Last week I learned something about how community can put an end to the loneliness of individualism. We had our first annual meeting of the studio cooperative, and our first board of directors meeting. In those events, we had dozens of students and teachers express ideas and enthusiasm for our yoga and mindfulness studio. Many people offered their precious time and energy without any thought of monetary compensation. Experiencing this care for the studio and the community, I relaxed and knew that everything would be okay. I felt the same way many years ago while raising our four young children. We often felt alone and lonely raising our children in a single family home without family nearby, but when loving family or friends would come to stay and help us out, I would really be able to relax and know that all was well. In both cases, the loneliness of trying to “do it all” was lifted, and I also recognized that the outcome would be better for all involved.
In our culture, mothers (sometimes with fathers) are expected to raise children on our own. I moved away from my hometown for a good job after graduate school, and my nearest relative was 400 miles away. My husband’s nearest relative was even further. Caring for four young children alone, while my husband worked, was one of the loneliest times of my life. While I didn’t have extended family, I was extremely lucky to have a caring partner. Friends were helpful, but most of them were busy doing their own child rearing in their own houses. All of the major decisions about our children’s health, school, emotional upsets, social growth, etc, had to be made by me alone, with help from my husband and occasional phone calls to extended famiy. In some ways, I was the CEO of the family, and my husband was the CFO. And I found out that it can be lonely at the top.
Until now, it has been a simliar experience with the studio. While we have always worked as a team, traditional corporate structure leads to loneliness at the top for two reasons. First, traditional corporate hierarchies are structured with the owner/CEO as the one accountable person, with no one at her/his level with which to share decision making. Secondly, in traditional business structures, each business is separate from and a competitor to every other business. Nuclear family structures are similar. With only a small top management (mother and/or father) and one or both busy with other work, there is very little ability to share decision making cooperatively.
Finding ways to expand the top tier — the decision makers or adults — means both including more decision makers from within and cooperating with other families or businesses outside of our own. The creation of DC Yoga Week is a great example of how the yoga community has found a way to cooperate with each other, support the growth of yoga in the area, and make decision making more fun and easeful for studio management. Yoga studios in DC don’t hesitate to share business information with each other if it can be helpful. We need this kind of social support in order to thrive and reduce the stress which is created by living individualized and sometimes isolated lives, both at home and in the business world.
We humans are social beings. We can’t survive on our own for very long. And when we are alone, or feel we are alone, we can begin to unravel. Studies on solitary confinement and isolation in adults have found that humans require interaction with other people in order to maintain our sanity.Read more here. While raising children in a nuclear family or being the manager of a hierarchical structure are not the same as solitary confinement, they are simliar in that leaders don’t have the personal connection with other leaders that helps solve challenges and make the work more fun.
In the movie, I Am, creator and director Tom Shadyac describes his own climb to fame and fortune, and how it created a separation between himself and others. He delves into how unnatural it is for humans to separate themselves from others, whether physically or socially by amassing a fortune and moving into a 17,000 square foot gated house, as he did. Even with money, fame, our own business or a family of beautiful children, we still need each other. Shadyac says:
[We have] a very extrinsic model of success. You have to have a certain job status, a certain amount of wealth. … I think true success is intrinsic. … It’s love. It’s kindness. It’s community.
So now that the studio is no longer a sole proprietorship, now that it is owned by the workers and run by the community, I feel a sense of wholeness. It feels right not to be making all of the decisions and to have the input of hundreds of different people who have had backgrounds, experiences and perspectives that I haven’t had. There is a sense of shared purpose and shared responsibility that is like having the most helpful relatives come to stay with us. While it is true that only one person births a baby, it clearly does take a community to raise one. Working cooperatively, in families or businesses, benefits not just the children, staff, or customers, but it also benefits the leaders and the larger community. Sharing responsibility and working together truly does benefit everyone, and makes our lives so much interesting, more meaningful, and more fun.