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March Update: What we have heard so far
In September of 2012, Tamarack started a journey to create a national dialogue on community across Canada. Our goals are:
· to get people talking about community
· to share insights, stories and best practices from these conversations across the country
· based on the patterns that emerge, to develop policy and program ideas that reflect the importance of a deepened sense of community (as per the data coming from the conversations)
When we first started this campaign, we did not know what we were going to find. As each of you has participated, we have been overwhelmed by the depth of the responses. It turns out people have a lot to say about community. Some of the ideas that are coming forward we expected, while others caught us by surprise. Below are some of the key highlights from the first couple months of this campaign, as well as links to some of the most memorable blog reflections.
To learn more and to get involved contact Derek Alton at email@example.com
-Gifts and Opportunities
Though this is fairly obvious, it is a good place to start. We hear again and again that people are looking for community. In today’s busy world, despite the fact that we are more connected than ever before, people are feeling lonely. When we asked people to talk about their most memorable experience of community, they told beautiful stories of deep connection and belonging. The majority of these stories were rooted in the past; rarely did they talk of a present experience in their lives.
Why is this?
Time! This was the most common explanation we hear. Building community takes time and energy. In today’s fast-paced world, people do not feel like they have the time to build the communities they seek. This became particularly pronounced in conversations with seniors. When asked to reflect on how community has changed over their lifetime, they quickly talked about how things have become so fast-paced that it was impossible for people to feel deeply connected with each other.
Not having enough time, though, is a product of a culture that is both fast-paced and also heavily focused on the individual. Without the restraints of community responsibilities, it allows us to run faster in our own lives. One conversation highlights that we now seem to have less leisure time. This leisure time is often when a lot of community building happens: with friends and family, through celebrations and hobbies.
Another important shift is the move away from churches as the as a common place to regularly exist in community. Historically, churches experienced very little competition as everything else was closed on Sundays. Now, however, almost everything is open seven days a week, giving Sunday church programming a lot more to compete with. This is a competition they are frequently losing, as shown by the number of churches that are closing.
Through these conversations, several dichotomies were evident. Below are three of the key ones:
Individual vs. Communal
This tension is best highlighted in the book “Becoming Human” by Jean Vanier. Human beings want to feel unique and special. We want to have the autonomy to control our own destiny. At the same time, we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We are, after all, communal creatures and therefore crave the love and support that comes from being part of a group. If we wish to fully submerge ourselves in our community, , we must either give up part of our autonomy or lay some of our values to the side for the good of the group. This creates tension. In our current individualistic society, we are more likely to follow through on our individual desires and thus, communities struggle to maintain cohesion and deep commitment.
Same vs. Different
This dichotomy is based on the idea that though we are drawn to people like us, we value diversity, as it gives us new experiences and expands our minds. This dichotomy came forward in a couple conversations. The CJ Munford group talked about how skin colour formed a starting point for community. In contrast Harold wrote, “(t)he way to objectivity is by adding more subjectivity. Having two eyes enables 3D vision. Adopting multiple perspectives, enables a deeper more objective understanding of the world we inhabit.” In our individualistic society and with the advent of the internet, it is now easier for us to form communities of like-minded people. While our world becomes increasingly interconnected, diversity is becoming more crucial for the resiliency and adaptability of communities. These countervailing forces are causing tension in communities across the country.
Organic vs. Formal
This tension was first highlighted through many of the cultural groups who noted that in more communal societies, community just happens organically. People show up and come together when it is needed or wanted. This ranges from grabbing a drink with some friends, to helping a neighbour patch up their house. Contrastingly, when they came to Canada, many of these people noticed that this spontaneous communal experience is less common. Instead community is much more formalized through institutions, governments and programs. I think this is a buy-product of our busy lives and lack of leisure time. Everything is scheduled including our community building time. This was also debated by a group of pastors in Oakville.
Gifts and Opportunities:
Through the many conversations that have occurred thus far, numerous opportunities are emerging. This indicates a cultural shift towards desiring a deepened sense of community and collectively trying to figure out how to implement this desire.
