Marv Thomas e-interviewed by Josephine Anna Kaszuba Locke (May, 2004)
On his Personal Village website, relationship therapist Marv Thomas claims to be 'a man on a mission ... to revitalize community for myself and everyone I can reach.' Telling us that 'Too much is written about how to make money ... too little is written about how to strengthen our personal communities', Thomas offers Personal Village: How to Have People in Your Life by Choice, Not Chance, a wonderful book that suggests insightful methods for adding support to one's life.
Q: In my understanding of the book's premise, community comes across as something that adults engage in. Have you considered writing a children's or teens' book, at their level of understanding and acceptance? And if so, what do you see as distinct differences in younger communities?
A: Community is like breathing. Everyone breathes and everyone participates in community. So if the book comes across as just something that only adults do that was a failing on my part. Actually community is at the core of what it is to be human. Children, teens, adults and elders all are embedded in a communal system, otherwise they would not survive, let alone thrive. I very much had children in my mind when I wrote the book, but it is the adults who create the communal systems in which the children thrive. That is why I created a manual to instruct adults how to create effective community for themselves and everyone they know—including the children and teens. The experience of community for children is different than adults because their developmental needs are different, but on another level the experience of community is just as important to children as adults and in many ways not much different.
I had several teens read the book and from about age 16 up they were able to grasp what I was saying and felt it was information that every teen needed. But as one teen age girl told me: "They all need this very much, but they would not read it unless it was written like Harry Potter."
The communities our children and teens live in are a reflection of the type of community their significant adults enjoy. In fact most of the communal experiences for children are created by adults; parents structure the family communal experience, teachers structure the school communal experience. universities structure the college communal experience to a great extent and so do churches.
Many books already are written to deal with children's community — the school, church, family, child psychology and day care literature — so I did not feel a need to address that issue specifically in this book.
I do not plan to write any books specifically targeted to children, though I will eventually write a book of stories which illuminates the different dimensions of community. Many teens have seen preliminary copies of that text and have found it quite useful. Outside of that one book I will leave it to other authors who are more skilled at voicing material to children to create books to help that age. I hope my book will stimulate the adults to take responsibility for creating good communal system for their children.
The general question of community for children, at one level, is extremely multifaceted because the developmental needs of a child change so rapidly. The type of community necessary for an infant is totally different than the one for a preschooler which again is totally different that the young school age child. It will take an entire army of caring authors to address this complex topic.
Q: In your research and development of material for Personal Village, what is your greatest feeling of success? Of failure?
A: My greatest feeling of success with developing the material for this book was the experience I had with many wonderful people over the years. Experience which I drew upon as I wrote the text. The other reward I felt was to know that I was adding the best I knew from my work and life experience which would contribute to make our busy, somewhat fragmented world a better place to live.
I did not feel a sense of failure aside from a slight regret that I did not get this book out earlier. This was a very difficult book to write because it required of me that I synthesized many complex social, psychological, historical and cultural issues into plain language that the average population could understand. It seems to read quite folksy, but in reality it was very difficult to convert the complicated ideas into what seems to be off-hand common knowledge.
What was difficult was that I had so much more to say, but I wanted to create a book that was manageable. I totally left out material on communication, conflict, the perversity of human nature, politics and economics. I will include that material in later books, though some of that material will be written to a more sophisticated audience. Other writers have addressed these issues much more eloquently than I could so I left what they had to say stand.
Q: In Personal Village, the chapter on grieving is most touching (and I am a fan of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) - do you have any future plans to expand on the 'Grieving' subject in a single book?
A: The chapter on grieving was one of the more interesting chapters for me to compose. I deeply believe that the ability to love is directly correlated to the ability to grieve. It felt it was necessary for me to address this issue in a book about community where people are coming and going all the time. Many other very good books have been written on this subject so I do not plan to write anything further on this topic. I do hope to release this chapter some day as a magazine article.
Q: The case studies that you wrote of in Personal Village - are they individuals whom you found through other resources or did you get to know them from your own studies?
A: The people described in the book are either all real or composites of several persons that I combined to illustrate a point. With the exception of a few people who gave me their permission to use their names the stories are disguised in such a way to protect the privacy and identify the individual described. These are all real stories about real people whom I know personally. All the events described actually happened. A few stories came out of literature which I described as such.
Q: In your research, have you found that community needs vary amongst social classes? Are personal villages stronger in some than in others, and do they often successfully span different classes?
A: Absolutely. The community needs and forms they take on vary enormously between different social classes and religions and ethnic groups and the geographic location of the people involved. Every group has some form of personal village as an anchor point for their functioning. A personal community has always existed in every culture and at all levels of society, though the forms have been quite different. The shape of personal village in traditional Japanese culture is totally different than the shape of the personal village in the Australian Aboriginal culture, which is again different than what you will find in an Arabic Islamic culture which again is totally different than what we know in the western world. Personal village always exists because the definition of Personal Village is that it includes everyone an individual knows and with whom they interact. The book is voiced to appeal to the educated middle class in the western world, though the basic concepts are universal across all of history and and in all cultures.
If an individual knows and interacts with people in different social classes then that particular personal village would span several social classes. If on the other hand an individual chooses to stay only within their immediate social class than it will not extend outside of that circle of people. There is tremendous variation in how far any particular personal village spreads out over different groups of people.
Q: Has the application of demographics been incorporated into your research? If so, has it influenced your opinions or findings with respect to community/personal village?
A: Yes I was very aware of the demographics of many cultures, including the American culture, as I wrote this book. I am quite up to date on the ever changing demographic trends and the implications those trends have had in history and for our future. I was also very aware of the new research on neurobiology and the profound differences between how a male and female brain processes events. Men and women relate to community in quite different ways. However, I choose to write this book from my heart and not divert into material that others had already described or to make it seem too much like a text book. To have done that would have alienated my average audience. I tried to write the book so that it was informative, inspiring and dignified, but without all the trappings of a scientific work. However, I had all that material in the back of my head as I composed the book. That material deeply informed the way the book was written, and the material I included in it.Find out more about Marv Thomas and his work at his Personal Village Website.
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