Our modern culture seems far removed from community. Take a personal inventory to see just how connected you are to your community.
How many people do you know that live on your street? If you “know” them, do you know their names, what they do for a living, how old their kids are?
Thinking about those neighbors, how many of them would you ask for help or share your struggles with? I can imagine you putting up a big brick wall in your mind at this very moment.
How many of the local parents do you know with kids your age? Do you meet up with them regularly?
When you reflect, do you find anything troublesome about your answers? I tend to believe that most of us live in a world of personal disconnection.
It is true that many of us are connected more online. And online connections certainly help us. They are a wonderful way to find support from like minded people spanning states and countries away.
However, those far-away friends cannot lend us practical help such as sharing the bounty of a garden, lending a lawn mower, or bringing a meal.
That's when community comes in handy. And I think somewhere inside we all crave that kind of community.
Here are 10 first steps you can take to move toward the goal of more community connections:
1. Purpose to Know Your Neighbors
Simply being civil with our neighbors is not really knowing them. Waving hello when we walk out the door is not really knowing them. Getting to really know your neighbors requires that you let your guard down, and they let down theirs.
I can tell you from experience that getting to know your neighbors makes a world of difference. Talking to a neighbor that you know is a completely different experience than talking to a neighbor that you are just acquainted with.
You may be able to ask a well-acquainted neighbor to keep their dog from barking at night. But with a neighbor that you know, you can brainstorm together and find a solution that works for both of you.
Knowing your neighbors is like family. You learn to love them despite the minor annoyances and minor differences. You get past that and you do things for each other out of community obligation (which is a good thing, even if it doesn't sound like it.)
2. Ask For and Offer Help
Many of us pride ourselves on independence. Our society has groomed us to see asking for help as a sign of weakness. The same goes for some of your neighbors, family, and friends I am sure.
Someone has to take the first step, and it might as well be you. Next time you see that someone needs help (or that you can help make their life easier), offer it. Insist on it if you have to.
And the next time you need help, let go of your pride and ask for it, whether it be asking for someone to pick up something from the store when you're sick, or borrowing a cup of sugar from the neighbor.
“Almost every problem of the community, state, and nation is met on a small scale in our relations with people closest to us. Unless we can be successful in those relationships we have not yet mastered the art of building a community. We need not wait for great programs. Each person in his day-to-day relationships can be mastering the art of community.” ~ Arthur E. Morgan
3. Reserve Judgement.
You don't have to give up your passions and convictions, but know that not everyone in the world has to agree with you. Reserve your judgement of others who do things differently than you do.
Most of all, don't let your convictions get in the way of helping others. True community means putting away your soapbox every once in awhile.
If you must say something, do it gently, but only after you develop a relationship with that person.
4. Take a Risk.
We stand no chance of getting back to community if we are unwilling to take a risk in relating to others around us. Why are we afraid?
We face risk of rejection, shame, and guilt. We are frozen with fear that something might go wrong by getting to know the people we are geographically closest to, because if they know who we really are, they have true intimacy with us.
Are you afraid of intimacy? Most of us are!
Intimacy is messy. Feelings get hurt almost without fail. But at some point we have to learn how to deal with these feelings. How to move past them and still be intimate with people even after feelings get hurt.
We can do that. Through immense courage and growth we can do that.
5. Stand Up for the Underdog.
Forget being popular. Community is not about staying “in” with the crowd and leaving the weak and hurting to fend for themselves. Be the person who's not afraid to mingle with the less than perfect.
This is hard to do, especially in a society of competition against neighbors of who has the best looking grass or the newest car. Who can go completely overboard decorating for Christmas and who's child is the best on the soccer team.
Social competition will always be a struggle. But you have a choice whether or not you will participate in it. Choosing community requires that you choose relationships over competition.
You cannot be afraid that one of your neighbors down the street will be upset if you help the less notable neighbor next door.
6. Respect How Others Feel
It's easy to feel judged and defensive when someone tells us how they feel about our actions. It takes a strong person, and builds a stronger community, when we can learn to be humble and listen to how others feel.
This doesn't mean that you have to come up with a way to “fix” how they feel. However, truly listening to the feelings of others leads to empathy and understanding, which can help us understand our community and how our actions affect those around us.
7. Strengthen Communication Skills
Effective communication skills are one of the best tools we can have when relating to other people. Good communication leads to success in solving problems and resolving differences quickly and easily.
Communication doesn't always mean verbal abilities. Good communication is just as much about learning what not to say. It's also about learning how to listen to others with intent.
I recommend non-violent communication techniques if you truly want to learn how to resolve differences in relationships without attempting to control others.
8. Be Less Selfish
None of us are selfish all of the time. But some of us are selfish too much of the time. There are certain areas where each of us can stand to be a little less selfish.
A good community member does a personal inventory of themselves to see where they can be less selfish and also where they can help more.
Resist the urge to do an external evaluation. Don't use this as an opportunity to tell others how they are being selfish.
Keep your eyes on your own actions. Seek to make changes within yourself.
9. Don't Be a Burden
Do what you can for yourself and “pull your own weight” so to speak.
This does not mean that you should never ask for help. In fact, we are sometimes more of a burden to others if we don't communicate our needs.
Ask for help when you need it, but don't take advantage of the goodwill of others. Use only the resources you need. Doing this shows that you care about the needs of others and want to keep community needs balanced.
10. Get Creative
Most social problems and community problems don't have a simple answer. Each community is unique and will have unique dynamics and struggles.
Don't be afraid to step out of the box and look for solutions that are just as unique. Solving community problems sometimes requires traveling off of the beaten path.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't glean knowledge from those who have gone before us. It just means we should take this advice and make it our own.
Having community with others is never going to be easy. It's messy because relationships are messy and nobody is perfect.
We are all learning (and much of the time relearning) how to relate to each other in practical ways.