Explore Your Community to Find Your Tribe
By Mary Ann Benson, M.S.W., L.S.W.
I spent a large portion of my childhood living in Philadelphia. The majority of my neighbors attended the same local church, and the children went to the school associated with that church. Everyone came out on their front steps on summer nights; the adults visited, and the children played games together, roller skated, jumped rope or played ball. My grandmother played the violin in a community orchestra, and she took art lessons at a local school when she was 70. I remember going to the corner grocery store periodically for one of my neighbors who seldom came out of her house. We were all connected, but we had great respect for each other’s privacy. It was a great environment in which to grow up.
A community has been defined as a social, religious, occupational or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (Community). In simple terms, a community is a group of people who share a common interest.
A strong community benefits the individual, the community, and the greater society. People of all ages who feel a sense of belonging tend to lead happier and healthier lives, and strong communities create a more stable and supportive society” (The Importance of Community). Several people whose work involves community building were asked, “What is community, and why is it important?” Some of their responses follow (What is Community, 2005).
“Community – meaning for me ‘nurturing human connection’ – is our survival. We humans wither outside of community. It isn’t a luxury, a nice thing; community is essential to our well-being,” Frances Moore Lappe, author of You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear.
- “Most people want to be part of a community because there is something indescribably lovely about being a part of a group of people who share something more substantial than geographical location. . . something they feel passionately about. Something that, when shared, makes individuals seem less lonely. A community is a safe place,” Sarah Michelson, an intern with The Food Project Current Program Involvement: Building Local Agricultural Systems Today (BLAST).
I have found a great sense of community in my church. I have established meaningful, long-term friendships with many people. Some of them are my age, some are younger and some are older. I have learned to appreciate the perspective that every generation has to offer, and the wisdom we can garner by associating with people from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. I have created a strong support network among those people, and they have become like a second family to me. They are helpful to me in practical ways, such as helping me when I move from one house to another, and in emotional ways when I need encouragement and advice. The relationships I have formed are valuable to me, and I maintain them after my friends have relocated to various parts of the country, which happens frequently.
In American culture today, people’s freedom of movement has been greatly impaired. We hear daily news reports of atrocities that occur all over the world, and there is a climate of fear among us. We don’t feel we can trust people, and we seem more hesitant to reach out to others. As a child I was taught to trust people until they gave me a reason not to. I held to that belief, and I remember the valuable experiences I have had as I have served as a member of our Parent Teacher’s Association, or worked at a local street fair to sell funnel cakes for my son’s swim team. Friendships were established as I volunteered with other parents for a worthwhile cause that brought enjoyment and self-satisfaction.
There are many opportunities to engage in community activities or to create your own community. Some of the typical options are churches, parent-teacher organizations, YMCA, engaging with your neighbors, local government, support groups, getting to know your children’s teachers, book clubs, theater groups, athletic clubs, singing or orchestra groups, adult education, professional and social organizations, and a variety of opportunities for volunteer work in many settings. Several years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to knit. I had a friend who was extremely talented in that craft, and so we formed a group of women, and she taught us all how to knit. We met once a month and had a great time completing projects and nourishing friendships. Community change doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. It can be as simple as creating your own group to learn something you didn’t know before.
Being part of a community is a component of a well-balanced life. In the words of Wilhelm Reich, author of Children of the Future: On the Prevention of Sexual Pathology, “We live in a community of people not so that we can suppress and dominate each other or make each other miserable, but so that we can better and more reliably satisfy all life’s healthy needs” (Quotes About Community).
Why not look around you and find a group of people you would like to align with in some common cause? Making connections with new people can add great enjoyment to your life and help to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation that result when we fail to participate in community living.
Mary Ann Benson is a Therapist, Wife and Mother of four.
Community. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2015, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/community
The Importance of Community. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2015, from http://www.washington.edu/admin/hr/benefits/publications/carelink/tipsheets/community.pdf
What Is Community, and Why Is It Important? (2005). Retrieved October 28, 2015, from http://www.ikedacenter.org/thinkers-themes/themes/community/what-is-community-responses
Quotes About Community. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2015, from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/community?page=3