“It’s not where you live but how you live.”
The Art of Belonging
Pan Macmillan Australia
The Art of Belonging advances the argument put forward in Mackay’s bestselling The Good Life: a ‘good life’ is not lived in isolation or in the pursuit of independent goals; a good life is lived at the heart of a thriving community, among people we trust, and within an environment of mutual respect. Drawing on 50 years’ experience as a social researcher, Mackay creates a fictional suburb, Southwood, and populates it with characters who – like most of us – struggle to reconcile their need to belong with their desire to live life on their own terms. He chronicles the numerous human interactions and inevitable conflicts that arise in a community when characters assert their own needs at the expense of others. Through a series of riveting, interconnected stories, Mackay reveals the beautiful symmetry of the human condition: we need communities, but communities also need us. His book is a quiet but persuasive entreaty to readers to take responsibility for the places where they live by engaging, volunteering, joining up and joining in.
The Art of Belonging is the book that will reignite the conversation about how we want to live; it will provide the framework for those who argue for a particular vision of community, one that sustains, protects and nurtures the many, and not just the few.
In this very accessible narrative (Mackay uses life in a pseudo town called Southwood to make his points), we experience many “aha”moments that accompanies much nodding of the head in agreement as we read along and discover social analysis that is so relevant to how we lead our lives today. Mackay talks about how we make communities, the benefits to those engaged in communities and how society and humanity is shaped by community relationships.
It isn’t difficult to make “community” a positive experience, “when we take each other seriously and treat each other with kindness and courtesy, the suburban miracle – the township miracle, the village miracle – happens, over and over again. At the very least, we manage to live at peace with each other. Quite often we do much better than that.” (p.49) Simple words that make real sense and Mackay shows us how this can be achieved through very real interactions at a street level.
This book is full of practical advice that town planners, CEO’s, schools…individuals can take on board. Mackay makes an interesting point about herding behavior (p.65) that can could make the difference between success and failure of your next committee/workplace/community meeting: “we humans are by nature herd animals, and the long history of human civilization tells us that we are most comfortable in herds of between five and eight people. Below five, social energy is harder to generate; above eight, the dynamic changes and it becomes a more formal setting that’s less intimate and potentially more inhibiting for some members of the group.” Makes perfect sense to me…I nod my head again in agreement as I read this… I can see the implications all around me, it can apply to book groups, committees, dinner parties, study groups…the benefits in terms of positive outcomes and of inclusion is obvious and a small change like consciously deciding on numbers when setting up a group can make a big impact.
This is a great read, the language is clear and accessible, the examples easy to relate to. Wave to your neighbour as you leave home today, say “good morning” “how are you doing?” to the postie or the petrol station attendant, the checkout operator, the book seller, your teachers, your colleagues…and watch the world around you slowly change.