On January 6, 2023, the 2nd Sharing From the Heart - Living Earth Youth Dialogues was held successfully via Zoom Meeting. More than 100 people from China and the United States participated the dialogue, during which American youth Alexi Caracotsios shared his observations and insights on the long-standing "pandemic" in American society, loneliness and isolation, with the theme of "City, Community and Loneliness". The dialogue was co-hosted by Vivian Song, Director of the Youth Program of the Sino-US Institute of Postmodern Development, and Jared Morningstar, a young scholar of cross-cultural exchanges from the United States.
Sharing From the Heart is a monthly initiative where young people from China and the United States come together around the pressing ecological, cultural, and spiritual issues of our time. Through sharing thoughts, personal stories, and actions in local settings. Chinese and American youth will begin building cross-cultural bonds to support a vision of a new, ecological civilization.
Alexi Caracotsios is a lifelong student and educator. He has lived in several countries and is interested in comparing different lifestyles in different places. Alexi first pointed out that the topic of loneliness and isolation is a lot more deeply important than many people care to admit. People in America now have almost nowhere to go for human interaction if they can’t afford the expensive bars and coffee shops. During the past 6 months, he hardly ever saw anyone on the street except cars and the homeless in his local neighborhood in Phoenix, AZ, a city with a population of 5 million people. On one hand, general American cities are designed around “stroads”, combinations of highways and shopping places, with the landscape dominated by cars, leaving no space for people to hang out. On the other hand, there has been a growing fear of leaving the bubbles in American culture. There are a number of reasons why many Americans are hesitant to spend more time in public space: discomfort from being confronted with extreme poverty or homelessness; worries about real or perceived racial tensions, particularly for non-white Americans; and even fear of potential mass shooting events. For our security and comfort and the increased purchasing power, we're losing a lot of our humanity.
Then Alexi extended the topic to compare built communities with natural communities. Built communities are a book club, a language group or a music band whereas a natural community is just what's going on outside your front door, the fruit stand, the foot traffic, or the night market in China, which brings life and motion to the streets. Though built communities are able to provide some meaningful and positive experiences, they are extremely fragile and hard to maintain. As there is no public infrastructure for people to leave their house and have a life in America, natural communities are extremely lacking, and almost all the public space becomes a Non-Space. He also noticed that even when there are really perfect and nice areas, they are completely empty. It seems like people don't really want those things and they don't enjoy being around other people. And this is partially the result of facsimile replacing life. With better technology, facsimiles are becoming so realistic and so good that they are fulfilling people's needs and to such an extent that loneliness isolation doesn't feel as important as it is.
Alexi ended his sharing with the story about the Amish who have an extremely high degree of intentionality on how they keep their communities together. The Amish ban cars because they don't want people living too far from each other and needing to drive to meet each other. They ban the dishwasher because they value the time they spend with their families doing the dishes. While we can't all be Amish, if we can consciously establish some rules or community norms to guide and discipline our lives, maybe we can find a way to face the challenges of this fast-paced, consumer-encouraging world. And one way out of loneliness and isolation in this transitional period as a species on this planet is to learn to reengage with our immediate surroundings again.
Dr. John Cobb thinks Alexi's sharing was convincing about the way people organise their cities and lives, but his experience in the old folks community is an exception. He was very pleased with the example of the religious traditional community of Amish people, which reminded him of churches in his time. As the main communities within the community, churches have brought people closer and gave people the experience of doing things together, meeting the need for communities. Dr. Cobb also said, though loneliness is not a problem he has experienced, the lives the youth are living now are connected to a lot of choices his generation has made.
Dr. Fan Meijun, project director of the Sino-US Institute of Postmodern Development, shared her recent experience in Binghamton, NY. Having spent almost 20 years in California, Dr. Fan came across a very different local community culture in Binghamton, which reminded her of Chinese culture. They are very helpful; they live in the same house as their great grandfather; good connections make things easier when purchasing properties, which is quite different from the culture of where she lives, Los Angeles, a city of immigrants who are mostly busy working to make a living and not interacting too deeply with the people around them to build a community.
Urban planning expert Flora (Yixin Lan) shared that city planning is closely connected to the consensus definition of happiness, success and meaningful life in the society in different times and cultures. In the 50s in the United States, such consensus was to have a decent job, a beautiful house in the suburbs with a housewife, kids and pets. That was the American dream. However, with the advancement of technology, people's lifestyles have changed a lot. We have to seek a new pattern of an ideal lifestyle for this generation, hence redesign our cities accordingly.
Wenwen, a former graduate of Cobb Eco Academy, shared that many young people in China are seeking to create an eco-village community lifestyle in the country. She shared her community life experience of living and working with others at Cobb Eco College. She said, when people live together in nature, they tend to put down their phones to to things together in nature and connection and intimacy are built naturally in it. By connecting with nature, with others, and with ourselves, we can build an ecological community and that can be one of the ways out of loneliness and separation.
Reflection from 雯 Anita
Want to learn more about the Living Earth Youth Dialogues and attend a future event? Use the button below to head to the Living Earth Movement Website to learn more.