Where is Our Community?


By Clare Dinnocenti

Aging gracefully in a society that no longer attends each other.

I remember a time in Royersford, Pennsylvania when my mother was ill. Each of the ladies in the neighborhood took turns feeding us–seven children plus my dad. In our little community that was the normal flow of life. Of course, I also remember my own mother going down the block with dinner and fruit on many occasions.

So what happened? What happened to civility and community? There is still some of each in Royersford, Pennsylvania, but it is the residue of my parent’s generation who participate in it. Actually, at least three of my siblings continue to enjoy this noble environment. They continued as contributors in that paradigm and now reap the benefits. It may have cost them a bit of their privacy, but they are more than compensated in the beautiful way that people care for and about each other.

Those of us who moved from Royersford and took up careers in cities traded our small town gifts for higher paychecks, higher education and what we believed to be sophistication and culture. We succeeded in enjoying a different kind of fulfillment in our lives. When we are under 40, the idea of community is not of significant interest.

In 1987, Scott Peck wrote a book about creating community called The Different Drum. I had a wonderful reaction to that book and smugly thought, “Royersford was such a community”. Still, in 1988, lack of community in society was not very important to me or my peers. Now, however, as we watch our parents aging and, correspondingly, prepare for our own, that community life looks very “sweet”.

In my quest for understanding, I have paid more attention to people over 70 during the past year. The idea of aging has become significant. There are many more questions than answers, many more problems than solutions and far too much misunderstanding. Books such as Another Country by Mary Pipher, Ph.D (recently reviewed by Oprah) explain the conditions and problems. This particular book offers insight for those who seek to understand and–understanding is paramount.

Ms. Pipher sees the loss of community as detrimental to both our aging population and its caregivers. She also focuses on the impact of our rapidly changing lifestyles–generations are distancing each other in more ways than miles. She strongly suggests counseling for families dealing with the responsibility of caring for parents and grandparents.

My “higher” work of the past 20 years (teaching self-esteem), has encouraged me to explore the reasons why some older people become “elderly” (less productive and more needy) and others become “elders” (continued productivity and more independent). Although my research is limited (interviewing relatives, acquaintances and occasional visits to senior homes), one quality is pivotal–attitude.

It is apparent that the self-acceptance we develop throughout our lives determines our ability to cope with change. Over the years in our lectures and workshops, self-acceptance and self-understanding became the most sought after gifts. It appears that creating these gifts in our lives, at any age, will enable us to gracefully and graciously approach our own aging and assist those we love along the same path.

Looking for Self-growth and Self-actualization

Books that have helped me grow.

Your Erroneous Zones by Wayne Dyer, published in 1976. I selected this book at the bookstore because, like many others, I misread the title as Your “Erogenous” Zones and I was looking for a way to invigorate my lagging marriage. Wow, it started my path to incredible understanding. 

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, published in 1956. This again was a book selected to seek understanding for saving a marriage. It is a powerful book. It brings awareness and reality to love. It brings clarity to our mythical and romantic notions of love. 

The Secret of Staying in Love; Why am I Afraid to Tell you Who I am? and Unconditional Love by John Powell, published in 1974. OK, you can guess–still trying to save the marriage. This trilogy combines psychology and faith. It is delivered simplistically and therefore it is very effective. 

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A  Kempis, published originally in Latin. Clearly a religious book but designed to give strength and reinforcement to understanding our own inner beauty. 

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, published in Austria in 1946. This book, written by a psychiatrist who also suffered unspeakable horror in the Nazi death camps, explores man’s search for life’s meaning. This is a powerful book. Its power is enhanced by Frankl’s ability to write psychology as prose. 

People of the Lie by Scott Peck, published in 1983. Although everything Peck writes could be listed here, this book had a profound effect on me. It explores how evil corrupts, but, more importantly, it assigns blame to our everyday compunction to maintain artificial status. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925. Speaking of artificiality, after reading Peck’s People of the Lie, you will experience Fitzgerald’s classic with new understanding. 

Jealousy by Nancy Friday, published in 1985. This book gives clarity to our misunderstanding of the difference between envy and jealousy. 

 Another Country by Mary Pipher, published in 1999. This book explores our aging society and how it is affected by our modern day lack of community. Scott Peck, in 1987, also addressed our need for community in his book, The Different Drum.