'm not condoning this as a model that should be returned to, heaven forbid, and for all those businesses who continue to employee child labor every effort should be made to stop them. But it did make me think about purpose, and in light of what I've witnessed  with my own eyes, especially in my immediate surrounds, ie. Europe and actually in many of our developed & free economies, there does seem to be an increasing lack of purpose on the faces of young people.

I've been in a unique position for near on ten years where I've been able to personally watch this generation evolve. With our photography business I've observed 100,000's of young people, many I've photographed, and I guess as a result I've subconsciously mapped them and created some kind of happiness measuring-stick. I've seen a trend emerging, and the balance on the positive side is under attack; to note, these observations, this primary research, was across all socio-classes ie. the general public, enabling a wide-angle picture of society, and as a portrait photographer I've been able to get close to their inner person, albeit for a short moment in time.

A short story:
The other evening I sat in my local restaurant and listened to two local builders talking about the education their children receive - which in itself was an interesting conversation, ie. learning being delivered! But specifically they talked about the importance of healthy food, even more interesting was the importance of it occurring at home and that it should be an engaging experience. What struck me was their comparison of (their) times gone by and how actually when a generation of parents don't pass on the the knowledge and good habits, how easily it can be lost forever.  They could clearly see how a generation brought up on packet food, microwave dishes and deep fried fast food were very unlikely to discover, or as importantly share it with their children. In essence they were discussing a change in societies culture leading mankind away from balance and health - they saw this as having very serious consequences in the future.

One comment stuck in mind:
The parents don't even encourage their children to wash and peel potatoes or chop vegetables. It all comes out of a packet. It's not healthy, you know. But worse than that they become accustomed to it and so will their children. The importance of helping parents to prepare fresh food and then eating together as a family at a regular time has been lost. It's very sad." (broad translation from Bavarian!)

What I've just written is really a continuation of the my post on the 'Purpose of Education' and 'Educational Change Starts Locally', both of which see community, from an holistic perspective, as the key to nurturing purpose in the lives' of children (and adults).

You may be thinking, so why did I use the amusing image of evolution at the top of this post, and what does this all have to do with technology. I see a clear correlation between purpose (or the lack of it) after prolonged use of non-specific, non-focused, non-guided technology tasks. I also see a correlation between the concept of hard work and the ease of tasks technology enables and the link this may have to the onset of boredom and heightened expectations. One other thing I see is that parents need to spend more time hugging their children, and less time being distracted by technology themselves; do as I do, not as I say, springs to mind!

I would define the purpose of community, in its purest form, as inclusion. Here's a closing thought and a small dose of inspiration:

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. ~ Zen proverb
Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success. ~ Swami Sivananda

What comes to mind when you look through these images?

A child in 1908 arriving for work in a mill to help her sister.

The children working at Cornell Mill in Fall River, Massachusetts, in the winter of 1912.

By 1911, Stanislaus Beauvais had already worked in this Massachusetts factory for two years.

Two little girls smile sweetly as they take a break from their jobs in a cotton mill in Tifton, Georgia, in 1909.

Street Bretzau, with a bandaged finger, was injured while working in the mule 
room of this Tennessee factory in 1910.

A hundred years earlier, in 1911, a young child in Yazoo City, Mississippi, works a spinner.

Some of the kids in this Macon, Georgia mill were so small they had to climb up 
into the machines to repair them.

Black/White images from U.S. National Reserves:

The Purpose of Community Reviewed by Paul Simbeck-Hampson on 7:05 PM Rating: 5
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