Though it is said that “youth are the future,” I was excited to see how many of them eagerly participated in these discussions and want to be a part of positively influencing their communities today. To date, there have been over ten conversations involving youth and there are many more to come. Many youth are exploring intentional communities and also trying to serve as catalysts in their community. However, often times, they are excluded from community building conversations, as a group of youth leaders lamented in Guelph. If youth are given leadership opportunities and proper mentorship, they can be a major catalyst for positive community change, mobilizing their parents’ generation, as well.
For more on youth check out:
“Bring Youth to the City Table” by 1000 Conversations
“A Community Conversation with the Kitchener Youth Action Council” by Anthony Chung
“Get Talking About Community” by Andy Miller and the Stone Soup Collective
In many cultures, including our Canadian aboriginals, elders hold the community’s collective wisdom. On the topic of community, these cultural groups have much to say, much to offer to this discussion. Are we listening? They are often times critical of how we are now moving so quickly without a concern for our neighbours. Our seniors can remember a different way, a more communal way of living and supporting each other. They can serve as mentors for our youth and through this help, us mobilize parts of our population that are often isolated.
For more on elders check out:
“How Has Community Changed” by Heritage House
“Quilting with the Best” by Emmanuel United Church
As has already been highlighted, cultural groups have a lot to teach us about how different parts of the world are building community. They can effectively act as a mirror: allowing us to stop and consider the intentions of our own culture. An openness to diversity invites challenges and tensions, as well as both cultural and language barriers. These patterns were mentioned numerous times. There is also great opportunity that arises when we glean the insights of other cultures on ways to build community. In order to have these valuable conversations, we must create a safe and inviting space. Additionally, we must tailor our communication to that of the groups were are trying to learn from and engage. Each cultural group has a different communication norm and proficiency level with English. By taking the time to learn this, we will find it easier to involve these groups.
*This question of communication style is also relevant for trying to engage youth and seniors.
For more on culture groups check out:
“Learning English and Talking Community” by Queen Street Commons
“Business needs healthy community and community needs healthy business.” Often times, business and community are seen as adversaries. However, with a change in perspective, business can prove to be a powerful partner in helping build up the local community. Beyond the local “mom and pop” stores, this can also include the larger multi-national corporations. If communities want to become vibrant, they will need to engage businesses in a constructive dialogue.
For more on Business check out:
“Talking Community with the Chamber” by 1000 Conversations
“Do Businesses Help Build Community?” By Derek Alton
Historically, the church has been the hub for community within a neighbourhood. These groups are now struggling to compete with the many other draws on people’s attention. Through these challenges, new ideas are emerging. Some faith groups are starting to find a renewed meaning and purpose by reaching out to their neighbourhoods. For more on faith communities check out:
“A Church No Longer Sustainable” by Norfolk United Church
“Death and Rebirth at Emmanuel United Church” by Emmanuel United Church
Community is a lot of work, however, it can be a lot of fun. In our busy world we need to learn to step back and celebrate with each other. In one of the fall conversations, Alex talks about her experience celebrating with a tribe in Madagascar. When talking about memorable experiences of community, celebrations like festivals were mentioned often. A key part of this is food. It seems to be a lubricant for building community.
For more on celebration check out:
“There is No Them, Only Us” by Alex Weatherhead
“Festival of Neighbourhoods” by Derek Alton
We are seeking community. More than that, we understand that we need it. We can accomplish far more as a community than as an individual. There are a lot of major challenges that we cannot face alone. We are on the right path and have everything we need to build the communities we desire. To start, we need to tell each other stories of community. By participating in these conversations, you have already started. Now we need to build the movement, get other people talking about community and then share stories, ideas and challenges. Tamarack has created the online learning community seekingcommunity.ca as the platform to help share these stories.
What you can do to help?
-Share this with others
-Check out seekingcommunity.ca
-Invite others to hold a conversation about community
For more information contact Derek Alton at firstname.lastname@example.org