Creating community where you are
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|The communities we help create in our lives can be seen as circles. Some overlap, some are concentric. Our ability to feel a sense of community within each circle is different for each of us, and may vary over time. They range in size from the most intimate to the extremely large:||The communities we help create in our lives can be seen as circles. Some overlap, some are concentric. Our ability to feel a sense of community within each circle is different for each of us, and may vary over time. They range in size from the most intimate to the extremely large:|
|#The [[Creating community where you are/inner community |inner community]] we each find within ourself.||#The [[Creating community where you are/inner community |inner community]] we each find within ourself.|
|-||#The [[house community]] of people we live with.||+||#The [[Creating community where you are/house community|house community]] of people we live with.|
|#The [[local community]] in our geographic area: neighborhood, village, town, etc.||#The [[local community]] in our geographic area: neighborhood, village, town, etc.|
|#[[Organization communities]] we participate in: church, school, civic club, volunteer group, national and international organizations.||#[[Organization communities]] we participate in: church, school, civic club, volunteer group, national and international organizations.|
Revision as of 13:34, January 14, 2011
Community is in trouble in our culture. The isolation of the urban areas, the suburbs, and even the rural areas is well known, but has been so pervasive for so long that it has become “normal.” The limited functionality of the nuclear family in raising children and providing fulfillment and support for the adults (and the even more extreme challenges of single parents) is well recognized. Yet there is very little recognition of one of the major underlying causes: our culture is as destructive of community as it is of our environment. We need a community movement as much as we need an environmental movement, to create a sustainable human culture as well as a sustainable environment. In fact, we’ve been needing it for a long time – Ralph Borsodi (who founded the School of Living) and Arthur Morgan (who founded Community Service, Inc.) were sounding alarm bells in the 1930s, and began working to improve the functioning of rural areas, small towns, and urban neighborhoods.
Ten circles of community
The communities we help create in our lives can be seen as circles. Some overlap, some are concentric. Our ability to feel a sense of community within each circle is different for each of us, and may vary over time. They range in size from the most intimate to the extremely large:
- The inner community we each find within ourself.
- The house community of people we live with.
- The local community in our geographic area: neighborhood, village, town, etc.
- Organization communities we participate in: church, school, civic club, volunteer group, national and international organizations.
- Political communities defined by political boundaries: city, county, state, nation.
- The world community of all people alive right now.
- The public community of all the people we meet out in public spaces.
- Communities of interest that form around interests and activities we share with others.
- The community of all living things.
- Community over time that expands the above communities to past and future members as well.
Creating community versus building walls
How far from ourselves can we feel in community with others? Where do we put up walls to limit our sense of community? Why do we put up these walls? What do we gain? What do we lose?
- People outside our walls are less human, and can thus be treated less well. This allows more of our resources (time, materials, attention, etc.) to be kept for ourselves.
- Our self-image can be elevated by comparison, as we lower our opinion of another.
- We can feel safer, as our fear of the unknown extends to unknown people.
- We can protect ourselves from oppression, by closing ourselves off to the energy of the oppressor.
- We can transfer oppression to others below us when we are oppressed from above.
- We can use the stimulus of competition to improve our own abilities and performances.
- Building walls furthers division between people, increasing our sense of alienation.
- Building walls lessens the opportunities for cooperation.
- Building walls reduces our access to possibly critical information that can affect our life's course.
- Building walls reduces our understanding of what is outside the wall, increasing our
fear of the unknown.
- Building walls allows us to be ruthless competitors, without having to take our opponent's well being into consideration.
As we can see, people both gain and lose from building walls between themselves and others. To promote community and cooperation, we will need to help ourselves and others see the benefits of cooperation and the losses from building walls around ourselves.
Cultural forces destructive of community
Besides our inner reinforcements for wall building, there are powerful cultural/economic/political forces at work as well.
