The Power of Community
“Community engagement” is a much-used phrase and can mean almost anything that the user wants it to mean. For me it’s a process whereby a group of individuals get together to produce better results than they would achieve individually. The community can be fairly loose, or very tight-knit and structured. It could be online, locality based, religious, sporting, or be work-based.
Let me share a little recent success of my own from a fairly loose community I’m involved with. Just over a year ago the UK office relocated just a few miles further away. It’s fair to say prior to that I’d been exercising little (living less than a mile away from the office), eating a lot of junk food (at a cafe downstairs from our office), and probably over-indulging more than I should have been. I was 217 pounds and heavier than I’d ever been.
The new office was four miles away as the crow flies and came equipped with shower facilities. I dusted down my bike and started cycling to work, gradually increasing the distance and introducing some runs. I lost 10 pounds by the start of this year, then plateaued.
At the end of June, a man I have never met, and will likely never meet, posted on Google Plus that he was going to give up alcohol for the month of July. This is something I’ve been saying I’d do pretty much every New Year and Lent for the last however many years.
Before I knew it, I’d typed “I’m in” and hit reply. Before I could retract or delete, a number of other people joined in to give something up or, in some cases, to set taxing exercise goals. Over the next few hours and couple of days more people posted, and suddenly there was a community of people who all had similar goals and who cajoled and encouraged each other for the next few weeks.
I made it through the month and don’t think I’d have done it without the help of these random strangers from all parts of the world. I also completed more miles by bike and foot than I have since I was a much younger man, losing another seven pounds in the process. Some of the ‘community’ managed their goals, others fell by the wayside then went again, but at all times there was encouragement and a feeling of aiming for shared goals.
Vulnerable people, young and old, can often feel alone, and a sense of community takes more than just the four walls that may form the majority of their world. It takes shared activity, a shared purpose, and joint and individual responsibilities to make things work. It also takes a commitment to improving our lot or the lot of those we’re involved with, and it doesn’t always pay off immediately.
Your community can also spread in new and interesting directions, whether its the bob-a-job scout who inspires you to pay a visit to an elderly neighbour or you're simply prompted into action by my own mini-success, action begets action!
Building a sense of community can be hard work, but is ultimately rewarding and enriching for those involved. At work this would include those being supported or cared for and employees alike—after all, we spend so much of our waking hours at work.
Whether you’ve created a community at your workplace, in your neighbourhood, or in a club you participate in, I’d love to know—what have your community successes been? And, what have you learned that you could share with the rest of us?
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ―Mother Teresa