Saturday, June 14, 2008

TEN TIPS FOR BUILDING COMMUNITY

1. Use the internet to create or join a community of people who share your interests or concerns. Meetup.com is a great vehicle for doing that.

2. Take it beyond the internet: Get out there and meet face-to-face with people you’ve met on the internet. Nothing replaces human contact. The Brooklyn Blogade (see pics above) is a monthly gathering of Brooklyn-based bloggers and friends which meets in the various neighborhoods of the borough. The Blogade is a great example of using the internet to build human relationships.

3. Walk your block. Every morning, I pass by and say hello to the same neighbors, shopkeepers, and crossing guards whose names I make a point of knowing. If people have a “fixed point” – e.g. behind the store counter, in front of their house, by the crossing walk – it’s easy to greet them each day.

4. Participate in local, ongoing projects – e.g. park cleanups, a community garden, meetings with local merchants. Strong communities are based on relationships that are built over time.

5. Make friends with people across (artificial dividers of) age, race, class, strengths, and life experiences. Do you remember adults from your young life who encouraged you and paid thoughtful attention to you, even for a few minutes? Do that for a young person you know.

6. Fundraise for causes you believe in. Fundraisers are a great way to get to know other people and to bring people together. They don’t have to be fancy.

7. Address what keeps you back from being part of groups. Most people have some unpleasant memories associated with being part of groups. Some people had a rotten time in school. Some people grew up in harsh family lives. Some people were dragged to religious services every week. So, there is fear about losing individuality or having our individuality discounted or disrespected.

Know that it is possible to shape groups so that they honor both a collective life and the amazing contributions and strengths of each individual, including you.

8. Keep in touch with individual people. If you see Suzy Q at a neighborhood association meeting once a month and you’d like to get to know her better, call her to go have lunch sometime. The life of a community is as strong as the relationships that individual people have with each other.

9. Speak, read, write and paint about the things that matter most to you. The more you put yourself and your interests out there in the world, the more chances you will have of finding people who share those interests.

10. Decide what your community-building goals are and start strategizing your plan to get there. Many of us are encouraged to have goals for our career, family, financial, or love lives but we’re not really taught that community is important or how to build it for ourselves and our families. Instead, we’re encouraged to prize geographic or career/economic mobility over staying put and developing relationships and community over time.

Some examples of goals:

1. I’d like my family to be part of a community of ten other families who share friendship, outings, meals, and childcare responsibilities.

2. I want to create a community of fifteen women artists who support and track each others’ progress over a three year period.

3. I’d like to have a group of five to seven close-knit friends who get together regularly for lunch.

4. I’d like to coach an athletic team for my son or daughter and bring together the families as much as possible.

5. I’d like to organize college students in my city/borough/state to help register people to vote in the next presidential election.

Where do you want to be in one year? In five, ten, and twenty years? Do you want to be surrounded by people that you respect and care about and who respect and care about you? Think about your big goals and start taking small, daily steps to reach them. Over time, our lives either contract or expand. Our world gets either bigger our smaller. It’s up to us to decide and shape how we want our lives to be.
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