The Importance of Community

During the 1950s Dr Wolf, who often holidayed in a village in Pennsylvania, was invited to give a talk to the local medical society. While talking to the local doctor from Bangor he was told that no one under 65 had died of heart disease in the village of Roseto. Wolf studied the findings, even going back and examining death certificates, and found the local doctor’s claims to be valid. He also discovered that the death rate was 35% lower than expected.

Wanting to know why this village was different to the rest of the American population Dr Wolf brought in sociologists and medical students and their research confirmed that the villagers had no suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, no-one on welfare or any sick people (they only died of old age) and they also had very little crime. This was despite the fact that the townspeople worked in toxic industries, ate a high fat, high sugar diet, smoked heavily and many struggled with obesity.

So why did this town defy the odds?

In the 1800s Roseto was a small village in Italy populated by a community that were barely literate and desperately poor. By 1882 a small group of 11, 10 men and one boy, set sail for New York. Not finding what they were looking for in New York they ventured west before settling in the town of Bangor, Pennsylvania. They remained in contact with their village and over the following year 15 more people left to live in America. As the years passed one group of Rosetans after another, set sail for America. By 1894 1200 Rosetans had applied for passports to America leaving entire streets of their village abandoned.

In America, the Rosetans began buying land, building wagon paths, houses and a church. In 1896 Father Pasquale de Nisco took over the church and set up spiritual societies and organised festivals. He gave out seeds and bulbs and encouraged his congregation to plant food and in doing so he encouraged the building of communities.

Fifty years later as Dr Wolf walked around town he noticed that the villagers visited one another, stopped and chatted on the street, many generations lived under the one roof and prayed together. In other words, they formed a dynamic, supportive community. They visited each other and in tough times they relied on their community for support.

As time went by Rosetans became more Americanised and as they became less interdependent ties between them dismantled. By the 1970s they moved into single family homes and by 1971 the first person under 45 died of a heart attack.

The Rosetan people provide us with a strong incentive to get back to nurturing each other through the creation of communities because depression and loneliness is killing us.

Loneliness causes serious hurt as it acts on the same part of our brain as physical pain[1]. Recent research has shown that we don’t need to be alone to be lonely, we can be surrounded by people yet still feel disconnected or rejected. Loneliness increases our risk to heart disease, cancer, respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders as well as alzheimers.

Studies have also shown that loneliness has nothing to do with the number of people in our lives it results from the quality of our relationships. One of the discoveries that has come out of research on loneliness is that feeling lonely doesn’t make us yearn to engage with others, it makes us hypervigilant that we can be hurt, making us less likely to engage[2].

Sometimes becoming a part of a community is easier than you think. Join a group or start a coffee meet up, the Next Door app is a great free resource for finding local groups, or starting a local group.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/articles/201803/cure-disconnection

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/articles/201803/cure-disconnection