Loneliness is something we’ve all been afflicted with at one point or another in our lifetimes. It can attack in the middle of a crowd, or late at night. It isn’t usually rational, and it doesn’t always go away with logic. But the best cure I know for loneliness is friendship, building a community around our lives so that at any given time we know we can depend on others to help us beat away the darkness and share their light.
Friendship and community-building are innate to our core survival. We are not a solitary species. We thrive only in groups, taking care of different tasks. Some tasks may be behind the scenes (like those people who engineer roads and the plumbing of an entire city) or it may be more in the public eye, like a Mayor or Trustee of the town. We have these similar roles in our close friendships too – sometimes we don’t think about all that goes into organizing an event, like what might appear as just a casual get together with friends. Your host has probably cleaned the space, organized the seating, arranged the refreshments, invited the various guests, and made it all look like a breeze. Some people are just good at that sort of thing. While that may not be your thing, maybe you are more the life of the party sort, there to be entertaining and keeping the conversation going. That is another role to be filled. Or maybe you are the one who stays late and helps with clean-up. There are any number of roles to play, in any number of scenarios. I believe the adage “It takes a village to raise a child” could be appended “and it takes a community to keep a village.”
So then, what exactly is “community”?
Community is “a feeling of kinship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” If you were to complete an important project, this is the crew you would bring in to help, or go to for support. If you need to raise money, or raise a barn, or raise a child — your chosen community will be the people you surround yourself with to achieve your goal and also the people you celebrate with when it has been completed.
Friendships are the foundation upon which we allow ourselves to thrive. Always knowing someone is in our corner can help us be our best self. Across all cultures, friendships are important relationships that carry us through our life span. They are more than just someone to know.
Having a social support network of friends helps us cope with stress. Studies show that hospitalized people have better outcomes when they have a friend network. Friendship allows us to outsource some of the emotional burdens of daily life. People who can take us to appointments, or pick up medication/groceries for us are essential in our lives. Who your friends are has a bigger impact on your health than romantic partners. Just having a close friend in the room can lower your anxiety and heart rate.
It is important to curate your immediate social network, not the people you encounter on social media, but the people you can see in person or have a private phone call with. Choose the best for yourself. The suggestion is to focus on three to five real-world friends. Some qualities I look for are trust, communication, honesty, humour, and mutual respect, along with common hobbies and world-view.
Some of the factors that can get in the way of community building:
Aging: Without community we are lost, a boat adrift in an ocean of time. When we age, we often lose community. Those around us begin to fade away, some merely moving to distant locals to live with children, others passing away. It’s important that younger generations are aware of this and make visiting their elders a priority. There is often an up-tapped repository of knowledge and family history available in our elders, if only our North-American society valued it the way we ought to.
Poverty: It takes time, energy, resources, and commitment to create community. Though even the most committed of us cannot build out of thin air. When monetary constraints are at their highest, time, energy, and resources are often at their lowest. If one is working three jobs just to make ends meet, the other aspects of life will consume their available time. Between cleaning and feeding and functioning, there doesn’t seem like room to attend to community, however it is in these exact moments where community could be the most beneficial. What would it feel like if a friend dropped off dinner, or came and cleaned your home, or helped you squeeze in a spa treatment. It often feels like it is the retired elite, those with the most time and means, who are able to build community best and yet possibly need it least. Choosing which necessity to give up in order to have space for community interactions seems detrimental to survival, not like gaining a super power, BUT, community could be just the thing your life needs. Keep this in mind.
Capitalism: A system designed to make the rich richer and the poor invisible. The more you work, the less you gain. Unless you are born into privilege, it is near impossible to make the leap from one socio-economic class to the next above you. Of course, stories like The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner, are touted across the public eye — saying that if you just hustle hard enough, you, too, can have all that you dream. But the truth is, like war, the plan of attack with capitalism is to divide and conquer. If we at the bottom are always too busy and too tired spinning our plates, trying to make ends meet, then we have no time to bring about a revolution. If they keep coming out with new gadgets and must-have-its, we will spend whatever small amount of money we have on whatever small amount of joy we can find, rather than banding together and saying NO, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We instead stay complacent at the bottom and never amount to much, hoping there will be enough money after we die so that our body itself is not a burden to those we leave behind.
And if that isn’t depressing enough… No, wait, that IS depressing enough.
Let’s talk about some places that community building is a little easier:
Sports: Sport clubs and teams are designed by their very nature to bring people together. Going out after winning a match of tournament to celebrate, or going out after a loss to commiserate, is just a natural outcome from most team sports. You win and lose as a team, it make sense to celebrate together too. When you have no community, finding a sport team to join can be the first step in life-long friendships.
Theatre: Often touted as the band camp for kids without rhythm, theatre is actually its own form of commitment and entertainment. Just like in a sports team, actors and stagehands alike, the show cannot go on without all its players. Whether you want to be on the stage or behind the scene, there are levels of engagement to suit anyones needs, from running lines, to painting scenery, to choreography and lighting, and soundboards and lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Check in with your local theatre and see how you can get involved. This is a ready-made community to step right into and get your hands dirty!
Spirituality: It doesn’t have to be Christianity! Spirituality encompasses all walks of religion and spiritual connections. From churches, to synagogues, to any number of holy places. From Wiccan hand-fasting, to Pagan Belfast, and even your local crystal shop, there are spiritual experiences to be had by everyone who wishes. And if none of these are your bag, check out the local University for atheist groups, or maybe even an online community for something like panantheism. Have you heard of Thelmalites? The Rosicrucian Order? Discordianism? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? Some of these are more serious then others, but the point here is — there’s something for everyone. Find your crew and ‘Praise Ramen’. Because in truth, it is the community that gathers around the spiritual that holds the energy, not the spiritual itself. Without followers, religions are empty words.
Causes: Being committed to a cause, like Save the Rainforest or Shoot Down Bill C-36, or Fund Planned Parenthood. Whatever country, state, or county you reside in, there will be causes that resonate with you. Getting out and putting your body and energy into something you care about can give you the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals. This is the grassroots beginning of community. Hosting an event to discuss the issue, or attending a rally, or asking a couple people to join you at the local pub — there are all different levels of interaction that can lead to friendship and community.
Whatever interest or belief you want to get behind, whether it be as simple as gardening or as complex as supporting a local politician, community is out there happening with or without you. Wouldn’t it be better if it was with you? Reach out if you’d like some ideas of where to begin. Or maybe you’re looking to start your own community? I’d love to hear about it! You can find me on FaceBook in my group Mindfulness, Meditation, Motivation, Momentum, Meet-ups & More!