Monthly Archives: February 2013

What isn’t necessary

What is community and how to build it are essential questions. So is asking what isn’t necessary for community to form. Sure, all the things I will mention can be helpful for building community, but I don’t consider them necessary.

Liking your neighbor is not necessary. Either the one who lives next door or the one on the other side of the world. Liking someone is a feeling, one that is deeply personal and subjective. It is difficult and a waste of time to try to wrangle ourselves into liking every person. Is it easier to act on behalf of someone we like? Of course. But to build a strong, thriving community, we must act on something deeper than our personal preferences.

Money is not necessary for community to form. A nod to a neighbor walking her dog, a kind word to a child, a smile at a barista brewing our coffee cost us nothing, but they go a long way toward building a sense of community. A lavish party or an evening at home playing board games with family? Community grows at both.

Proximity isn’t necessary. As I draw away from social media and focus on those around me, I’m inclined to say that being physically near someone is necessary, but I know it is not. A good friend of mine met her future husband online via blogs. I’ve participated in discussion boards with people from around the world and I felt more community there that at a dinner party. Reading books fosters a sense of community. Proximity is a huge part of community, but perhaps not necessary, at least not on the beginning.

Exhaustive details are not necessary for community. When did we start thinking that we have to know everything about everybody to consider them friends? If you asked me what I know about my Wednesday morning writing group, I would say I know their souls through their words, even though I don’t know their addresses, where they went to high school, or what they ate for supper.

If we don’t need any of the above to build strong, deep communities, what is essential?

One possibility: “…it is only kindness that makes sense anymore…” Naomi Shihab Nye, from her poem Kindness.

Dear Facebook,

Our relationship started over two years ago. We hit it off and accumulated a few close friends in the pre-Timeline days. More and more people friended me. I felt so liked because of you, Facebook. We celebrated running accomplishments, getting a huge boost from the support of friends liking my run for that day or the race of the month. We got along well especially when you tipped me off on how to block all games and use the unsubscribe button.

But then our relationship got complicated. You became intrusive, weaseling your way into all my pockets of time. You stroked my attention- and approval-seeking soul and I kept coming back for more. You knew I was a writer with lots of time alone with my computer, so certainly I needed to connect and promote and get feedback instantly. I had quips, fabulous lunches, minor irritations and cute kid phrases that I simply had to share and Facebook, you were there for me, 24/7. So dedicated, never was there a more dedicated entity. No email, no blog, no texting could keep me as entwined as you.

I would edit a page, then scroll Facebook, then edit a few sentences, then back to Facebook to scroll down your belly for any new comments. And I would see all the repost posts and the “this is so funny” posts and the anxiety-producing fear and anger posts. One day (actually many days), I stopped mid-scroll, staring into the hairy bellybutton of you Facebook and said, aloud, “What am I looking for?”

In my Facebook haze, I didn’t know how to answer that, but a small, slightly strangled, rational voice inside told me that if I hadn’t found it after two years, it was time to move on from this relationship. No more lingering ads, no more navigating our privacy issues, no more endless scrolls in the park.

I thought I needed you, Facebook. After 39 days, I’m certain that I don’t.

Farewell, Facebook. It’s not you, it’s me.

Neighborhood in Winter

So it’s winter in Minnesota and I’m trying to write about community when everyone on my street is hibernating in their warm houses except for the brief excursions into the frigid air to push a shovel or snow blower or walk a dog. When I see one of my neighbors, both of us bundled head to toe and nearly unrecognizable, we nod, wave and hurry home. No pausing at the end of a driveway to chat about the weather, to swap gardening tips, ┬áto scratch the doggy’s ear.

I miss those brief interactions that let me know I live among friendly people who know my name, but there’s still evidence of them, even when I don’t see my neighbors. The footprints and pawprints along the snowy sidewalk. The snow blower tire tracks. The yellow snow, so much yellow snow. It’s a riot to see how all the dogs tend to pee in the same places (my territory, woof!).

We are responsible for shoveling the sidewalks in front of our houses and around the fire hydrants. Within a day of snowfall, most of the sidewalks and fire hydrants are cleared. I’ve been here for nine winters and that has held true through all of them. The snow hasn’t been as plentiful or wet in the last couple years, but when it is, snowmen and forts arise in white wonder.

Dear Neighbors, I know you are there. I look forward to seeing you come spring!