Not For Ourselves Alone
Belonging in an age of loneliness
The Inside Story
“Like every other human on this planet I am of woman born. My nine months’ gestation was bliss. As I flipped from fish to amphibian to human, I never had to worry about a roof over my head or where my next meal was coming from. I never felt cold or hot or ridiculed or lonely. My mother was home, restaurant and companion in one. She demanded nothing, accepted all my metamorphoses, criticised nothing, and her body was mine to plunder: if I needed calcium her teeth gave it up; if I craved iron, her blood made the sacrifice. If something went wrong, we were one in our suffering. But with my first breath I found myself alone.”
From this beginning Jenny Robin Jones uses her own experience to track how, in the modern world, we develop a sense of belonging. She finds that personality and knowing yourself are vital for building a comfortable place in society, but single-minded concentration on the self can lead us down a cul-de-sac of emptiness and disconnection.
In the modern world a whole economic system has been built upon a caricature of ourselves as rational creatures hellbent on satisfying our own self-interest through consumption and maximising profit. Politicians espousing this system have allowed a dangerous erosion of social provisions to the point where some of these, such as national health, housing and education are seriously failing.
The caricature took root partly in reaction to cataclysmic events of the early twentieth century, when thousands of people embraced new social movements such as fascism and communism and agreed to suspend individuality. Both the extreme movements and the cult of individuality were explicable in the context of their times, but we have reached a point now where a deeper understanding of ourselves and our needs is imperative.
Not For Ourselves Alone looks at the different kinds of belonging available to us. Some people find it most intensely through place, others through community. For some it’s marriage and family; everyone would love to experience it at work; for an increasing number the social media beckon addictively. As life on this planet becomes more precarious, perhaps what can help most in motivating us to live within its means is to cultivate a sense of belonging to it.
In conversation with friends and family members, the author records how those dear to her are finding their own ways to belonging in spite of pressures nudging them towards loneliness and alienation. In essence they are replacing the twentieth century story of ourselves as either self-interested individuals or simple herd animals by a narrative with kindness, compassion and inclusion at its heart.
"It's clearly the product of a sensitive analytic mind and a playful sense of humour. Jenny has sense, common and uncommon. I got so much pleasure discovering new stuff and just thinking myself inside and around it.... It's a thoughtful, questioning book, that sparks new questions - the sort of book you don't want to read just once... Jenny has somehow managed to spark revelatory, genuine and clearly honest outpourings from all of her contributors."
“One of the things I love about Not For Ourselves Alone is the way Jenny weaves together a wider political and economic perspective with both her own story and those of the people she interviewed - to show various ways to belong. After reading about the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq, it's moving to read the personal story of an Iraqi family who came and settled in New Zealand."
RADIO interview with Andrew Dickens on Newstalk ZB, a 10 minute conversation broadcast on 17 April 2018. Notes on the website: "Critically acclaimed NZ author, Jenny Robin Jones has written an absorbing and at times moving account of belonging throughout the ages. Her book, Not For Ourselves Alone: Belonging in an Age of Loneliness is a creative non-fiction work. It traverses the development of individuality through historical and sociological lenses from medieval times to the present day. Jones’ research sits alongside personal reflections of her own life and those of her friends and family who have all experienced belonging, isolation, loneliness in different ways and at different times." click here
How to Buy
Not For Ourselves Alone is out now and available from all good booksellers throughout New Zealand. The RRP is $39.99. Also available from this website click here.
1. Foundations. 2. A Short History of the Self. 3. Adulthood. 4. Place. 5. Marriage and Family. 6. Community. 7. Biological Bonding. 8. In Public Space. 9. Homo Economicus. 10. Inside a Nation. 11. Ingroup Outgroup. 12. The Great Belonging.
A dozen or so carefully selected interviewees spoke with candour and perceptiveness about their experiences relating to identity, work, place, marriage, community, immigration, emigration, social media, retirement, economic relations, social activism and being part of the universe.
Not For Ourselves Alone is fully notated with bibliography and index. For a list of the main books and other reading matter consulted, see Guide to Resources.