A Child of the Community

She referred to her son as a child of the community.

Participating in one of our community building workshops, the woman was responding to our question, “Where have you experienced community and why was it important?”

She went on to explain that the chronic, life threatening illness of her young son had meant that residents of her small, rural community had stepped up, and stepped in to their lives, by providing not only emotional support but also extensive, ongoing fundraising efforts to help with expenses. She said that she and her son were often stopped in the street by people they didn’t even know and asked how they were doing. Somewhat emotional, she continued by saying, “For me, that kind of caring and connecting is what community is all about.” 

While her feelings and understanding about the importance of community were pretty clear as the result of her firsthand experience, for some it may be more difficult to articulate and convey what it means. In large part, it is likely because community is about feelings

Perhaps the most important feeling is that of being connected to others and of not being alone, of knowing that others in our community will help us even if they don’t know us. The woman at the workshop still seemed surprised by the fact that there were so many who reached out to help her family without even knowing who they were.

This shared emotional connection seems to be the definitive element for true community. That connection is the result of personal, quality interaction, shared activities and events, and an almost spiritual, difficult-to-describe bonding with other members of that community.

Research suggests this shared emotional connection is one of four elements that result in a sense of community. The other three elements are: membership, influence, and integration and fulfillment of needs

An important aspect of a sense of community is membership in that community. Attributes of this membership could be the availability of emotional safety that makes it okay to reveal how one really feels, together with a sense of belonging and identification.

Influence is also critical to community in that members of a group must feel empowered to influence what a group does. If that is lacking, they might not be motivated to participate. Within communities, people who acknowledge the needs, values, and opinions of others are typically the most influential group members. Those who push to influence, dominate others, and ignore the needs and recommendations of others are often the least powerful members.

True communities also play a key role in integrating and fulfilling the needs of its members – meaning that which is desired and valued. Much like the golden rule, it means there is an interdependency that results in each member giving or doing for others, what one might hope to receive.

Ultimately for each of us this sense of community is essential in that it gives us a feeling that we belong, we matter to one another and to the group, and we know our needs will be met because we are committed to being together. And yes, while that may be about something warm and fuzzy and difficult to measure, isn’t it something we’d all like to have in our lives?

Posted on 03-25-12

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