Johnathon Sacks and community

I have been thinking a lot recently about community and morality. These are two very serious words! They conflict with my urban, displaced and twenty-something stage in life typically associated with the flighty, frivolous and selfish years. I read this book a few months ago: Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times by Johnathon Sacks. It’s a brilliant book that I am recommending to anyone and everyone. It’s really encouraged me to consider how I can act to build more meaning, community and care in my own life, and convinced me why acting morally (which before reading this book seemed an archaic way of thinking!) is key to living a good life. He goes into depth on what ‘acting morally’ means, and why it is important.

This book has made me reconsider lots of things, including community concerning my painting practice. I read this statement in the book Navigating The Art World by Delphian Gallery

The art world is a community, and with any community, you need to contribute to it rather than just attempting to take from it. Go to private views and rave about the good ones you see. Find a gallery that you love, and tell the world.

P.48 Navigating The Art World: Professional Practice For The Early Career Artist by Delphian Gallery

I loved this perspective on carving out a career in the arts. I find it easy to slip into a very competitive mindset where it’s me vs the world. This headspace doesn’t allow much room for sharing, caring, giving practices. I intend to practice shifting this.

The quote is different to the brand focused advice young people starting their careers are given; get LinkedIn and shout your successes from the rooftop; use Instagram to make regular and effective content. This is focus on building an image remotely, viewable on a screen, which will then hopefully lead to opportunities. Sacks talks about the modern focus on image in his book. He explains the highest value of approval is based on an image that one projects out into the world, into social settings. This is perfect for worlds in which you meet many people but hardly ever the same person twice. To look great walking down the street in amazing clothes is to gain high approval, to have a gorgeous Instagram account also gains approval. And in a career, a successful brand image gains the group approval of an industry and customer base. An image focused group moral is suited to a big city, or working remotely, where the people you pass in the street and the train on the way to work are different every day.

This approach is very different to another kind of group morality Sacks explains that builds trust and a community of people who meet repeatedly. This kind of acting aligns with the quote from Delphian Gallery. It relies on good human interactions, on genuine care for others and what they are doing, and for connecting human-to-human repeatedly.

I think I have been acting on image morals, because I am subconsciously of the mindset that I will never have repeat encounters with groups or individuals. I have been concerned with my Instagram feed and my CV but not with the community of professionals around me.

Why is this? I think it has a lot to do with how I grew up – in the suburbs of London, and then at 11 to a village in the country. In both of these places I had no local community. I would travel 1 hour each way to see friends and go to school, everyone was remote and separate from each other. Then at 18 I moved to London for a year and then 1 year later to university, and I kept moving. 6 years after my 18th birthday I have moved to a new place 5 times, nearly once a year. Not including every time I moved house in the same city every year of uni.

I have spent my whole adult life so far, and much of my teenage years when I couldn’t wait to leave home, planning my next move. So much so that I think I am totally unused to committing to a community, because there is always a move on the horizon. I am unpractised at contributing to a group of people, to being involved with a community. My mindset is always it’s not worth it because I’m moving soon. It’s easier to do that than face the scary new experiences of the present day. Using moving as a way to avoid the problems of the present day.

I want to practise changing this. Treating where I am in the moment as very important, as what matters! That means taking time to show up to local events, reach out to people I am excited about, make the most of my day today. Live in the present moment! I will use Jonathan Sacks book as guidance.

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