There have been many times in my life when I really struggled to find community, longing for a place where I could feel like I “fit in”. Growing up on a farm close to a small rural hamlet I experienced community as a double edged sword: everybody knew you and your family making it easy to find things to talk about and participate in a variety of activities with people you knew and there was a certain comfort in that. But it was also really difficult at to find people who had some of the unique interests and perspectives that I had which, despite the familiarity, could still feel lonely. So as quickly as I could, I left home to find “my” community. And here is what I learned on that journey:
- One community may not meet all of your needs. I have heard many people express a feeling of being “let down” by a certain group because they thought because they shared one commonality, that somehow all their needs for acceptance and understanding would be met there. We are complex and evolving beings and we may be drawn to different communities for a variety of reasons. You may need to reach out to different communities to find who you are looking for.
- Communities can evolve and change. Sometimes a change in leadership, direction, demographics or even a change in you can change the “fit” of a community. Sometimes it is a change that feels good but just as often it might be a change that feels wrong. Sometimes you stay because you are a part of this change and sometimes you leave because you are not: both can be equally difficult.
- Sometimes it will be up to you to create community. One of the most daring things you can ever do is to say “I see there is a need…is anyone with me?” It can make you feel vulnerable and it may start off as a community of one until it builds to a community of two or three or more.
- Community need not be restricted to a specific place. With the advent of social media, online communities offer unique opportunities for connection. For example, coming from the northerly community that I do, most of my access to the gifted community (outside of the time I spend with my gifted students) is online or at the various conferences like the NAGC that I am able to attend.
- Don’t underestimate your de facto communities. Whether it is the neighbourhood you live in, where you work or the places you spend your free time, you may be surprised who and what you find when you linger where the people gather. Wendell Berry writes: Community, I am beginning to understand, is made through a skill I have never learned or valued: the ability to pass time with people you do not and will not know well, talking about nothing in particular, with no end in mind, just to build trust, just to be sure of each other, just to be neighborly. A community is not something that you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook. No, it is something you do. And you have to do it all the time. When there is a fire or a flood or some kind of crisis or even just a BBQ, this community is the one that may well surprise you the most.
We know that community is important, but finding it or creating it can be a challenge. Perhaps that is why this quote by Stendhal resonates so much with me: “One can acquire everything in solitude except character.” We need communities not only for belonging, but also to challenge us to discover who we are and who we want to be. According to Dabrowski, this can be the source of much anxiety, but is also a very positive thing!
This blog is part of a blog hop community that will share many other perspectives on community if you follow this link or click on the graphic below!