The Commune Next Door

Christopher Harries

I do not know about you, but the coronavirus lockdown has allowed me to get to know my neighbours. In what seems a paradox despite living in an increasingly interconnected world, individuals seem to be increasingly isolated. Lockdown has presented the opportunity to address the inward looking isolation and focus instead on wider society.

No man is an island,

entire of itself;

every man is a piece of the continent,

a part of the main.

John Donne – Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

Despite having lived in the same address for eighteen months, it took lockdown for me to come to interact with the neighbours. Where we had passed in the street or when coming and going, the lockdown experience has forced us to interact.

It started early on in the period of government-imposed confinement. An evening blessed with weather suitable for a barbeque led to much merriment from across the garden wall. Drinks were being enjoyed and in time someone took to smoking cannabis based on the pungent scent on the evening breeze.

Every day, saw this behaviour continue with the number of guests in the garden increasing the longer that the lockdown persisted. Inclement weather would not dissuade the neighbours from their routine. For weeks, I ignored the antics from next door until last Friday night. The house next door, a small terrace house seemed to have a constant procession of guests and a soundtrack and fragrance that would not relent. 

Venturing outside at three in the morning, I stood on the doorstep and knocked. Eventually, someone came to the door and invited me to enter into what they dubbed the commune. The tenant looked as if she was in the middle of travelling on a gap year dressed in the customary purchase from Thailand the baggie elephant trousers. Nonchalant at aggrieved neighbours, she had no concern over the impact of her behaviour or that of her guests on others. 

The impeded sleep was irksome however this experience highlighted one side effect of our increasingly insular society. We have become less concerned with both the area where we live and less inclined to know our neighbours compared to previous generations, creating indifference to the impact of our behaviour of others. It was not lost on me that the so-called commune seemed indifferent to the impact of their behaviour on others.

Now, why do I regale you with a tale of the commune next door? As Donne acknowledged so eloquently no man can function truly independently. We all rely on others, and for a community or even society to truly function it requires every individual to accept they are part of something greater than one self. The commune highlighted what happens when individuals and indeed groups lose sight of the wider society and become indifferent to others.

Lockdown has highlighted both the best and worst of society. The selfless sacrifice as well as the selfish behaviour of others. You just have to look at the news to see individuals and groups wantonly breaking restrictions with seemingly little to no regard for the potential impact of their behaviour on others. As Lockdown is gradually phased out, let us remember that we are all not merely an island but instead part of something more.  

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