“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” (Dorothy Day)
New York City has a reputation for unfriendliness — and, of course, some of it is well-earned. Yet, there are countless stories and examples that provide a powerful counterbalance. I have an endless supply of my own. For example, when I was young, there was a small deli across the street from us. My family made the effort to shop there and get to know the owner, Nick, and his family. Our neighborhood wasn’t the best so Nick told my parents that if someone was bothering or following me or my sister, we could run into his shop. In such a scenario, he’d call my Mom or Dad to come walk us the rest of the way home.
So yeah, as a lifetime native, I have tons of firsthand evidence that the Big Apple (still) has plenty of community. The same can be said about your city or town. You just have to help create it. Notice that I didn’t say “find” it. Community is best viewed as a collaborative effort instead of a prize or destination to be sought out. Anyone can be your “neighbor.” Now more than ever, it’s not always about physical proximity.
None of it happens by accident but, make no mistake, it’s happening. As Fred Rogers taught us years ago, “The media shows the tiniest percentage of what people do. There are millions and millions of people doing wonderful things all over the world, and they’re generally not the ones being touted in the news.”
5 Reminders About Community
Community is the Norm
Humans are social creatures. Even a lone wolf introvert like me was reminded of this during 2020. We’re hard-wired to form bonds. Smartphones and social media may temporarily short-circuit this wiring but community remains our default setting.
Get in a Local Mindset
The internet makes the world feel smaller. Make sure this trend does not distract you from the world that exists right there on your block. Connect locally and face-to-face, as often as possible.
Create Positive Bonds
Some communities are forged in division. Groups of people coalesce based on their dislike of other groups. The ties that bind us can also strangle us. Take special care to nurture the deepest roots of your connections.
Learn to Listen and Listen to Learn
One of the greatest gifts any neighbor (whether on your block or online) can give you is their unique perspective. To appreciate this profound gift requires us to listen closely with an open mind.
The Best Time is Right Now
There is never a bad time to become a better neighbor. There is never a bad time to do the work of creating community wherever you interact with others. In light of how 2020 has gone, you could make a pretty solid argument that right now is the best time ever to make all this happen.
On that note, I’ll wrap up where I began. There’s much value in recognizing and appreciating the neighborly qualities of a much-maligned locale like my hometown. Fact: There is and always will be strong communities in New York, New York. And hey… if you can create it there, you can create it anywhere.