In our first article on Community The Value of Community, we discussed the definition and value of a true community. In the next article Loss of Community, we discussed how the loss of community impacts people. And, in this concluding article on Community, we will discuss how you can contribute to building community.

 

Creating a New Community

 

In the first article, we discussed that a community can have any focus, not just people who live near each other. Thus, a person with a strong interest in a particular area may choose to create a new community related to their topic.

 

CMX, an organization of community builders, states that the four keys to creating a new community are: identity, trust, participation, and reward. Without an identity or focus, a community is simply a group of people. Once an identity has been established, a person can begin to draw in members. Trust with those members can be established by allowing them to contribute and share in ownership of the community. This will also help grow their participation and will encourage others to join the community. Lastly, but just as important, members should feel rewarded for their participation. A reward can simply be friendship or support.

 

Getting Involved In Community

 

Often, however, people aren’t looking to create a new community. Instead, they simply want to be a part of existing communities. To achieve this, a person must seek out a community whose purpose aligns with their own goals and interests. Perhaps the person is new to an area and would like to meet others interested in art. In this case, they might seek a Meetup or see if there are any art clubs in the area.

 

At times, people desire to belong to new communities, but they aren’t consciously aware of their own need. Therefore, it is a good idea for a person to take stock of their communities once in awhile. They may wish to ask themselves, “Are the communities that I am currently a member of serving me well?” “Are there other communities where I would gain value?”

 

The answers to these questions are really an assessment of the reward they are receiving and the community focus that they desire.

 

Join & Participate

 

Once a person identifies a community that they want to join, it is important for them to participate. This means that they need to be interested and active, not only with the community, but also with the members of the community. It is important to build one-on-one relationships with individuals in the community as well as the community as a whole.

 

Be Interested

 

Being a member of a community is a two way street. If a person only takes from a community without giving back anything, they are simply a parasite.

 

This is why it is critical to take an interest in others. A person can do that as they go about their daily life. Instead of being self-involved, take time to notice the sales clerk, waitress, hair stylist, or other person who is encountered. It is possible for a person to build a relationship with a person that they see regularly even if it is a brief encounter. All it takes is noticing, asking, listening, and caring.

 

It takes very little of a person’s time to make someone’s day. Sometimes a simple smile or acknowledgement can go a long way toward helping someone feel rewarded.

 

Although smiling isn’t always obvious behind masks, it is possible to let the other person know you are smiling. One woman did just that in a grocery store one day when she stated, “You can’t tell, but I am smiling.” That might be outside some people’s comfort zone. However, each person can find a way that is comfortable to engage with others.

 

Creative Solutions

 

In Six Ways to Build a Solid Community, Rebecca Fernandez talks about finding the right tools and strategies for a community. This is important for any community and also for each person desiring to have strong relationships. Like each community, each person must find the right tools that work for them.

 

Don’t hold back from creative solutions. Creativity is particularly necessary with the current restrictions. Options to consider are one-on-one video calls to build relationships with member of the community. If a relationship with a particular person is critical, a person might choose an in-person meeting.

 

Likewise, a community or person can look for fun relationship building options that work well via video, email, or other mechanism. People can even go crazy and start a pen-pal campaign to encourage relationship building.

 

It is important for people to go outside the norms of what has been done in the past. And, it is even okay to go beyond people’s comfort zones. It might just be that unique mechanism for relationship building that makes a community flourish!

 

Loss of Community

In our previous Article The Value of Community, we discussed what makes a true community. Additionally, we highlighted some of the value it can bring to a person’s life. In this article, we will discuss how the loss of community impacts people.

 

Cultural Shifts

 

One hundred years ago people depended on each other for survival. Impart this was because  travel was greatly limited. Thus, people who lived near each other were not only neighbors, but their children also attended the same schools and they often attended the same church. Many people lived in a rural environment, which was a great opportunity to create community.

 

Over the last century, however, people have become more independent. Additionally, travel has increased and the population has become more metropolitan centric. Also, in the name of safety, more and more restrictions exist regarding interactions between individuals.  Thus, changing the relationship between people and groups, volunteer activities, and schools.

 

These cultural shifts have led to a general loss of community. When people don’t know their neighbors, it is hard to have true community with them. The same is true of schools and churches, which may draw people from a wide area. People no longer have the same ties with those people that they once did.

 

Add to this that church membership has dwindled during the last century. Thus, the church community is no longer present in many people’s lives.

 

2020’s Contribution to The Loss of Community

 

The year 2020 has challenged community in ways never experienced before. The lockdown shuttered office doors, churches, and schools. Additionally, regulations prohibited groups from meeting in person.

 

Restrictions

 

People were shut-off from any groups or communities that they had been participants in. Even with online school or work, people were distanced from the relationships that they had only days before the lockdown. Working or learning remotely removes the strength of the relationship from the situation. You miss the personal interactions and the side conversations. Even the shared experience of going through the current situation is very impersonal.

