Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Community is About Participation

Community is About Participation - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Scene from Hoosiers
Most of us are part of various communities, whether we want to be or not, based on our affiliations, associations, and sometimes just the physical location where we live.  Some of us simply exist in the communities, many participate, and still others take leadership roles within the groups.  We all usually reap the same benefits and suffer the same hardships bestowed on the group at large.  It’s an honor system of sorts, you do right by your clan and they do right by you.  Yet some are weary of taking lest they have to give.  But community is not about tit for tat, as in a monetary system.  Community is about taking ownership of the success of the whole group, which includes helping those individuals in need within the social unit, and accepting a leg up yourself when you’re not able to go another mile on your own.  Sometimes you give, sometimes you take, sometimes you go stretches without doing either one, but you do it all without ever expecting a payout or an IOU hanging over your head.  

Being part of a community has always been important to me as an individual.  From a young age, I actively gravitated toward specific groups that shared similar interests, likes student athletes, performers, and practical jokers.  I didn’t want a label, I just enjoyed talking and sharing stories and ideas with other like-minded individuals.  I felt part of something larger than myself, and while I felt no obligation to contribute to the individual communities, I WANTED to, so I did.  In turn I just naturally experienced lots of good will from the groups and their members.  

As I got older, the investment in the communities I submerged myself in became greater, yet the yield was more than I could even measure.  The time, energy, and loyalty I gave to the radio broadcast community, the gay community, and later my work community in real estate was substantial, yet I attribute almost every win during those time periods to a collaboration between me and my clan.  Without the support and camaraderie of my tribes, my success is uncertain, as I am only one man, with limitations and faults.  Yet as a participant in a group, even a small one at that, my accomplishments echo for days and my failures are absorbed and put into perspective without complaint.   

While I never thought much about my natural attraction to communities, now as a parent, even a two-parent, above-average wage-earning household in an affluent neighborhood filled with what can only be described as “white people problems," I thank my lucky stars every day for the various communities that support, nurture, and provide direct friendship and care to me and my family.  While I am completely capable of surviving on my own, I would never want to because my life would be sub-par.  Who would pick up my kids when I’m running late, drop me at the train station on the way our of town, or leave chicken soup at my door when I was sick?  Who would shovel my walkway in an unexpected snowstorm or pay the babysitter when I’m out of cash or let the roofer in when I’m at work?  Who would invite me over when I need a break from my spouse or family or keep my kids overnight when I have to attend to an emergency?

I simply don’t think I’d be able to do it on my own, at least without questioning if there is a God or a point to this life.  

I know it takes courage to give of yourself, lest your trust be shattered.  It also takes faith to take of what is given to you, as it’s really not about your worry over a tally sheet, but acknowledgement that you are not perfect, are not able to be in 3 places at one time, and are not SuperMan/Woman, because that shit ain’t real.  It’s about surrendering to the idea that we are not in complete control of our lives and that we all need to “get by with a little help from our friends.” 

Take a leap of faith today.  Ask someone for a hand.  Offer a kind word or assistance to someone “just because.”  Build a bridge of trust.  Your community is what you make of it. Think you don’t have a natural community?  I bet you do.  What about your fellow pre-/grade-/middle-/high school parents,  your daily carpool counterparts, and the neighbors that live around you, they are all examples of community by association.  Co-workers in your department, people you wave to on your morning walk or Starbucks run, or the members of your support group.  We all have a basic connection with our unique groups and people in them based on repeated exposure, whether it be through work or kids or shared interest.  We have a choice, though, whether we will participate in that community around us.  

Community is About Participation - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Maybe you don’t crave social outlets or collaboration or belonging…you like to be on your own and do your own thing.  Okay, that’s cool.  Then seek out other people like yourself that pride themselves on being in control, even though we all know you’re not, and join forces with them.  The specific group you surround yourself is not nearly as important as the act of participating within a group at all, even if just by association.  Fake it to make it if you have to.  The odds of you accidentally giving of yourself to your posse or accepting aid by default that you incidentally need will increase exponentially just by bridging the gap with people and accepting the tie that binds you.

What do you have to lose?  Maybe a little time or energy.  What do you have to gain?  A potential lifeline that keeps you afloat.  It’s worth the tradeoff in my book.