aus Bank und Bench
The Common Ground
They can be found everywhere – gatherings of people. An expression of shared experiences. Travellers and consumers, runners and fans, demonstrators and tourists. They can be spotted in train stations and shopping malls, on marathon tracks, in stadiums and concert halls, in front of seats of government and tourist attractions. They are an expression of common ground: shared interests and joy, common expectations, fears and hopes. They exist in the virtual world as well: on social networks such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter. And they can be found anywhere at any time in any shape. People are in search of close contact to others and they want an exchange of ideas with those they have something in common with, those they believe they have something in common with and those they want to have something in common with. Together, they stand around, lie on meadows, hang out on couches, cuddle on benches, sit on chairs placed around tables and fly through the air towards earth in formation skydiving.
Gatherings of people indicate a need for communication and communality – a need for shared experiences, a need for being part of a society and the world at large.
Immediate communication between people functions via the body. They can touch and feel each other, see, smell and sense each other. Such immediate communication is limited by the maximum distance of what can naturally be shouted, heard, felt and seen. For that reason, people have continuously been developing various tools and media to share their experiences in ever faster ways over ever greater distances. Smoke signals are visible at quite a distance, letters convey more precise information yet and allow for greater distances to be travelled, Morse code and the telephone reduced broadcasting time and finally, cars and airplanes reduced travelling time significantly, and, with the onset of digital communication, today information travels across the world at lightning speed. No delay. In real time. Today, there is a considerable hunger for shared experiences. An immeasurable will to communicate, which touches and unites people the world over, regardless of distance and beyond all borders. The premise for a global exchange.
II. The Nature of Communality
With every new human being an individual enters the world. However, since they are born into the world of their parents, who they depend upon, they are also social beings. Which is why human beings lead a double life – seen from an evolutionary perspective, human beings are therefore both an individual as well as a unit.
Everything that is being created is communal. Parents expand the idea of a family and children carry forward the heritage of their parents in both the biological and the cultural sense, and they continue to develop their form of life. The parents create a mix of their genetic information and render their offspring more resilient. It is through the interconnection of parents and children that human beings are turned into social beings. An interplay of you and I. The smallest unit of a community. A steady and necessary background of human existence. Infants begin to imitate the facial
expressions of their parents at a very early age. Once this imitation solicits a response, they experience successful communication for the first time, which creates a sense of security and trust.
As social beings, humans create a world order in a way that can be interpreted and understood by all, which in turn allows for shared experiences. For this reason, the history of mankind is shaped by their continued efforts to live together – both within their own culture and during their encounters with others.
Everything that is created is a means of differentiation. As individuals, humans only know one world, their own. Everyone is unique. No one can fully enter the world of another human being, as every human being has an innate sense of being and a personal perception of the world as well as a unique sense of consciousness.
Talking about this sense of uniqueness is nearly impossible. There are no terms to describe it nor a common understanding thereof, which in turn makes it astounding that human beings are at all capable of communicating with each other. This is where the idea of communality comes into its own: every individual needs to step back a little by taking their own sense of uniqueness off the pedestal and by approaching another unique being, the other person, who triggered the desire for interaction.
It is only through this masquerade that people are able to communicate with each other; the creation of a persona allows them to express their interest in others, to begin an exchange of ideas and to create a shared world out of the merging of their own individual worlds. Which is why they open up their own world in a way that creates a connection with that of others – one may even call this the true cultural work of human beings: the making of a shared world that can be understood by all.
A sense of uniqueness bears great potential. It suggests that human beings are individuals and that they will continue to be so, albeit with a strong desire to connect and to reach out beyond their individuality. As human beings they are hardwired to live in isolation and to defend themselves, but they also depend on cooperation, a desire that allows them to put the needs of others before their own in order to create a greater whole and make a collective possible. In a community, humans feel a sense of belonging, they feel protected. They can expand their knowledge of others and be in close contact to them.
Being open thus offers a range of possibilities: people may tend to be either lone wolfs or social animals: they can be alone or with others, they can be alone while being with others, and they can be with others without them being physically present.
IV. Social Animal and Lone Wolf
Lone wolfs may find a sense of belonging in themselves. They have no desire for company and prefer a life in isolation. Lone wolfs will follow their own paths, either as a result of extravagance or the need for working on a special talent, a disappointment or the inability to form relationships. Any of those reasons may make an individual feel that they have no need for others. They prefer staying in attic rooms or isolated bays, on mountains or empty beaches or prefer the solitude of nature. Lone wolfs do not necessarily feel uneasy: they may feel secure and enjoy being alone and do not experience a feeling of loneliness. Nor does being a lone wolf go hand in hand with a distaste for gatherings, but they need to be able to trust themselves. Lone wolfs respect the rules of society, but consider them to be of little importance.
Social animals, however, find a sense of belonging in others. They have a strong urge to go beyond their family ties and enter larger social organisations. They need to be in the company of others. However, deep down, social animals are also individuals, which translates into them needing to be able to trust themselves as well as others. People of that nature know instinctively that nothing could be better for them than the feeling of being able to trust their partners, as it is through this trust that they feel secure and enjoy shared activities.
