The Community Experiment

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The concept of all people on Earth being part of one human family was in my consciousness in my upbringing, but captured my focused attention during my early young adult years. What a curious, yet familiar, notion! How is that possible when we as humans also seem to find any reason imaginable to focus on the differences between us?

So, with this fresh focus and mission to discover all that there was to learn about this “oneness,” I turned to my family for examples of how I might conceptualize elements of this idea as well as gain some concrete examples to draw upon later. All of my idealized and nostalgic notions of family and community scrolled along the hopeful marquee in my mind, making me sigh with joy at the beauty of it all… but my dear friend, Reality, needed a word with me…

As I began to take a closer look at what my family dynamics were all about, I realized that there was a good deal more to the equation than the warm and fuzzy moments that my memories of family and community life had selectively summoned. I discovered that I had glazed over the many tales that one witnesses, but doesn’t tell “strangers.” Wait… strangers? Surely not, since we are all family, no? The answer for me was yes, though it would be this “yes” that was the path to learning.

So, picture a family reunion. You have the convergence of all these people coming from different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, education levels and so on… but all perceive a shared bloodline. There’s a tie of commonality that all accept to some degree or another, whether it be last name, shared memories, pictures and so on. My family reunions are as diverse as a Prince concert. We’ve got high-rollers, business people, hard-workers, artists, scientists, politicians, the cousin who no one lets stay with the kids alone, and many more, including the cousins that you don’t ask too many questions of for fear of learning too much of the truth of their tale of woe or dark and twisted lives.

What I observed with this new lens was that the way that I had been experiencing family life was quite superficial, albeit sweet to remember. I noticed that I knew precious little about any of them beyond career, profession, child count, or location. We had seen each other every year or every couple years since I was an infant, and I could only barely recall some of my family members’ names! My mission then became to deepen my relationships with any of those I could in this environment, and I have been amazed at the rich dialogue that has emerged from it.

Now, that is within the context of someone that you regard as a “family tie” and they regard you the same. I found that the average member of my family “off the street” is somewhat less inclined to engage on a level that I could expect from my blood-family. My assertion, though, is that it has everything to do with perspective. A stranger I greet on the street or bump into in a grocery store can easily become a warm friend if I perceive it to be so and they are open and receptive to it. Not always easy, but always potential. Some of my warmest relationships and trusted confidants are folks that I met by happenstance on the street, at a concert, on an Internet forum, chatting online and so on. Some of these relationships are even more intimate and impactful than my blood relationships.

My conclusion (and urgent appeal) is that we have a very big experiment to engage in – one that requires the awareness of all of our family throughout the globe. Consider this oneness, and challenge yourself to go a few steps beyond comfort to engage with your family outside of your household, socio-economic bracket, academic circle, biker club, book club, religious community, school, age group, nation and any other barrier that you can think of that seems to keep us from all the glorious experiences that are waiting behind that curtain.

Oak Ritchie is a native of South Carolina, and has lived all over the East Coast and the Caribbean. He presently lives in Carrboro, NC, where he is working with a variety of visual mediums and blogs at Steady Flow.


  1. kari

    26 April, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Oak! Nice read.
    My favorite lines. “but my dear friend, reality, needed a word with me…” amd “My family reunions are as diverse as being at a Prince concert.”

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who feels like no matter how many Christmases a family spends together, this doesn’t necessarily lead to deep knowledge of one another. I’d love to know more about how you brought your family members closer to you.

  2. Oak

    27 April, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks for the love sister!

    As far as family goes, I’m sure there’s more dialogue to come about that in depth, but I will say that the learning about getting closer to all family seems to be inextricably linked to the principle of unconditional love. The more I explore the implications of that principle, the more I know I have to work on…

  3. Alisa

    29 April, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Holy crap. Love this. THANK YOU OAK!!!! I feel this totally. And it’s essentially what all of us needs. Myself included! Family – all of it – is what it is ALL about. I just gotta do my part figuring out what that means and continues to mean for me!

  4. Bahiyyih

    29 April, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Preach it, brother…

  5. Pingback: My Human Family « Steady Flow