Chloe Chow, B.Sc., Psychosocial Consultant
What does being part of a community mean to you? Does it represent your relation to those who live in close proximity to you? Does it mean block parties and borrowed sugar? Does it mean familiar faces and communal spaces?
I think that the traditional answer to these questions would be thrice yes. I think we tend to view community primarily in terms of proximity – the shared values, norms and identities that are held within a shared space or region. I think this definition of community fits well when we consider small towns or rural areas. But what does it look like in large cities? Where the blocks stretch on for miles, the buildings graze the clouds, and the people hail from far and wide. What does community look like there?
Here in 2016, we find ourselves perched on a slice of time from both a very digital and global age. An age where texting dominates over conversation, where your neighbour is just as likely to be from Hong Kong as he is from your hometown. Both of these impact the ways in which we find connection and community quite significantly. It’s difficult to feel connected when you’re out in public and surrounded by heads bent over smart phones. It’s difficult to feel connected when you’ve moved to a new city and have yet to learn its language.
But is it important? Do we need to feel connected to other people? Science would argue yes. Studies have shown that social capital is an important predictor of longevity; those with more social ties have been linked to longer life expectancies. These studies demonstrate the importance of feeling supported and cared for by others.
I think it’s time to redefine the way we view community. Creating community can start with something as small as smiling to a stranger in the elevator. It can be five minutes spent talking to a homeless person on the street. It can be sharing positive words of encouragement in your online community. We’re all so afraid to feel and to show it. But what makes us human more than our capacity to feel?
The sooner we start appreciating that every person we cross paths with is more than just a stranger on the street – the sooner we see that same stranger as an entire human being with stories, feelings, fears, hopes and dreams – just like us – the sooner we’ll start acting with care. We need to take care of each other. That’s what makes community.
The more we break down the us vs them mentality that has become socially conditioned in our minds and in our hearts, the more room we’ll have in our hearts for others and the more we will be open, sharing and kind. That’s what makes community.
The more we turn off our screens; the more we trade the phones for the faces right in front of us and listen – truly listen – fully, intentionally, and with compassion, the more we will hear what each other has to say and the more we in turn shall be heard. That’s what makes community.
The more we break down the wall we’ve built between ourselves and nature, the more we understand that we aren’t separate from nature, we are nature and the world is not simply our oyster, it’s our home, then the more we’ll start to care for it, nurture it and sustain it.
If we fuel our actions with love, inclusion and compassion instead of fear, division and judgment, and if we do so both consciously and consistently, then I think we will be well on our way to building a strong, unified community of care across the globe.