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I’m going to post a new section of my book, temporarily titled “How to Build Connected Community,” every week. I invite you to read, comment, ask questions, or share stories. Your input will improve the expression of our community’s voice. Thank you for being part of my community and joining me on this project.
We’ve got some big problems. The human race that is. All of us. These problems show up in every space where humans interact with each other or are supposed to. They show up in the way we interact with our environment and how we feel about ourselves. They show up in our mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical health. They’re complex and they’re not going to go away by ignoring them. They’re also not going to go away by continuing to problem solve in the same way we’ve been problem-solving so far. We can’t just respond to each crisis as it shows up. We need to be preventive. Or even better, we need to promote health. We can’t stay in our silos and compete. We won’t be able to buy our way out of our problems or hire enough counselors, doctors, engineers, or programmers to fix them. We can’t hire a superstar CEO, mayor, pastor, or superintendent with brilliant new insight. The ideal president and a balanced congress and a bunch of great laws and policies are byproducts of the solution rather than the solution itself. We can’t pray it away or think positive thoughts. WE need to do the hard work. WE do. That WE are the central idea of the better way I’m going to suggest in this little book.
What’s wrong with this world that has been wrong with it most of human history is that the “we” got all messed up. Some people got excluded and ignored. Some people got paid too much attention to and things got all wobbly. Speaking of paid, some people got paid way too much. It’s really bad now. How we are paid should be a reflection of our inclusion in we. As soon as there was a discernible difference between an in-group and an out-group and people wanted to be in the in-group and out of the out-group, we were wrecked.
Back in the old days (not the 50s), when we were primarily nomadic people, the “we” was protected by the whole community. We didn’t let one person or a small group get into a power position. We stayed small and knew how we fit together and how each person mattered to the whole. Rutger Bregman wrote a great book called “Humankind” that goes deep into this stuff. If you are interested, it’s a very encouraging book that says we can have hope in ourselves. We, humans, have what it takes to deal with our big, complex, overwhelming problems. I loved it because it wasn’t some new-fangled idea. It basically says we need to return to our core nature and live as we’ve always known we are supposed to. We don’t need fancy techniques, we need to be good humans.
The central focus of the narrative I want to share is belonging. Not the mushy Kumbaya starry-eyed “it feels so good to have friends” feeling of belonging; that’s just a nice symptom. No. I’m talking about the definable, measurable experience of belonging that means both ownership and the sense of being an integral part of something. Peter Block, in his book, “Community,” says, “…to belong is to be related to and a part of something. It is membership, the experience of being at home in the broadest sense of the phrase.” He says it also… “has to do with being an owner: Something belongs to me. To belong to a community is to act as a creator and co-owner of that community. What I consider mine I will build and nurture.”
What I’m going to share with you is a strategy for putting the “we” back together. I’ve stitched together some science from the realm of psychology and sociology. Ironically, this science has not, at least in my view, done a good job of stitching itself together. Maybe it’s because, in the world of academia, it’s more important to get published than get shit done. I can’t tell you how many peer-reviewed articles I’ve read that basically just prove there’s a problem. We get it. There’s a problem. Now what? Maybe the stitching hasn’t happened because doing so is counter-cultural and a lot of hard work. That’s ok as far as I’m concerned because our culture is not all that healthy and the hard work is very satisfying. Who knows, maybe it has been stitched together somewhere and I just missed the article.
As a community psychologist, both professionally and otherwise, I’ve been working on and in the community for a couple of brief decades. I’ve come at this from quite a few perspectives but I’m not claiming to be an expert. Some of what I’m going to tell you will either feel like or actually be a wild goose chase. Any author or teacher or preacher or mentor who tries to pretend they are not going to end up getting people to chase geese is not doing anyone any favors. Besides, some of the best stuff I’ve discovered was with goose poop on my shoes and the wind in my hair. Don’t be afraid to chase geese.
This is not to say that we won’t get really practical. In fact, the whole second half of this book is a strategy to use for implementing all the stitched together theories and implications of the first half. I’m going to build a convincing case for how a connected community works and then I’m going to tell you how it can be done. But here’s the spoiler – it can be done.
Do you have a story of when the “we” worked and you experienced measurable, restorative belonging? Or how about a story of a wild goose chase that led to a life-changing discovery? Please share, I’d love to hear them!