Can we intentionally build community?
Google community and you will find article after article, study after study, meme after meme on the topic – about 4.4 billion hits. There are countless thoughts, scholarly articles, and opinions on it. It elicits frequent conversation and copious amounts of research. The want and need for it is a part of what makes us human. It brings peace and safety in our lives, grants us a sense of belonging, and lets us know we’ve been heard, we’ve been seen, and we’ve been known. We are a bit obsessed with community, in the absolute best ways possible.
But can we build community?
Yes, we can.
We can by creating community-builders, inspiring community in others, and helping to refine the next generation of movers and shakers. To build community, we have to be authentic. We have to care for and love others and we can do this by giving energy, connecting others, developing others, actively listening, being thoughtful, and sharing stories.
Be an Enthusiastic Energizer
How can we energize others to build community?
Greeting: When we see people we should greet them with a smile and enthusiasm. It lets people know that we see them and they are welcomed; it gives them a nice boost of positive energy. If we greet someone enthusiastically, like a dog greeting its owner when they arrive home, we’ll immediately see the difference in someone’s demeanor. They feel noticed, appreciated, and loved. These greetings can be when someone comes to our homes, to our place of work, or even when they pass us in the grocery store or walking down the street.
Goodbyes: If we are committed to ensuring that every time someone left us to go about their day, they felt a little better off than before they ran into us, what kind of difference could we make in other people’s lives? As people leave us, we should give them more energy to take on the rest of their day. Say goodbye with joy and love, letting them know we honored their time and wish them well for their next to-do.
Think about the businesses that you walk into that always seem to say hello, remember your name, and always shout out ‘See ya later’ as you’re exiting. They give you a piece of energy to carry you through the rest of your day.
Be a Thoughtful Connector
How can we connect others to build community?
We have to be unselfish and put others before us. At every opportunity we should introduce people to one another; it will strengthen and build upon our communities. We should also invite people to different settings and situations with different people, especially when someone is new to a community. Make people feel wanted and loved as soon as we can. Search for and share similarities to make us feel connected to one another. Search for and share differences to make us learn and respect one another. We have to find joy in not being the center of attention and being unselfish.
Introduce your friends to one another and back out of conversations or ensure the focus is on your friends meeting rather than you connecting them to one another. They’re your friends, you can always touch base with both of them later; take the opportunity to broaden other people’s circles.
The great retailers out there tend to find opportunities to introduce you to other patrons, tell you about the city and their favorite stomping grounds, and do everything they can to make you feel connected.
Be an Encouraging Developer
How can we develop others to create community?
Develop those around you by cheerleading, complimenting, challenging, and displaying gratitude. Sometimes, we simply forget to point out what people are doing well. If we maintain a culture of “catching people doing something right” and pointing it out, it will have a ripple effect in an organization and our everyday lives. It’s one of the easiest ways to compliment.
We have to cheerlead and support one another. Letting the individuals in our community know that we have their back, we are there for them in great and tough times. It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing with someone; it’s about letting people know that we are there with them in their journey and will help them back up if they fall.
Coupling the cheerleading with challenging one another is an integral part of developing others. In a work place, the setting lends itself to constructively criticize through reviews, write-ups, training opportunities, and the like, but it is possible in non-work related spheres as well. We have to be honest with one another and give input so others see that we care for them and want them to be better and live up to their potential.
Finally, we need to show gratitude. For the last ten years, I’ve made it a point to send a text, an email, or make a call to at least one person every day to express my gratitude for them. Sometimes, the same person may get a message three days in a row and sometimes I reach out to four different people in one day. What matters the most is that someone knows that someone else is grateful for who they are or what they’ve done.
Be an Active Listener
How can we listen to build community?
Active listening is a tough thing to do. We have to speak less, eliminate distractions, and get beyond the small talk. We have to avoid giving advice unless asked. We have repeat to clarify and follow up with someone after a conversation. It’s tough. How often do we interrupt people? How many times are we trying to come up with something to say after someone else is done speaking?
– Let’s listen and not worry about ourselves or think we have something revolutionary to say.
– Let’s be okay with silence after someone finishes speaking; it probably means that we listened to what they had said and weren’t just waiting for our turn to speak.
– To avoid interrupting someone, lets write down our thoughts as someone speaks and we can bring it up later.
– Let’s not assume someone is talking to us to get advice, it may be to vent, or to have someone be there for them, or to externally process.
– After someone is speaking, instead of turning the focus back on ourselves, let’s ask clarifying questions and seek to better understand what they were talking about.
– Let’s put down our phones, but not on the table. Leave them in our pockets, our bags, or underneath our chairs. Even better – let’s turn them off and listen. Show people that we care, we hear them, and we want to be there for them.
Be a Story Sharer
Culture and community is created by stories passed down to one another. It is a practice that draws us together in a moment, helps us remember, and strengthens our community. Let’s share history and share culture to one another. What brought us today around this campfire? Where do each of us come from?
While sharing our stories, we should be succinct and clear for our listeners, making it easier to follow along. We should not gossip about others. Story sharing is more about tying our own personal challenges and successes to others’ lives and not complaining about other people. Let people learn more about us, by sharing our own stories and tying it in with apropos conversations.
Understand that the moment we meet someone, they are in our lives now, and that can’t be taken away. We are each other’s keeper. We should ask ourselves how we can better serve our communities – our families, our friends, our co-workers, and strangers we meet on the street. We should challenge ourselves to forgive those that have wronged us and forgive ourselves for the wrongs we have committed.
By strengthening and building up our communities through energy, connections, development, listening, and sharing stories we enhance our culture, our way of life. Our human bonds become tighter and we truly become each other’s keeper.