Human Need for Community
There is no more sobering way to consider the importance of community for humans than to consider life without it. In his seminal 1897 work Suicide, Émile Durkheim attempts to determine the cause of this act of self-destruction. In it he writes, "The type of suicide actually the most widespread and which contributes most to raise the annual total of voluntary deaths is egoistic suicide. It is characterized by a state of depression and apathy produced by exaggerated individuation. The individual no longer cares to live because he no longer cares enough for the only medium which attaches him to reality, that is to say, for society. Having too keen a feeling for himself and his own value, he wishes to be his own only goal, and as such an objective cannot satisfy him, drags out languidly and indifferently an existence which henceforth seems meaningless to him" (Durkheim, 356). As the tragedy of suicide proves, there is in human nature a fundamental need for community which must be met. (1)
Many of us, however, would not need to reflect on suicide to recognize the importance of community in our lives. Community seems to be hardwired into our human psyche, not as a mere whim that strikes us like the munchies, but as a need that must be addressed for our well-being. One psychological theory advanced in support of this view is the belongingness theory, which states that humans have a need to belong in some kind of community. In an extensively researched report on this theory, Professors Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary conclude (in a very official, researcher-ly style), "Deprivation of stable, good relationships has been linked to a large array of aversive and pathological consequences. People who lack belongingness suffer higher levels of mental and physical illness and are relatively highly prone to a broad range of behavioral problems, ranging from traffic accidents to criminality to suicide… It therefore seems appropriate to regard belongingness as a need rather than simply a want."
All this need to belong proves, however, is that community is necessary in order to not be miserable. In order to prove that community is necessary for something further, like fulfillment or happiness, it is useful to look at self-determination theory (SDT). In their article "The 'What' and 'Why' of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Dettermination of Behavior", Edward Deci and Richard Ryan lay out the basic tenets of SDT. Central to SDT is the concept of psychological needs forming intrinsic motivations for people pursuing goals. Furthermore, SDT shows that intrinsic motivation is linked with better learning, performance, and well-being (Deci, Ryan 233). Two of these intrinsic needs are the needs of competence and autonomy. The third is a need for relatedness. Deci and Ryan write, "Indeed, across the life span, SDT hypothesized that intrinsic motivation will be more likely to flourish in contexts characterized by a sense of secure relatedness." While there are intrinsically motivated behaviors that are independent of relatedness, SDT maintains, "a secure relational base appears to provide a needed backdrop––a distal support––for intrinsic motivation, a sense of security that makes the expression of this innate growth tendency more likely and more robust" (Deci, Ryan 235).
Experiments have been done to prove this hypothesis of SDT. For example, it has been found that children performing an interesting activity displayed low or high levels of intrinsic motivation directly related to the interest of a present adult experimenter. Another example has been found in the fact that infants participate in more self-motivated exploratory behavior in the presence of their parents, rather than alone.
Anne Colby and William Damon's book, Some Do Care, provides a particularly salient affirmation of SDT. In their study of whom they term as "moral exemplars", Colby and Damon find that relatedness is essential to the moral development of these fully actualized people. They write, "mature individualism implies a fully articulated link with others and with society as a whole. Even as individuals seek their own unique destinies, they do so in the context of relations with family, friends, and others in their communities. Strong social relations, in fact, provide a setting in which the exploration of self flourishes. So in the course of human development, socialization and individuation are really opposite sides of the same coin" (Colby, Damon 297).
What Does this Mean for Development?
Development is a social project. It is an attempt of one party to effect the lives of another in a positive way. In order to reach personal fulfillment or happiness, whatever one chooses to call it, SDT suggests that a person needs to have three needs fulfilled: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The fostering of these three needs requires more than individual responses. Although still uniquely concerned with the fulfillment of the individual, SDT suggests that equal concern should be put on the fostering of community for the benefit of the individuals within it. Therefore, the ends of development seem to be community.
This is clearly different from development as freedom which the modern paradigm suggests. Development as freedom saw freedom as a function of the individual independent of society. Within this paradigm, as person can conceivably be autonomous while being independent of others as long as the instrumental freedoms of political freedoms, social opportunities, economic facilities, transparency guarantees, and protective security are met. However, given that relatedness is now necessary for a full development of capacities, development now becomes a function of community, with the ends being a community that supports the actualization of its members. Such a community can be found within the Christian concept of community.
(1) It should be noted that basic community is not limited to a certain population size. A community can range in size from two people, as in a marriage, to millions of people, as in a nation. Therefore, whenever a word like "marriage", "society", or "relationships" are used, those terms could be understood as a type of community.