Mr. Rogers is my hero. Maybe it is because I grew up watching him (I am cool that dates me). I just love that man. He was kind and inclusive, he was gentle and strong, and most of all he built community with everyone he met...and oh so effortlessly.
There are few things in this world that I am really sure of being true. (Honestly most of the time when I am REALLY sure about something I am totally in the wrong...it is an embarrassing trait). BUT one thing I believe in my core is that there is a crisis of community. We don't act as community. I am talking more than a political divide...I am talking about neighbors, coworkers, people you see every day...we aren't building the connections that we need as humans. Perhaps in other parts of the world this is not the case, but from my front porch I see the need for community.
Part of it is that community looks different today. Perhaps we feel like we are really connected because we do Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat/etc. We can see what other people are eating, where they are going, and what they are doing...but does it really mean we are building our tribe? What about talking to your neighbor? Or that stranger sitting next to you? Or the parents you see every day as you pick up your child?
I grew up in a smallish town in Arkansas, I remember being more connected...or at least that is my recollection. My grandparents lived on the same street. I had extended family around and friends we had known forever. I went and played with neighborhood kids who maybe weren't my best friends, but they were kids too and we had fun. I had a church community that we were actively involved. I felt loved and connected...even during the times that were hard. I always thought I had community because I was Southern or because it was a different time. But really, I had community because that is what my family, specifically my Nana, provided for me.
Listen, I am naturally an introvert...it kills me to talk to strangers...small talk is so painful for me. But I have been telling myself that community is important so I have push myself to put myself out there. I say "yes" to neighborhood activities, "yes" to bookclubs, "yes" to being involved. It isn't only good for me, but it is a behavior I feel like I need to model to our children. I want them to have a world that they feel seen, secure, and loved.
So how can YOU build community? Today let's just start in our hoods. Here are a few ideas:
- Bring your neighbor a gift. Like your actual neighbor...the people you live near. Bring them treats or flowers or whatever you want and be sure to include a card with your name, the names of the people (and animals) in your family, and your contact information. Your neighbors are the people who are literally the closest to you and you want to get in good with them, whether you just moved in or you have been in the same residence for decades. In my neighborhood we have experienced the joys of birth, the fears of illness, and sadness of death together...over and over again and all the things in between. Being in it together makes it easier. Your neighbors don't have to be your best friend, but the more you get to know them the better your community will be. I mean, unless they are just complete a-holes or weirdos then I am sorry...try further down the block.
- Volunteer. If you have kids in school or in any kind of care see if you can volunteer. Maybe you work so you can't physically be there, but what can you do outside of school? Can you make play dough for the classroom, prep work for the teacher, or a special project that may need just your personal touch? If you don't have kids or don't want to volunteer that way, you can volunteer at a local library, religious institution, or a nonprofit. What are the needs in your neighborhood? You are awesome and have talents that only you possess...don't be selfish...share the love.
- Walk. That's right, get your bootie moving. Guess what? When you are out walking you meet people. When you see someone say "hi" or wave. My husband shared this saying that he heard at some event and I loved it so hard..."Even a dog can wag it's tail." Ain't that truth? So you greet the people you meet! And speaking of dogs...that is a great way to walk and to meet people. You don't have a dog? Borrow a neighbor's dog...help out a neighbor and walk their pooch. Ask them first, clearly, we don't want you to be the weirdo.
- Grab a Ball. Get your mind out of the gutter...you do NOT want to meet your neighbors that way...probably. Anywho, go shoot some hoops at the local court or in your driveway, play some soccer at the school yard (when kids are not in school), or grab a trac ball set and have some fun. (Sidenote...my son got a trac ball set for his birthday from a dear friend and he was showing my husband how to use it and my husband already thought he knew how play it so he lobbed the ball right in the nose of our son...it was so horrible/totally funny.) Listen, I am not Sporty Spice, but I can go hang out at the park or maybe play a game of low impact sport. Bottom line is to play a game with someone. Chess is a game and it is portable and you don't even need to be sporty...just do something you can invite someone to join in on.
- Lend a Hand. Sure this sounds like volunteering, but this is just helping out your neighbors. Take in trash cans, help them move heavy items, offer to pick something up when you run to the store, if your kids go to the same school offer to carpool, etc. Whatever makes sense for you situation and for your neighbors. Read the room, you have to consider what others want. Make an effort to make a connection.
Creating a community, finding your tribe, or connecting with your neighbors is good for you, it is good for others, and seriously it makes our world better. So put yourself out there. It costs nothing for you to be kind and the rewards will be plentiful. (I mean, unless I am wrong, because I do feel pretty sure about this.)