How does wealth isolate us?

Reverend Allan Smith-Reeve, August 2020

 “Loneliness and social isolation are now being recognized as public health issues in Ontario. In his recent report, Connected Communities: Healthier Together. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David C. Williams highlights the growing evidence that loneliness and social isolation have negative impacts on our health and wellbeing.”

How have we lost the capacity in our culture to create and sustain community connectedness?

I wonder if another social trend – the growing gap between those who enjoy wealth and those at its margins isn’t a cause – with isolation as its effect?

Isn’t it our own wealth that is at the root?

  • How does our wealth isolate us from our relations with the earth?
  • How does our wealth isolate us from our relations with one another?
  • How does our wealth isolate us from the natural flow of abundance and redistribution in our local economic ecosystem?

Consider how the poorest people of the world are those most connected with the earth. People who for centuries have relied on the land for food, medicine, and their very survival. They have retained ancient earth wisdom that most civilized, urbanized, consumers have forgotten (or never known). The earth speaks a language that its creatures (furred, finned, feathered, four and two footed) are in tune with.

While our wealth removes us from depending on the precarious cycles of survival, haven’t we become tourists in the natural world rather than participants? The noise of consumer culture drowns out the ancient wisdom available to all. Cupboards full but souls empty.    

Consider how the poorest people of the world are those most skilled at sustaining relationships. Those without the funds to purchase tickets for entertainment and travel have retained the ability to come together and create their own amusements. Story-telling, music-making, merriment and mourning are all crafts that bring folks together.

While wealth purchases tickets – it excludes so many and turns us into spectators instead of participants. Who have we isolated ourselves from and what are we missing and forgetting?

The poorest people of the world are those most skilled at wealth redistribution. Because their relationships are a means of survival, they are practiced at tool exchanges, shared care-giving, and an open fridge. The poorest can’t afford to build fences or to live in suburbs where it’s every man for himself.

Instead of purchasing appliances and tools to “do it yourself” they rely on the muscle, ingenuity, and goodwill of neighbours. Instead of purchasing mental-health, fitness, and recreational therapies, they create front porch community. Instead of banks, investments, and financial security, they invest in the power of kin.

When life brings abundance – it’s shared. When life brings want – it’s shared. In a world where cash and credit replaces our need for neighbourly love, have we lost the art of relying on one another’s mutuality?

“Blessed are the poor” says the sage. What blessings have we exchanged for the credit we’ve gained?  I wonder.