The biggest surprise for me of living in a community like this? You share all the domestic labor — the repairing, the cooking, the weeding — but you also share the emotional labor. Rather than depending only on the idealized family unit to get all of your emotional needs met, you have two dozen other people that you can go to, to talk about a hard day at work or troubleshoot how to handle an abusive teacher.
Teenagers in our community will often go to an adult that is not their parent to ask for advice. It’s what bell hooks called “revolutionary parenting,” this humble acknowledgment that kids are healthier when they have a wider range of adults to emulate and count on.
Turns out, adults are healthier, too. It’s a lot of pressure, trying to be that perfect family behind that white picket fence. The “new better off,” as I’ve come to call it, is less about investing in the perfect family and more about investing in the imperfect village, whether that’s relatives living under one roof, a cohousing community like mine, or just a bunch of neighbors who pledge to really know and look out for one another.
It’s good common sense, right? And yet, money has often made us dumb about reaching out. The most reliable wealth is found in relationship. The new better off is not an individual prospect at all.
In fact, if you’re a failure or you think you’re a failure, I’ve got some good news for you: you might be a success by standards you have not yet honored. Maybe you’re a mediocre earner but a masterful father. Maybe you can’t afford your dream home, but you throw legendary neighborhood parties.
If you’re a textbook success, the implications of what I’m saying could be more grim for you. You might be a failure by standards you hold dear but that the world doesn’t reward. Only you can know.
I know that I am not a tribute to my great-grandmother, who lived such a short and brutish life, if I earn enough money to afford every creature comfort. You can’t buy your way out of suffering or into meaning. There is no home big enough to erase the pain that she must have endured.
I am a tribute to her if I live a life as connected and courageous as possible. In the midst of such widespread uncertainty, we may, in fact, be insecure. But we can let that insecurity make us brittle or supple.
We can turn inward, lose faith in the power of institutions to change — even lose faith in ourselves. Or we can turn outward, cultivate faith in our ability to reach out, to connect, to create.
Turns out, the biggest danger is not failing to achieve the American Dream. The biggest danger is achieving a dream that you don’t actually believe in. So don’t do that.
Do the harder, more interesting thing, which is to compose a life where what you do every single day, the people you give your best love and ingenuity and energy to, aligns as closely as possible with what you believe.
That, not something as mundane as making money, is a tribute to your ancestors. That is the beautiful struggle.
Resources for Further Reading: