I feel at ease here, I fit in, I can relax and be myself; this is where I belong. The people I care about and the people that care about me are here. I feel connected, safe, and alive here. My anxiety and stress fade away as I become engaged within the community.
- A group of people who have significant, positive social interactions.
- a social group where each individual has a significant relationship with every other individual.
- A group of people each connected to one another.
- The place where I belong
- At home
- Among friends, where I am accepted.
Synonyms for community include affiliation, alliance, clan, neighborhood, and village. It is the opposite of isolated, apart, detached, disconnected, and fragmented.
A clique is not a community. A clique is an exclusive group—defined largely by who is not included. A community is an inclusive group which extends its hospitality and welcomes all. Brotherhoods, fraternities, and fellowships may be closer to cliques than communities.
The relationships in a community go well beyond transactions and move us toward transformation. Your frequent interactions with the checkout person at the supermarket are probably transactional—you present the food items and pay the bill. If you asked about her family, and really cared about the answer, you are taking a step toward transformation.
A community is a gathering that is inclusive, connected, constructive, and active:
- The group is inclusive, inviting strangers and welcoming all to join in. It is not an exclusive clique.
- Each person is connected to the others and has significant interactions and relationships with the others. It is not isolation, nor fragmentation.
- The activities are constructive; the people are working to advance the interests and experience of the whole. The interactions, while certainly spirited at times, are always candid and are intended to improve the well-being of the community. People genuinely care about each other and the community as a whole. It is not backbiting, pandemonium, a battlefield, nor mayhem. As conflict inevitably arises, potential predators deliberately restrain themselves and prohibit violence.
- The community members are active, involved, engaged, sincere, and committed. Each person is present and engaged in the activities of the group: contributing, caring, listening, and volunteering their time, energy, creativity, and other gifts. Dissent is welcome because it is authentic and originates from commitment rather than denial, obstruction, or apathy. No bystanders, spectators, posers, or other inert, tentative, insincere, resigned, apathetic, or superficial placeholders are here wasting time and space.
The Essence of Community
Citizen-to-citizen engagement, a focus on the well-being of the whole, and hospitality to all are the essential elements of a community. When citizens choose to:
- become accountable for connecting to each other, all others,
- take ownership for their own role in creating the present conditions,
- describe the promise of a future that can be, and
- commit themselves to fulfilling that promise together,
then the community emerges, often overcoming adverse economic conditions, poor leadership, broken systems, and ineffective institutions and government.
Reciprocity works well within a community because it is easy to keep score. Reputations are earned and well known. It is readily apparent who contributes fully, who is slacking off, who is selfish and fails to share, who is disingenuous or insincere, who avoids responsibility, and who cheats. Members of the community reciprocate, either positively or negatively, to quickly and consistently reward or punish community members according to their contribution. This engages the community members and moves them toward accountability and away from entitlement.
In his book Bowling Alone Robert Putnam defines the term social capital to describe the quality of the relationships and the cohesion that exists among its citizens. He found that community health, educational achievement, local economic strength, and other measures of community well-being depended on the level of social capital existing in a community.
As people associate with one another in various capacities, at the kitchen table during a family dinner, stopping to talk as we encounter each other on the sidewalk, at the card club, or the school meeting, people form relationships that provide a pool of friends. These friends can be relied upon when times are hard, we need a ride to the train, or the poor elderly woman next door needs snow shoveled off her walkway. Each of these relationships is an asset, and each contributes to the social capital of the community.
Benefits of a Healthy Community
Hospitality, belonging, caring, generosity, engagement, commitment, authentic behaviors, trust, meaningful relationships, safety, peace-of-mind, and empathy can all emerge when you belong to a community. Community members have their relatedness need fulfilled. The possibility of abundance can begin to replace scarcity and fear. Hope can find a home.
Contribution and Enrollment
In their book The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life authors Rosamund and Benjamin Zander describe the importance of contribution and enrollment. A contributor is someone who is genuinely and enthusiastically making a difference. A contributor is taking risks and is working from passion and commitment rather than fear to achieve significant results for the community. We are enrolled when we are inspired to become contributors.
A community creates a fertile context where contribution and enrollment can emerge. Contribution and enrollment are essential for achieving the possibilities of a better world.
Lack of Community
Isolation, alienation, loneliness, distrust, fear, hostility, anger, greed, detachment, apathy, disengagement, malaise, fragmentation, predation, cynicism, anxiety, class struggles, and stress are all symptoms of a lack of community. Without community our need for relatedness cannot be fulfilled and chronic deficits persist.
Several emotions help to strengthen our community ties:
- Guilt alerts us when we fail to meet the community's standard of behavior.
- Shame is our failure to meet our own standard of behavior, often because of an insufficient community contribution.
- Anxiety, fear, and anger often increase when we do not feel we belong to a community.
- Hate and fear may be felt toward those we have not yet welcomed into our community.
- We may feel contempt for people who are not meeting community expectations.
- We especially feel compassion for and gratitude toward those in our community.
- The sense of belonging we feel in a community can give us hope and help us avoid depression.
- “It has become impossible for me to ignore the fact that the world we are creating does not come close to fulfilling its promise.” ~ Peter Block
- “If you don't go to somebody's funeral, they won't come to yours.” ~ Yogi Berra
Community: The Structure of Belonging, by Peter Block
The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, by Rosamund Stone Zander, and Benjamin Zander
Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert D. Putnam