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Healthy Communities

Communites which supports the zero waste movement

Communities have been crucial to my drive, motivation, and mental well-being. I have been in many different communities that have inspired me and given me a sense of hope, love, and belonging. Here are some of the best I remember:

  • Toastmasters: the positive acknowledgments they’d make of me while starting to make speeches for the first time was moving for me. It inspired me to start delivering gratitude and affirmation to myself and others.
  • Spiritual groups (e.g. church): warm and caring, they would often check in on how I’m doing, and pray for me during hard times. I have been surprised and greatly moved when it comes to the number of people who understood and affirmed my struggles and still chose to be there for me unconditionally. They’ve inspired me to become a more generous person. They’ve also included me in large spiritual retreats, even though I was just a newbie.
  • Financial education group: they care about my hopes and dreams, inspire me with their ambition and care for others, and generously spent time with me as a new person. They have a structured process to help people improve their financial well-being.

Here are some qualities of positive communities that I’ve noticed:

  • Proactive about welcoming new members
  • Being approachable and easy to ask for help
  • Members have similar values, vision, mission, and goals
  • People enjoy celebrating and lifting each other up
  • People regularly meet and enjoy each other’s company, over food and/or shared hobbies

All that said, a community is not always easy to set up and maintain. Here are challenges I’ve come across when trying to set up my own communities:

  • Not being in a well enough place myself to provide support to others
  • Inability to relax and have fun; just connecting for the sake of connecting
  • Bridging the gap between people who don’t see eye-to-eye; managing tension/conflict
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to keep a community inspired and alive

Community leaders don’t have to rely on themselves to keep a community alive. They can:

  • Ask social, extroverted people to help run events and build relationships
  • Ask each other for help
  • Ask people who are well-organized to handle any back-end administration (e.g. membership fees)
  • Ask people who are naturally firm to moderate the group and enforce community guidelines, rules, and boundaries

That last part is the hardest for me to practice; I am in awe of anyone who has the guts and the strength to enforce the rules, have those difficult conversations, and learn to bridge the gap between imperfect people. Conflict is something I’ve always struggled to deal with; being okay speaking up for needs, not being ashamed of being firm with others or angry at them.

What is a healthy community?

Here’s a definition I came across: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease.” It brings me back to when I read a book about depression, and found that it was partly caused by cultural ‘junk’ values that don’t help people feel fulfilled. In Canada and the US, we’re taught to value money and accomplishment…even if it’s not something we consciously value, advertising and the media show many of us that we won’t be worthy of love or belonging if we haven’t reached a certain status in life. We’ve kind of got things backward – a community that feels safe and loving is crucial for all of us to move forward and reach our potential, but we’re trying to do most of that work alone – and then, when we’re faced with our weaknesses, failures, and challenges, many of us give up in the process. We’re not meant to do life alone, yet we’re led to believe that we should be able to. The reality is that we all have different strengths and weaknesses that are meant to complement each other.

We’re also in a state where many of us need to (re-)learn social skills from scratch – even being okay with taking time to connect with the people who recharge us, not striving forever to meet work (& other) expectations that are conflicting and unrealistic. As a millennial who grew up with technology, my focus is often scattered – it’s hard to be present with people when I’m constantly comparing myself with them on social media and other channels. My mind is filled with anxiety - I don’t want to bother or impose on people, I don’t want to pretend I’m curious about someone else’s life, and I don’t want to fake being someone I’m not. ‘Who’d want to talk to someone like me, when I have nothing to give?’ It’s only when the loneliness becomes unbearable that I force myself to reach out to others for support. It can take something to be able to exit our typical everyday bubble and get curious about someone who’s totally different, who has a point of view that may challenge our own. 

One thing that limits me in getting to know new people, is that I tend to look for people with certain qualities (e.g. open-mindedness, generosity, emotionally understanding) and ignore others. I trust that as I get better at communicating with people, bridging the gap between myself and others, and enjoying what I learn from different personalities, I can grow in my ability to find common ground with a wider variety of people.

The good news is that once I overcome those first hurdles of reaching out to others – those stretches of time where making social contact doesn’t seem to make sense to me – I get into a state where I’m happy to be there for others in my life, and giving feels really good to me – not depleting. It feels good to create value and be recognized by other people; choosing how I do it. If some experience I share can save a massive amount of time for someone else, I’d say that makes my past learnings and struggles worth it.

Stages of growth for a community

I imagine that each community is in different stages of growth; there are many healthy ones, and also many that are challenged and in states of disrepair. Here are the different levels of growth I’ve come across:

  • Healthy: well-functioning, giving, spiritually advanced, communicative, and responsive. This state is easiest to achieve when people have similar values, or bond together over a common goal/shared hobby.
  • Quiet: people get along, there just isn’t much life or spirit to the group as a whole. They don’t interact very often.
  • Cold war: gossip, tension, passive aggression
  • Heated conflict: violence, lack of safety, crime, abuse, racism; one group taking advantage of another

It’s harder to create and maintain a healthy community when people have disagreements due to

  • Being from different generations
  • Cultural differences
  • Mismanaged expectations of social roles (e.g. ‘men should do this, women should do that)
  • Personality mismatch
  • Social status – those born rich can have a very different worldview from those born poor

In my view, that is why family is harder to bring together, compared to other groups of people – because the members can experience many of these inner conflicts, and there is often also a long history of hurts and misunderstandings, or simply exhaustion being together, that need to be cleared up.

That brings up the question: how to build community in situations where it seems difficult? Some ideas that come to mind are:

  • Finding common ground: shared interests, goals, and values
  • Understanding where each person is coming from
  • Finding things to appreciate about community members, even when they are being difficult (often being difficult is a sign of a positive trait that is overexpressed)
  • Finding what peoples’ needs are, and striving to meet those needs / make compromises where possible. It could be that people are wanting certain kinds of support from the wrong people – e.g. people who are weak at providing that kind of support, or are unwilling to change
  • Releasing attachment to outcomes, to make way for more realistic/suitable ones that are co-created by the community as a whole
  • Platinum rule: treating people how they would like to be treated, not how we would like to be treated

Here are some things I’ve learned from building ‘Brave Authenticity’, a Facebook community, from scratch:

  • People enjoy it when I’m being simple, relatable, and genuine
  • People need my community more than I think they do. I thought no one would want to join because I wasn’t a top ‘expert’, but they joined because I was being real
  • When I gave people a chance to provide their input on what they wanted, I found myself naturally responding to it and setting up events that people could benefit from
  • Extroverts are really good at taking a group chat I build and running it on their own!

Anyhow, those are my thoughts on healthy communities. Stay tuned for my article next week! I hope this one was helpful for you.

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