 

Almost every group or organization had to figure out how to do things differently or stop meeting altogether. Many activities were completely closed down (e.g. gyms, yoga). For others, such as church, they became very one-way. Video services were possible for many churches, but they can’t capture the relationship aspect that church provides – no meet and greet, no breaking bread together, and no building of personal relationships.

 

Even situations that allow in-person attendance have less community than in the past. Two children, for instance, can’t share a private side joke because they are likely required to be six feet apart at all times. This may seem like a small thing, but it is these little moments that build trust, which is a key building block of community.

 

Impacts

 

The regulations and varying opinions on them impact trust and relationships.  Even wearing a face mask can dampen trust. This is through no fault of anyone. It is simply human nature to trust less what you can’t see.

 

Similarly, it is more challenging to know when a member of the community needs help if you can’t see their facial expressions or are viewing it over video conferencing. Although there isn’t strong agreement on how much communication is nonverbal, it is safe to say that the more nonverbal communication that is lost, the more difficult it can be to communicate even simple things. For instance, in a class, a teacher can take a quick look at her classroom and know if the students understand the material. This is much more challenging with masks and even more challenging over video.

 

Impact of Loss of Community on Individuals

 

As the sense of community is lessened either through cultural shifts or through the more extreme limitations that 2020 has brought, individuals can be greatly impacted. Unfortunately, the impacts are often the greatest to the most vulnerable.

 

The elderly and people that live alone without someone close to call for help need community relationships to survive. When those are lost, they struggle. Some of the struggles are to care for themselves and their home, but often the greatest struggles are with loneliness. Since humans are social beings, the loneliness and lack of human interaction can be devastating.

 

If the person is hearing impaired, as many older adults are, distancing and mask wearing take an additional toll. In this situation, the person may not understand what is being said to them. Thus, they become very frustrated trying to communicate. This may result in withdrawal from interactions with other people.

 

Another vulnerable community are those people with PTSD. When a person leaves the military, it is critical that they keep in touch with their military family as that is a very important community. If they don’t keep strong connections, the effects of PTSD can intensify.

 

Similarly, each time a person moves, changes jobs, graduates, etc., they should take special care to maintain their connections to those communities while building new relationships. Otherwise, they become vulnerable to loneliness and depression. It is important for people to recognize that if they don’t have a strong connection to people (a strong sense of community), it is much easier to simply not participate.

 

Up Next

 

In the next article, we will discuss steps each person can take to build community for themselves and others.

 

The Value of Community

The Value of Community is the first in three-part series on Community. This article explores the true meaning of community and the value it brings.

 

What is Community?

 

The word “Community” may bring to mind a town, apartment complex, a subdivision, or a general neighborhood. However, community, generally stated, is not a place, but more of a feeling and a belonging.

 

A community can be any “group of people with a common characteristic.” Merriam-Webster lists several other related descriptions, but they all come down to multiple people that share something in common. In some cases, it might be a location or a specific profession. It could also be a specific interest or a common history.

 

One might simply view community as a group of people. Yet, community is more than that. True community requires relationships with others without those relationships it is simply a group of people. In other words, you can group people by any characteristic, but that alone does not make them a community.

 

For example, you may have experienced a situation in your life where you lived in an area, but didn’t feel as if you were a part of the community. Perhaps you were an outsider or the people just didn’t build relationships with each other.

 

Having a sense of belonging requires some level of caring about other members of the group. That caring brings with it the knowledge that member of your community will be there for you when you need them. Likewise, you will drop everything to help a member of your community.

 

In rural areas where families have lived near each other for multiple generations, the sense of community runs deep. They know who does and doesn’t belong. You can be treated like family simply because they knew your granddad.

 

Types of Communities

 

Groups that can form a community include many types beyond people that live near each other. Churches are one of the most common examples. They have common beliefs, some sense of shared history, and common experiences. They build strong relationships with each other and often consider other members of their church family.

 

Schools, particularly small ones or ones with a particular mission, can become a community. It can also apply to a subset of a school. For instance, the school band or the basketball team may create very strong bonds with each other.

 

The same can be true in work environments, for groups with the same interest, for clubs, or Meetups. Each of these can simply be a group of people. However, with the right environment, they can become a community.

 

The Value of Community

 

The question is, “Why is community so important?” Well, you can think of a community as an extended family. It provides you support when you need it, opens the door to new possibilities, and can help celebrate the joys in your life. They can even be there for you when you don’t ask and sometimes even when you don’t know that you need someone.

 

A great example occurred twenty plus years ago. On that day, one neighbor called to another, who lived about a quarter of a mile away, to ask what was wrong.   The reason for the call was simply that the second neighbor’s husband had taken the corner by the first neighbor’s house faster than normal. They simply knew each other’s habits and cared enough to check up on the other family. As it turned out, the man had gotten a call about a fire at his brother’s house about a mile away and he was on his way to help save his brother’s home.

 

Because the neighbor checked to see what was wrong, they learned what was happening to another member of their community. They were also able to go assist. The home was saved and the community became stronger.

 

Up Next

 

In the next article, we will explore the loss of community and its impact on people.