- The myth of the Rugged Individual
- Political wedges
- Promotion of fear
- Majority-take-all voting
Where community has survived
While these inner and outer destructive forces have had powerful effects on our culture, they have not succeeded in completely eradicating community. Examples of community-oriented groups exist in a number of categories:
- Civic groups
- Urban neighborhoods
- Rural areas
- Sports teams
- Internet groups
- Intentional communities
While each category can have examples where a sense of community is lacking, each also has many where community is explicitly encouraged. One of the reasons is that these groups typically focus on something larger than the individual, and may recognize that cooperation improves their ability to achieve their goals.
Fourteen things that help build and maintain community in a group
People participating in groups can increase or maintain participation and a sense of community within the group by encouraging certain group structures and activities.
- Improving communication skills and patterns
- An inclusive decision making process
- Conflict resolution agreements and processes
- Clear membership processes and agreements
- Clarifying group visions and goals
- Personal sharing
- Appreciating each other
- Creating a community space or place identified with the group rather than the individual
- Equitable methods of acquiring, managing, and distributing the group’s assets
- Working together
- Celebrations and rituals
- Eating together
- Music, dancing, singing
- Group renewal and retreats
Individual resources helpful for building community
Along with focusing on group activities & structures, it is important to spend some time and attention on ourselves as individuals, so that we can be as effective as possible in creating, spreading, and strengthening community. Working on the following aspects of ourselves can enhance our performance as valuable group members.
In relation to ourselves
In relationship to other individuals
- A sincere interest in others
- A desire to see oneself and others more clearly
- Practice at providing effective feedback to others
- Openness and flexibility about diversity
In relationship to the group as a whole
- Willingness to commit to and abide by community agreements
- Willingness to pursue group goals
- Willingness to share power
- Willingness to provide leadership & followership
- Willingness to give and receive
On an emotional level
- Willingness to deal with the fears that come up in doing community
- Willingness to risk self-disclosure
- Willingness to risk asserting oneself
- Willingness to look at what we contribute to conflict
On a functional level
- Willingness to practice skills (communication, conflict resolution, decision making)
- Willingness to commit to stick with it
Guerrilla community building
It is tempting to wait to create community until our situation is perfect, whether that looks like living in an intentional community, or having everybody in our building/neighborhood/town/church group gung ho about our particular community building activity. Instead of waiting, look for opportunities to practice community building skills in every part of your life, with whoever you can build an alliance with.
- Want to have an urban block party? Find even a couple of other folks who are interested, and put out the word. Know in advance that not everyone will participate, and just keep going. At the party, ask in casual conversation what improvements folks would like for your neighborhood. Organize the next step around the common themes you hear.
- Find an unused public space and inject people and/or design elements that invite people and activities to use it with other people.
- Can't imagine your Roberts Rules of Order group adopting consensus? Start taking care of the dissenting voices instead of seeing them as obstructions. Try to nudge the group toward outcomes that take all concerns into account. Reduce as much as possible the damage from the voting process. Most groups' adherence to Roberts is perfunctory at best, leaving you room to be creative in constructing a more inclusive process.
- Stand up for the minority that is being over-run, even when you are not on their "side". Express explicitly that their ideas/concerns are valid and need to be considered too. Don't think this will always be easy; there may be times when you don't even like the people in the minority, and down deep wish they'd just disappear (leaving the group happy and running smoothly.)
- Invest in the public community. Treat the people you meet out in public as interesting people rather than money collectors or servants or non-entities.
- Encourage cross generational activities. Although it is true that people in each stage of life have lots to share with others experiencing the same stage, we as humans have lots in common with people of all ages. Break down the barriers of same-age groupings.
- Temper competition with respect for the opponent. We have too many models of winning at all costs, and not enough of winning as an expression of playing well.
The most important thing to do is start; start learning, start practicing, start reaping the benefits. Don't expect instant perfection; let each try build on the ones before. Learn about your strengths, find people to collaborate with, and include your success stories here!