What is community to me…
Community: “a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action in geographical locations or settings”.
What does all that mean? Communities are are made of people. They are not abstractions nor are they rhetoric. They are human beings. Community is omnipresent. Like a pillow surrounding us, it feels familiar, friendly, and like white noise- it is soothing.
My story …
I was only 16 and hadn’t even finished high school when I came to Sydney to pursue my University degree. At such a young age, I left my network of very strong communities. Both my my nuclear and extended families were (and are) such important and formative parts of my life. In addition, I was part of strong communities nurtured by my high school in the form of sporting groups, clubs and my friendship groups.
For the first time in my life, I was suddenly alone with no friends nor family. I realised that I needed to find and redefine my communities very quickly to instil a sense of security in my new life. I have now lived in Sydney for 20 years. My communities include (but are definitely not limited to):
1. My own family;
2. Sporting and gym communities;
3. Parents of my children’s school friends;
4. My own friends that I have met through various walks of my life here; and,
5. Business communities.
In a digital age where online communities have replaced many face-to-face communities, it is so important to reiterate how good real communities are for our wellness. Humans are social. Countless studies have shown that we thrive when we are connected. A landmark study conducted by Harvard University over a period of 80 years and published in 2017 found a strong correlation between health and our relationships with family, friends and community.
What my communities mean to me …
Living in two very large cities all my life, I have always professed to love being a small speck in a large population. I love the anonymity and free agency of it all and find liberation in the crowds of faceless people.
I usually relate to being a little bit of an introvert. I really enjoy spending time on my own. Too much direct social interaction can really drain me. When social distancing measures first came into place, I was unashamedly happy that I was no longer needed to make excuses about wanting to spend time alone instead of with others.
However, as social distancing rules stayed in place over the weeks and months, even I started to feel their effects. I wasn’t able to “tune in” when I wanted to. That surrounding buzz that I craved just wasn’t available. To add salt to the wound, my family is across international borders.
It became clear to me that my communities form the pillars of my existence. They consist of my friends, family and even the people who simply just exist in the circles and activities that I move in. “My people” are there when I want to converse. They are also there when I don’t - they are the buzz that keeps my world alive.
I am reliant on my communities to share in my happy moments and my jokes. I rely on them to be my ally and an advocate during more testing times. I also rely on them to be a sounding board when I hit walls in my own mind.
What can we do to help our communities thrive?
With everything that has gone on in 2020, I have become obsessed with supporting local businesses. 2020 has put so much strain on countless businesses. Whilst I most certainly cannot help them all, I can most definitely reach out to those within my local circle.
How can we all easily do this? For example, you can purchase a gift from the local gift shop rather than through Myer’s online sale. You can scope out the local restaurants in your area and choose to eat there. Buy some honey that has been harvested by a local resident, or a candle that was made by the lady down the road.
Here’s a little thought that I’d like to leave you with. When we finally return to “normal”, the strength, integrity and wellness of our communities will not be what we left behind a year ago. Instead, they will be dictated by the decisions we make today, tomorrow and in the weeks and months ahead. There are no rules or guidelines, just acts of decency, caring and looking out for one another.