Community; Why Do We Need It?
What is community to you? What does community have to do with sustainability? Why do we need community to achieve resiliency?
Community has come up often in my work and life over the last few years. I can tell you what community means to me: it means saying “hi” when I pass people on the street while I walk to work. It means bringing soup over to my neighbor when he’s just had his wisdom teeth removed. It means that when I walk into the Subway for sandwiches the servers ask about my son and what games we are playing tonight. It means a safety net, comfort, curiosity and well-being.
It also means a bit of work. It is not easy to connect with others and for some people it is nearly impossible. But community can still exist. If I were a bit better at fostering community, I think I’d know more about the local school schedules, even though my child never attended the public school down the street. I’d maybe volunteer at the local library or church, or be more up-front in planning my attendance at the Madison Street Fair and other community events. But that’s okay. I do what I can and a truly gain from every interaction.
Interdependence can make for optimal use of time and resources, and it brings joy into the moment. It is much easier to improve your home, your street, or your school when you engage in the community tied to that effort. It is safer for you child when you know his friends and their parents, and that’s a community as well. It is healthy when that community is close in geography and you walk to visit, or connect over events that are nearby at locally owned cafes and venues. It supports mental health in ways we are only beginning to fathom. The Feb 2017 National Geographic has a quick “Questions” section in the front with Sebastian Junger, who also was a keynote speaker at Greenbuild last fall. He speaks of his book “Tribe” saying “You know, a lot of us miss the war”. This is a shocking concept but his book goes on to say that the camaraderie of war situations is so supporting and healing and safe that many re-enlist to go back into that circumstance of community. This is the reason for an uptick in gangs, in religious enclaves, in highly defensive groups that refuse to see each other’s values. Our daily lives are so inherently unconnected that situations of allowed connectivity become addictive. The answer is not to refrain from wars or gangs or joining religious factions, but to find out how to encourage and integrate the community aspects of those things into our everyday lives. In “real life”, we are not encouraged to rely on others, and our very souls miss that inter-connectivity. In war and in fraternities and in spiritually cogent groups we rely on each other for strength, compassion, assistance.
Community is also the first step in resiliency. We have seen this in every natural disaster we have encountered, and in un-natural disasters as well. It is the neighbor that has your phone number that can help you though a blizzard and the light on or off next door that make you check on someone when a storm hits, or when there is a gas leak, or a drug raid down the street (it does happen). I took part in a panel discussion last Friday on Living by the Numbers in the 21st Century: Building a Resilient and Sustainable Future in NYS and the panel discussion illustrated time and again that all of our routes to resiliency begin with collaboration and community: from looking out for a neighbor to building cohesive and effective state and federal policies.
What can you do to build community? Swap numbers with a neighbor. Share that “cup of sugar” when needed. Seek communication without judgement. Recognize the people who serve you and say “hi”. Swap a story or two to show that you are human. Say “thank you” more often. Value yourself and value others.
Work with your colleagues to broaden every discussion so that you are not solving a problem that is so highly focused you’ve created burdens elsewhere. Because, above all else, communities interconnect.
Simple, really. Not very easy, but not so very hard, and certainly transformational.