At a recent block party with which I was involved, a great realization came to me. Looking around, I was taken aback both by the richness of the social scene before me and by how primal it felt.
Here was what I saw…
How profoundly we’re affected, I thought, when we can access common space immediately in front of our homes. Unhealthy individualist traits – dark thoughts, poor speech, egoism, and so on – that breed in isolation are washed away when we’re together as neighbors. And as groups we’re protected from invasive influences such as advertising, addiction, and excessive consumerism. Strip all that away and beneath we discover our true selves. We become better people.
And who are we? Suddenly it hit me: With the block party bringing out our primal selves, we looked pleasantly like a group of monkeys hanging out. No nonsense, no dashing around, just life stripped down to its bare essentials. Some folks might object to being compared to monkeys in this context but I make the comparison in the most positive way possible. Primates are our closest biological relatives. We have an enormous amount in common. Whenever we find ourselves in a harmonious primate-like state we know we’re touching a deeper part of ourselves.
We love sitting around each other, doing nothing
All the effort that goes into block parties – and for what? To sit around doing nothing together. And how enjoyable it is! Our primate relatives enjoy precisely the same thing.
We like to look out for each other
People love to jump behind the barbecue. It’s greatly satisfying to provide food for one’s neighbors, just like our primate cousins like to pick bugs from each others’ fur. All kinds of other altruistic behavior can be seen at block parties: Fetching someone a burger, helping another person’s child up from a fall, and so on. Block parties bring out our natural kindness.
We’re naturally curious
Of all the community street fairs (distinct from block parties) I’ve organized the events that get people most excited are the flea markets. People love to rummage for interesting things and discover secrets, just like the above-pictured group of monkeys peering at the camera. And our curiosity is as much stoked by our interest in each other, which is why we always provide plenty of benches at our street fairs for people-watching.
In our hearts, we love the simple things
Despite the complexity of our modern world, deep inside we most enjoy the simple things much like the chimpanzees hanging playfully on the vine. We enjoy food and play and we love our pets, like my neighbor Alan above at our recent block party dog show.
There’s one more fundamental truth that block parties bring out in us: We are all equal. In everyday life, we distinguish ourselves through our cars, houses, job titles, ages, and abilities. At a block party, we stand on the same ground, eat the same food, sit in the same chairs. We’re relieved from the burden of hierarchy.
Block parties beautifully reveal our true nature as sociable, kind, curious, and simple-hearted creatures, just like our primate relatives. This is why it’s so important to correct the mistakes of the past where streets, our common spaces, became so dangerous and auto-centric that we were denied the opportunity to easily gather in public like we used to. For the good of us all, it’s time to rework our streets to provide for our deepest needs as social beings.