How connected are you with your community? Do you feel like you have a place in your neighbourhood or that you are heard or seen? Studies are showing that the more connected we become online, the less we are with those in our immediate surroundings, such as our neighbours.
Current events, terrorist incidents and the fallout from vocal groups on the far right, who seem to be getting more media attention in recent years, have also been encouraging us to alienate ourselves from the people around us.
In Canada, we are becoming increasingly removed from our communities and it’s not just because of the internet. A recent article in the December 2017 issue of the Walrus magazine tackles this complex issue. In it, they mention a study by the Community Foundations of Canada, which reports that, “30 percent of Canadians feel a weak sense of belonging, or don’t feel like they have a stake in their community.”
The article blames the changing face of the Canadian community, in which citizens are displaced from the community they were born into, families have become smaller, the population aged and an “economy [that] is more urban and service oriented.”
It also mentions racial discrimination, which includes Canada’s dirty colonial history, struggle for reconciliation and lack of access to services in “minority-official-language communities”.
And things aren’t much different in the US. In a 2015 study from Pew Research Center, it was found that just over half of Americans (52 percent) say that they trust all or most of their neighbours.
Maybe not surprisingly, it was whites, seniors and the wealthy who were reported to be the most likely to trust their neighbours, since, “Americans who can afford to live in more affluent neighbourhoods are generally more trusting of their neighbours.”
And people are spending less social time with their neighbours. The report quotes data from the General Social Survey, which found that, “in 1974, 61 percent of Americans said they would spend a social evening with someone in their neighbourhood at least once a month” but that by 2014, only 46 percent said they spend “social evenings with their neighbours at least monthly.”
What does this mean for us as individual communities? Andrew Chunilall, the CEO of the Community Foundations of Canada talks about just how important getting involved in one’s community and feeling a sense of belonging can be: “When communities are made up of people who trust each other and feel that they belong, good things happen: individuals are happier, neighbourhoods are safer, cultures and identities flourish, and societies bounce back after emergencies.”
So, what can we do to make sure we are fostering good relationships in our community and cultivating a sense of belonging? Some of this is bigger than one person and comes through the policies of our government, but there is much we can do as an individual to undo some of this shift to a more insular, less involved citizenry.
Most communities have a neighbourhood association or a community centre that organizes local events and/or focuses on the needs and concerns of the local neighbourhood.
If you are so inclined, you can join one of these local groups and become an active participant in your immediate community. You may be interested in volunteering for a local festivals or event. Find out what’s happening in your area.
With the internet and social media, it has become very easy to find people in your local area that share similar interests. Places like meetup.com and Facebook are great ways to find groups around you that cater to your particular hobby or interest, whether it is trail running or board games.
While it’s not the easiest thing for the introverts out there, chances are there are other people in these groups who are also looking to connect with local people and make new friends.
As mentioned above, while many new immigrants quickly connect with their local community and meet people from their own place of origin, others can feel disconnected from the greater community around them, whether because of lack of language ability or because of greater governmental policies which can make them feel unwanted or regarded with disdain.
There are many groups in bigger cities which cater to helping out new arrivals to both feel at home and get adjusted and many offer free language training and organize events.
Consider volunteering at a local conversation club or a group that helps new immigrants learn how to do things you might consider simple, like open a bank account or visit a local gym.
Who are your new neighbours and where are they from? Why did they come to your country? What is the history of your local area and who were the first people to live there? Where are they now?
Learn about the changing shape of your city and, if you are Canadian or American, confront its sometimes, not-so-pretty past. By acknowledging the actions of colonialism, many of which endure today, we can start the slow and long process of reconciliation and begin to understand why some of our indigenous communities are struggling, today.
By understanding conflicts abroad, we may be able to better understand why some people would be forced to leave everything they have, including their jobs, language and family, to come to a strange, new place.
When was the last time you tried a food from an east African country, the middle east or Southeast Asia? When did you last watch a foreign film or read a book translated into English from a different language?
How about travel to a new country? Or to the other side of your own country? Do all your friends have the same ancestral background? Who do your kids hang out with? Do they have a diverse group of friends from a wide ethnic background?
When we try new things, we challenge our preconceived notions about other cultures and the more we know about the lives and backgrounds of the people around us, the more compassionate and understanding we can be.
Yes, these are simple ideas for a complex problem and are certainly not the cure-all for the bigger issues surrounding immigration, racism or the economic divide, but they are certainly small steps to improve your own life and perhaps those of the people around you.
Originally published at medium.com