Finding Community

This evening my husband and I enjoyed a lovely barbecue dinner on our back patio. Afterward as we sat in the beautiful late evening sun, we watched kids, adults, and their pets walk by or play in the park across the street. As beautiful as it was, and as much as we enjoy living where we do, the truth is that even after living here two years, we don’t know the names of even one of our neighbours.

It made me think about the street where I grew up where everyone knew everyone. On the same kind of evening there, kids would have been running and playing in everyone’s yards while the adults sat on their porches or stood chatting in clusters on the sidewalk. It was a community where many shared the same hopes and dreams not just for themselves but for one another.

I felt a wave of nostalgia for that sense of community. However it wasn’t for long because as I started to think about it I realized that these days I’ve simply found community in a different way.

The most common thinking about community seems to be that of people who are linked to a specific geographic location. We typically use the term to refer to our hometown or neighbourhood,

However these days it seems we are defining community in different ways. 

Sometimes it is about the space where we connect physically or even virtually via the Internet to share common interests, ideas, values or beliefs. My husband connects with his fellow “kiters’, my sister connects with her flag football team, my brother-in-law through his scout troops. Others find their communities through support groups for addicts, clubs for gardeners, leagues for bowlers, or even as owners of Harley motorcycles.

It may also be that we find community as identity. That’s likely why I often refer to myself as coming from a long line of healthy Ukrainian peasant stock. Somehow I just identify myself with the image of those hardworking, sturdy and strong women. For others it might be identifying as an Italian, Francophone, feminist, gay or Catholic.

Today however, it does seem we are more likely to define community as experience. 

After all, while everyone lives in a place or a space, it ultimately is the feeling of community – the experience of being connected, accepted, and part of something larger than oneself – that is most important.

In my case I’ve found community through a network of colleagues who share a passion for community development and making positive change. Despite our diverse backgrounds and talents it seems indicative of how many of us do gravitate to others who share a space, interests, or situations similar to our own.

Although in our case we often meet via phone and email, last week my community of colleagues met in a noisy and productive face to face meeting.

It became clear that despite the diversity and difference of our experiences, there was a growing sense of community. While we are connected primarily by our work, we also share values and a growing emotional attachment. So while we aren’t living in the same community, we definitely are all part of one as we have the experience of community that is the result of participating in a nurturing, responsive environment that encourages us to be our authentic selves while contributing to the mutual good.

As I looked around the room, it also struck me that it doesn’t matter how we define it or what we call it. What really matters is how it feels. And for me, it felt like home. 

Posted on 06-28-09

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