I’ve been part of a number of in-depth conversations over the last couple of weeks about how important community is, and how it can be so hard to grasp these days. The topic came up at work, in a book group, in an Eldering discussion group, at the Democracy Cafe, and among a circle of friends. Have you ever noticed when an idea bubbles up in your life that you hear it over and over?
Here’s the core of the thinking. Humans are tribal. We evolved to live and work in tight communities with shared experiences and shared work. But we live in crazy times where few of us live near family or old friends. Many of us live in houses or apartments that are tucked away from everyone. We drive in cars by ourselves. And many of us put on a face when we’re at work or school. Do people even know us?
Just a few generations back, we lived in communities where we knew everyone. We went to school together and often worked in a common industry or farmed in similar ways. I don’t think many of us would choose to give up the independence we have today of deciding where we live, about the work we do, and who we hang out with. But many of us have lost something precious – that delicious feeling of being who we are when you’re part of a tight community. These days, isolation can hit you particularly hard as you get older and are less involved with kids, school stuff, and with retirement, even with work.
It’s no surprise that social media is thriving. Social media is as close as many of us have to community and might be the first spot friends notice if we’re missing. But social media doesn’t have the same heart as connecting in person. You can feel it after you’ve been online for awhile. It’s fun, but doesn’t it leave you feeling a little drained? It does me.
And how about the surge in binge watching TV? TV pulled us out of social settings, like theaters, pubs, and parks, and into the privacy of our homes. We connect with the stories and characters we watch while missing out on the stories that are happening around us in our own neighborhoods and with our friends. And now with individual screens, even within our homes, friends and family members may all be off watching their own binge.
Isolation isn’t great for your soul. We see the impact in our societies with increased drug use. Increased rates of suicide. A drop in church and civic organization attendance. Mass shootings by strangers. Fear. And uncertainty.
In the book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg advocates finding time for yourself and for community by looking for a good “third place,” places where you meet and make friends. In the past, this naturally occurred at local coffee shops, parks, playgrounds, community pools, local gardens, pubs, and civic group gathering halls. A “third place” is a place where you can show up anytime and find familiar faces. A place where you can be yourself, and where conversation is the number one priority. You show up on a regular basis. Tell stories. Laugh. And connect.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But how often do you show up places and find friends there? Do you pass your neighbors on your way in and out of your house or apartment and stop to chat? Do you hang out with the people you work with after work? Do you know their family stories? It’s weird that connection has become a lost joy.
So how do we get it back? What are the antidotes? What can we do to really connect again?
First, you have to take some risks. To be yourself. To be honest. To reach out to others and not wait for someone to invite you to the party. And to try new things.
If you’re ready to re-connect, does something here work for you?
- Start a game night with family and friends.
- Find a local pub and get a conversation going. Then go back. Tell stories. Laugh. Make friends.
- Join a local theater or singing group. You don’t have to be super talented. Most community creative groups are welcoming to new members with all levels of abilities. If you find one that doesn’t click with you, find another.
- Host a neighborhood dinner where everyone brings a dish.
- Stay in touch. Who did you used to hang out with? Can you drop them a line? A call? Go see them?
- Start a conversation at work that isn’t about work. Ask questions and listen to the answers.
- Go outside. Who lives on your street or in your building? There are no strangers – just friends you haven’t met yet.
- Rearrange the furniture in your living spaces to be more conversational. Then invite folks in to fill those seats.
- Join a sports group.
- Take a class and be an active participant in the discussions. Don’t be afraid to open up about what you know and don’t know.
- Attend or start a discussion group. Book groups lead to great conversations on so many fronts. If your friends don’t read, try the library. Our library has two book groups, plus great discussion groups for writers, songwriters, a group that talks about Eldering, and a Democracy Cafe where we talk about all things Democracy.
The goal is to combat isolation and bring more joy into your life. Joy, as you know, spurs good things and high energy. You’re organized. Can you make connection a priority?
If you get something going, let me know. I’ll be looking for and looking at bonded, creative communities as I travel starting next month. Maybe I can pop in for a great discussion in your neck of the woods.
Cheers from Maine and from Gaia, the Great Horned Owl who was a visitor at the library last week. Gaia is 5 pounds of killer raptor, and was a great reminder to keep the cats in at night!
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