Like so many Mainers, I live in a small rural community. For some this community is a source of strength, an anchor in life’s storms. For others it can seem at times that the long memory of community can make it hard to make the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. I know that for some a community can go from feeling like a grounding anchor in a storm to an anchor that weighs them down and keeps them stuck in the mud of their mistakes.
Sometimes we are members of a community by forces not of our own choosing—a survivor community, or a member of a community of loss or grief. For many of us our knowledge of community has provided us with all of these experiences. Ultimately for each of us the truth of community lies in the words of Herman Melville “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”
The last three years have certainly demonstrated our human need for community. One doesn’t have to scan the headlines for long to see the toll that isolation has taken on our mental and emotional health.
Not surprisingly the effects of the isolation have resulted in an increase in reports of feelings of loneliness and depression. However, the pandemic also demonstrated that we could redefine community and it provided many of us with an opportunity to create new communities. Rather than the traditional definitions of community that we were used to, the pandemic highlighted the benefits of our chosen communities and offered us an opportunity to redefine and recreate these groups. When we create communities that are based on our individual values, friendships, beliefs, and interests, the mental, emotional, and physical benefits we receive are abundant.
Communities provide us with so many essential benefits. We are social creatures, even the most introverted among us still possess a need for emotional connections. Belonging to a community offers us a sense of belonging, a place we can find support and acceptance. Community assures and reassures us that we are not walking alone. These connections can provide us with a purpose beyond ourselves. For many of us this sense of connection and responsibility to another can be the key to moving past our own pain, our own struggles, to urge us to keep moving forward. According to a number of researchers, including recent research from Ohio State University, people suffering from feelings of depression or anxiety have experienced significant symptom relief by doing good deeds for others. It is widely believed by psychologists that social connections are one of the most critical factors to thriving in life.
While the benefits we obtain from these connections are numerous, connecting to our communities requires us to equally give of ourselves. The community relationship is a relationship built on our knowing that we have something to offer as well as to receive.
We all have something to offer others—whether it is our time, our talents, or even an encouraging word or smile. Creating community begins by showing up, by being present for another. Look for opportunities that pique your interests, speak to your values and passions, and resonate with you.
Building your community can take time and a single community you are connected to may not fulfill all your needs. We are complex and dynamic and therefore our community connections will be diverse. This diversity provides us with the rich soil we need to grow into our most full selves.
In the words of one of my heroes, Dorothy Day — an American journalist, social activist and anarchist who, after a bohemian youth, became a Catholic without abandoning her social and anarchist — who knew that community is essential to our survival, “We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.”