The Importance of Community
When I was preparing for my deployment in early 2020, I was required to elevate my security clearance to Top Secret. If you aren’t familiar with this, essentially you identify your personal and professional associates so that an agent can contact and ask them questions about your personal life. They use these interviews to determine whether you pose a threat to our nation if exposed to secure information. I very vividly remember my intake call with the agent. I was sitting at my home office looking out the window. He began to ask me to name my professional contacts that could answer questions about me, such as my background, my family life, my financial situation, etc. I gave him two or three names that came to mind, all the while wondering if they even really knew that much about me. Then he asked for my neighbor’s names and phone numbers. I knew of one. He then asked for personal friends, specifically “those I go out with and spend social time with.” I could name two.
He then told me, this was likely not enough for the investigator, and he continued to prod me for additional names. I struggled on the phone to come up with the name of even one more neighbor…I had lived in that house for 7 years. I hung up the phone and my stomach sank. How did I let this happen? How did I go about my day with almost no connection to my community and those around me? How did I not know the other moms at the school? How did not know that family that had lived across the street? I never wanted to feel that feeling of loneliness again.
Connection. That became my focus during my deployment.
I read over 15 books related to community, friendship, and loneliness. The most interesting takeaway was that I was not alone. In fact, the reported average of close friendships has been on the decline. As we become more and more connected digitally, we are growing our “acquaintance” friendships at a rapid pace. However, we are substituting screen time for quality time, therefore we are not nurturing our close connections. What can we do about this?
My coach and mentor, Amy House, of Growin’ Out Loud Darlin introduced me to this concept. Identify a few people per week to send a letter, a card, a text, a small thank you gift. I have made a practice of texting 5 people a week just to say, “hi, thinking about you, hope you are having a great week.” The impact has been deep. This has led to lunch dates, deeper discussions, and stronger bonds. For friendships to truly develop, you must enter a safe level of vulnerability with the other person. This does not happen overnight but opening the door on a consistent basis to allow those moments to happen will help you deepen those relationships.
Find a service project
Service to others, and particularly banning together with a group of people to support a cause, has a profound effect on communities. The act of giving back and giving of yourself, connects you in so many ways. I love organizations like “Love Where you Live.” They spend the weekend cleaning up a few streets in their community. They paint houses, trim trees, and make some minor home repairs. When they are done the results are incredible, not just aesthetically, but also in the connections and bonds that are formed. There is certainly a renewed sense of pride in that community.
Support community events
Be PRESENT. Attend the local artisan event, go to a city council meeting, try the new coffee shop or restaurant. It is important to know your community, to meet the people that support it, and be involved in its existence. You will begin to see familiar faces when you are out and about. You will get to know what makes your community tick. You may then find something to become involved in or a place that becomes your local spot. Over time, you will develop a sense of belonging and excitement for where you live.
Meet your neighbors
So, you have lived in your house for 7 years and you don’t know the names of the folks that live across the street. It isn’t too late and no, you don’t look like a fool. They are probably thinking the same thing. Next time you see them outside, say hello. Suggest exchanging numbers in case of an emergency, or if they need a favor, or someone to keep an eye on the house for them. Go to National Night Out, sit outside on your porch on Halloween night, take a walk and stop to say hi to someone. The point is, don’t wait until it is too late.
My journey of connection is just that, a journey. But if everyday I can feel a little closer to the people and places around me, I consider that a victory.