In order to create an environment in which humans can coexist, all societies develop their own moral code, which helps them turn individuals into members of a society that make a conscious commitment to their culture as well as to the other members of that group. Based on a common understanding, they develop unique forms of communication and commiseration as well as of sharing information and participation. They create rules such as “be obedient, be fair” and “thou shalt not kill”. Based on rules developed and respected by all, a society can be stable and its members can experience a sense of belonging and well-being.
V. Communality in the Era of Information
The terms communication and communality are key terms in modern societies. The possibility of sharing experiences is undergoing constant change. Experiences can be shared instantly via mobile phones, and the internet and things can be shared quickly with the help of modern modes of transport. The notion of sharing is part of a preinstalled package in computers, mobile phones and tablets. On Facebook, Twitter, various blogs and other portals, ideas or issues can be shared instantly with a simple click of the “like” button. The exchange of information, the physical meeting of people and working on common projects have become so quick, easy and accessible the world over that life has been transformed into a constant change between the real and virtual world. As a result, many people feel irritated on an intellectual, psychological and social level, and at times feel uprooted; at the same time, however, they are enthusiastic and feel reassured.
Communality can be expressed in a myriad of ways. Linguistically, it can be expressed with the syllables co and com, col and con, sim and syn. Gestures such as greetings and kisses, objects such as books, benches and concert halls as well as phenomena such as tradition, culture, knowledge and technology are all expressions of our common ground. It is through the phenomena of knowledge and technology that human beings from all corners of the world have moved closer together in both the physical and the cultural sense, giving rise to the term globalisation. As a consequence, many of these cultures needed to create a greater distance to be able to approach each other.
Globalisation is the process of understanding that all human beings are interconnected and that their shared experiences must be accepted while acknowledging their cultural differences. A sense of belonging fosters trust and a sense of security, as can be seen in the smallest unit of a community, a family, which also holds true for tribes, empires and nations. It also applies to the biggest unit of a community, humankind.
VI. Globalism – the epitome of communality
Globalism is not a modern phenomenon; it is as old as humankind. The history of humankind represents the process of globalisation. Human beings have an intellect and a memory, dexterous hands and an able mind; they communicate successfully and passionately, they are conscious and continue to broaden their knowledge and their abilities. All of which allows human beings to continuously fulfil their potential, which translates into technologies with an enormous impact. Human beings are also creatures of tradition; they pass down their way of thinking and feeling, their actions and their cultural techniques to the next generations. They lead wars against other cultures while also cooperating with and learning from them. Which is why it only seems natural that small clans and tribes will join forces to form ever bigger units.
People have been creating various networks since the beginning of time: transport routes and means of communication for religious ideas, roads for military use, facilities for the flow of information and money, cultural exchange and the transfer of technologies and last but not least the world wide web, created in the high-tech world of the 21st century.
The phenomenon of globalisation was recognized very late. The current political situation of the world is characterised by the discovery that all human beings form a single community – a global community. Current events are also characterised by the efforts undertaken by humans to find ways of overcoming their cultural differences for the greater good of precisely this global community. This very moment in the history of globalisation represents the most important challenge that humankind ever had to overcome.
The ultimate stage of globalisation is globalism. A stronger focus on the common good achieved by a free and fair trade as well as a cultural exchange of the various world views and religious faiths. Globalism translates into an acceptance of differences, an understanding of the fact that all human beings are interconnected and the development of a global community. Many people have realized that clean air, potable water and the biomass of this planet are scarce resources, and they have begun to think about the world as a whole; they have started to think about the shared basis of humankind.
VII. Places of social repose
People are always looking for support. Also on a physical level. Be it via technologies or tools that carry a symbolic function and that are meant to create sociability.
The throne is meant for the chosen one: a God, a king or the Pope. It serves as a display of dignity and a symbol of power and spirituality. A stool is also meant to serve one person. Initially created as folding chairs for field commanders, they were developed into a throne for the Pope in Christianity. As the aristocrats gained the privilege of being seated, stools known as Tabourets showed up in great numbers at court; during the time of Louis XIV, their number at Versailles was as high as 1300. The position at court of any aristocrat during any given situation determined exactly which stool he was allowed to sit on.
Cushions, carpets and low benches are used as means of support for various meditation techniques intended to improve concentration, relaxation and the emptying of the mind.
A chair as a worldly representation of the sacred throne is used in many different settings both at work and during recreational activities. The very first chair that was mass-produced was created for the coffee houses of Vienna. Used in the emerging coffee houses of Europe’s capitals, this model has been offering its support to their citizens during the first political debates held in public since it was first manufactured in 1859.
Benches are a multiplication of a chair. They started their career as benches for monks during the tenth century. Subsequently, they were used at various courts during major holidays in order to bring together hundreds of aristocrats in an orderly fashion, seating them around tables to share their drink and meal. In the aftermath of the Reformation, the Protestant church begins to furnish their churches with benches, which to that date had been lacking any seating arrangements. From the churches the bench continued its success story and began to bring order to the schools. Today, benches are found in stadiums, beer tents and at mass events as well as in forests and parks, around lakes and on beaches or next to motorways and in the mountains. In homes, benches have been given names such as sofa, couch and settee. Benches can typically be found in their natural habitat, the park.
© Hajo Eickhoff 2014