Community, what is it good for?

com·mu·ni·ty [kuh-myoo-ni-tee]
–noun, plural -ties.

Definition: a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, share common characteristics or interests and perceive itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists

In a seminal 1986 study, McMillan and Chavis identify four elements of “sense of community”: 1) membership, 2) influence, 3) integration and fulfillment of needs, and 4) shared emotional connection.

Why we have lost community? I Think that we have gotten to comfortable in our day to day lives and routines that we do not want anyone getting in the way of them. We are to stuck to our phone, email, twitter, facebook, blogs, tv, play-station; that we have forgotten what it is to play board games against people – not the computer. Now why is it that we have come to like a artificial entertainment over a natural one?

I am not saying that tv, twitter facebook and blogs are bad – obviously I have all of those. I think though that we have become to dependent on them. This summer while I was still waiting for a work visa in Norway our internet went our for a few hours. I freaked out. What was I going to do. We had no tv or internet actually. This should have been a no-brainer for me, I live in one of the most beautifully places in the world – go outside! I should have went on a walk or strolled into town. But instead I continually kept checking to see if the internet was back up, cleaned the house abit and checked the internet again. I think that I ended up going on a walk. But I am sad to say that my need for the online world was so strong, that I forgot about the real [beautiful] one right outside the window behind my computer screen.

We dislike or are uncomfortable talking to strangers. If we know them they might make us late to our meeting or to the bus. I think that this is so sad. Growing up, I knew that if Dad or Mema and I went somewhere – somewhere where they could talk to someone – we would be there for some time. You see we lived in a small town of 3,000 people. We would go to walmart just for shampoo or milk and be there for more then 10 minutes – normally we would see someone or meet someone new and chat for 20, 30, 50 minutes. You see, in our evenings we had not big to do have too’s. We had some commitments, but I don’t remember hearing ‘oh we need to leave to catch the new episode of CSI’ type of comments. We chatted, were nice, asked how their family was and if we needed to be somewhere kindly excused ourselves and said we would talk more next time.

This is a far cry from what I see so often now – you see someone in the store and you try to avoid them. Why do we do this? The only real practical reason I can see is that there is a true uncomfortable-ness with this person for real reasons. But generally that is not why we do this [I am guilty], normally it is that we don’t want to get stuck there, or they will see us in our ‘bad’ clothes or without make up ect ect. I have heard friends say before they will not go out to ‘said’ event with us because they don’t want to look cheap in the same clothes and have not had time to buy new ones yet. Our culture is so hung up on all this consumer-istic stupidity. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion. What I don’t love that that we feel we are less of a person because we do not have that new $150 handbag. What ever happened to liking a person for who they are not what they have. People are great on the inside, full of love and goodness.

Getting to know someone can make us uncomfortable, what if they ask a question we are not comfortable answering. Or what if they see I cannot afford something. Or what if they invite me to a party and I don’t have anything to wear. Personally, I love talking to the cashiers at health food stores and the farmers in town. Or the lady in our bits-and-bobs shop. They all have something different to offer. They are all from different walks of life and have great amounts of different knowledge. (I personally need to do this more in Norway like I did in the States – I get worried with the language barrier, where really it is not that big of a problem.)

I am not saying that we should all have a core group of 150 friends, I think that it is wise and healthy to have a nice small core group of friends – the closest ones, the ones you would call when you knew no one else would answer. But I think that our community, those around us, should be bigger.

I think we are scared people will steal our ideas, friends, or attention. We are so scared to share our ideas with others. When you find a great recipe or a new thing that will make someone’s life much easier – you should share it. However so often we do not, we feel we deserve something in exchange for what we have [probably accidentally] found.

When you have a large community, there is pressure to join. When you have a group of people that know you, care about you and want to hang out with you – then they start inviting you places. People are scared that –heaven forbid– someone invites you to there house for dinner and you miss your Tuesday night tv show regimen. I have heard this as a reason for not having dinner with friends before. I love having people over or going over to other people houses for dinner. I love the conversation of a group, see how everyones day was, hearing what is new and learning new things.

We have to change this. We need to get our of our convenient ways and change our habits. Community is what holds us together when times are down. Having someone to share with or help you along. Community is who we celebrate with when times are good and there is plenty.

Online friendships are great, that is how Ole and I meet – I am not beating it down. However, when you are sick or you need some help or you want someone to celebrate with – facebook just does not do the job. I am an expat, all my friends I grew up with live across the world. I cannot tell you what they are doing today or this month. I have no connection to them, there is no real relationship anymore since it is digital. I talk to my best-friend and dad via skype weekly, and besides them – I only see status updates that don’t always make sense. I cannot say enough how valuable I think that these social networks online are – I just think we need to remember what we did before them. How did we kept up with friends without the internet?

We went to baseball games, out for ice cream, to the movie, to a BBQ or just meet at a house for coffee. Now I feel that this is still for the most part happening. More so with some then others. But what I think is sad, is that when before we would get a coffee and catch up with a friend we would have lots to talk about. Now, they or you check you phone a million times, you have already seen there photos from vacation so that is just a few seconds of conversation and then there comes the silence.

I am not saying that we need to throw away our electronics and have everyone we meet over for dinner. I am saying that we need to think about how we live and communicate. Without the internet I would have not found Ole and would not have made so many friends through blogs and would not have such a great resource at my finger tips for this lifestyle changes we are going through. But I am challenging myself and you to have friends over for dinner or meet up with a friend for coffee – dig around, who knows you might both have one of the same hidden hobbies – or talk to the lady/man at the cashiers counter.

I know I have just went on a wild rampage of a rant – I just think that there is something we are missing and need to get it back. So lets find a group to be a member of, influence them and let them influence us, help each other and bond over common interests!

PS. On a side-note. I think that older people -obviously- are such a great wealth of knowledege. I love learning a cool ‘old’ way something was done when they were kids. It makes me think of how people lived and what they did without what we take for granted. Plus they are full of wisdom and tips!

What do you think?