This is Rule 3 in the 5 Practices for Simple Living.
When we talk about forming authentic community, we’re not talking about creating a group or organizing activities. It’s about having an open mind and an open heart, so that you can strengthen your relationships with the people around you. This begins with existing relationships, and expands outward to the people that are in your life, and who come into your sphere of influence organically.
Reject the Superficial
When an American says “How are you?”, they usually not asking after your general health and well-being. They’re just saying hello. In my experience this confuses people from other countries, particularly Finns, who don’t ask questions unless they honestly care and want answers. I’ve never met a Finn who idly talked about the weather, either, unless it was to issue a warning or offer a piece of advice on how to deal with said weather.
I think that for Americans in particular, a lot of this ties back into the inability to deal with silence. We fill the void with noise, rather than deal with an awkward pause or just exist in the conversational lull. Some of this is the lack of comfort with our own thoughts. There’s also an intimacy about silence, just being in the same space with a person. As long as we’re talking, even if it’s pointless small talk, we don’t have to come to grips with that or cultivate a comfort level with it.
Of course rejecting the superficial includes eliminating gossip. Spend more time trying to understand people, and less criticizing their choices and actions. At the very least it tends to tag the person or people you’re talking about as other. It’s possibly bullying, if the fact that you’re gossiping gets back to them. That’s not creating trust, or common ground, or the basis for any sort of genuine connection.
Individualism is the notion that we’re all self-sufficient and don’t need other people. I’m sitting inside a building that I did not build, writing on a laptop I didn’t invent, drinking coffee that I did not grow. To make a living I sell things on websites I don’t run, to customers I’ve never met, collecting money through a banking system I don’t control.
I have yet to meet a “self-made man” that didn’t have friends, family, or employees supporting him. Success comes from an education supplied by teachers, opportunities provided by governments, or reading a bunch of books he didn’t write. That doesn’t diminish the hard work and creativity that went into his success, but it’s disingenuous to say that he did it all by himself.
There’s a transactional notion about support systems that comes from consumer culture. We paid for goods and services, so we count that as something we’ve done. I can ignore the people who provide my heat and electricity because I paid for it. The vendor that sells my products takes a cut, and the bank gets their fees, so that’s the same as me doing it. Even if a friend or family member did something for you, well, you did something for them so it cancels out. This way of thinking is so toxic. It’s a denial of reality, it strips people of their humanity, and it’s ultimately just self-isolating.
Show Interest in Others
We need to come out of our shells and we willing to connect with other people. If we listen more than speak, that kills the idle chatter. Asking questions and expressing a desire to get to know the other person can get them to engage. Be open, be vulnerable, and be willing to be uncomfortable.
This one is hard for me. It’s not that I don’t care about people, it’s that I have baggage. There’s a lot of pain, and a wide collection of trust issues, and the fact that I am by nature an introvert. There is a cost, for me, to social interaction. It’s terrifying and draining. It’s also incredibly worth it. We can’t exist without human contact, genuine connection to other people.
You get back what you give. Everything costs time, money, or other resources. To have genuine community requires your own authentic and sincere engagement with other people. Not on a surface level. Not on a transactional level. To be supported, we need to offer support. For a sense of belonging, we must help others feel that they belong. To be loved, we must love.