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Solidarity is Good for Your Health

Solidarity is Good for Your Health

Most people would agree that life would be significantly more challenging, and not nearly as much fun, without the love and support of our family, friends and the people in our community. The notion that ‘no man is an island’ is not a new concept. It is a truism that has been emphasised throughout the ages, reminding us that we can get by with a little help from our friends, and that we
all need somebody to lean on.

Trama Textiles was founded on the concept of solidarity, cooperation and friendship. The association was formed 32 years ago in response to the devastation suffered by many of the women and their families during the Guatemalan civil war. Many of the male members of the community did not
return from the civil war, and so the women who remained came together in strength and unity to support each other, to share their skills and to help one another to provide for their families.

Throughout history, periods of difficulty and hardship have often led to the strengthening of communities. Civilian accounts of World War II not only describe episodes of terror or destruction; they also remark on intense feelings of solidarity and comradery. When writing about England’s response to World War II one sociologist remarked: “In every upheaval we rediscover humanity and
regain freedoms…We relearn some old truths about the connection between happiness, unselfishness and the simplification of living”.

Perhaps the experience of a communal struggle enables us to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. Self-interest becomes subsumed into group interest. We are suddenly prompted to break away from our everyday routines and to focus on the things that are most important to us – the health and happiness of our family, friends and neighbours. Interestingly, it has been found that due to the increased level of involvement with community during times of adversity, people often experience improvements in their mental health. Research has found that during times of war, the rate of depression and crime tends to drop.

Involvement in a community does not only have a positive impact on our mental health; it has also been found to boost our physical health. In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell describes an Italian community called Roseto, in Pennsylvania, where the incidence of heart disease was roughly half of that in the rest of the United States and the death rate was 35% lower. Within this community there
was no record of suicide, alcoholism or drug addiction. Having investigated variables such as diet, exercise, genetics and the location of Roseto, the only difference researchers could find between this community and others in the US was its exceptionally high level of social cohesion and its egalitarian attitudes and structures. It appeared that solidarity and friendship was insulating
community members from the debilitating pressures of the modern world.

Currently, across the globe, we now find ourselves facing an unprecedented health crisis with the onslaught of COVID-19. Fear and anxiety about the potential impact of this virus is spreading more quickly than the virus itself. Modern life has been called to a halt – non-essential shops and businesses have been closed, non-essential travel is discouraged, and we have been urged to spend
more time at home. The emphasis on what is now considered non-essential has by default reminded us of what is essential – quality family time, exercise, healthy food, laughter.

As the threat of the virus grows bigger, the need for us to unite and support one another in our communities becomes more important than ever. It also becomes more challenging, with so many of us forced to undertake social distancing and isolate ourselves from those that we wish to be close to.  Nonetheless, there are still various ways in which we can connect with, and care for, one another.
Making a phone call to a friend who lives alone. Dropping some groceries to an elderly neighbour. Sharing a joke to help someone laugh. Signing up to volunteer online. Each of us can play an important role in response to this crisis. By demonstrating a spirit of solidarity in this time of need, we can not only provide a pick-me-up to others in our community, but we can boost our own feelings of connectedness and well-being as well.

“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much” – Helen Keller

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger
Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell

Photography: Courtesy of Adam Welker)



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