Over the last two and a half years that I have been in Seattle I have strongly felt that something is missing from my life. A few weeks ago my mom came to visit me for a weekend. It was then that what I initially thought to be missing was confirmed to be true. My life in Seattle is missing my family, my community. My sense of safety and being cared for is missing, and although my academic life is enriched, there is a sense of comfort that comes from being close to one’s kin. Family is a built in community and one that I seem to value more and more as I age.
I feel that one of the greatest flaws in American society is the lack of community we have. This lack of community affects so many parts of our lives, and in more ways than many people realize. From personal experience, I have seen how differently my family in India views community and family. For example, in India, your home is always open to friends and family who may want to stop by and say hello or who might need you in some way. Here, unannounced and uninvited guests are frowned upon. Media portrays a picture of distain towards in-laws and unexpected guests. Yet I find myself longing to be near family, be it my own family or the family of close friends.
Our perception of elderly care is greatly skewed as well. In most cultures, elderly individuals are revered for their wisdom and history. When I was young my mom would take my sisters and I to a nursing home near our house to share cookies and conversation with the residents. I recall initially being terrified of the nursing home. Eventually I out grew that and learned how to be patient and respectful, and to have conversations with residents. Elderly family members should be cared for at home by their children. Instead, our elderly citizens are left in facilities with intermittent contact with family; they aren’t at home sharing their wisdom and life stories, enriching us with histories of our family and the world before we knew it.
Another example is found in maternity care and birth. Across the world birth is viewed as a life process that deserves support from family, employers and community as a whole. Mothers and fathers are given maternal and paternal leave, a woman’s mother will come and stay with her to care for her and her baby, the community comes together to care for the new member of their society. In America, a woman is given three months of maternity leave (a father is given less), and she is expected to “recover” from giving birth. These are just a few examples of what I feel is missing from American society and the reason for this unclear to me. The foundation of America is built upon immigration, which leaves me wondering what happened to the values and community that we still see in other places around the world?
In certain pockets of communities in America we still see this sense of community, but I feel it is only accepted where others around us are acting/living/behaving in the same way. It is not as commonplace as it should be. Psychologically speaking, a sense of community gives others a feeling of belonging; there is a sense of being part of a larger, stable structure. Perhaps if we recognized the value of community our quality of life would change. Money would matter less, time would matter more and family would come first.