Over the weekend, I fell. My right toes got tripped up on a rise in the concrete and I launched chin first into the street. Luckily I was walking with two other women. What is curious about the situation is how I reacted to it.
I yelled a bit and cried a little and then did a full body assessment. Nothing seemed broken. Happily, my weighted vest took most of the impact. My chin took the rest of it and was a bit bloodied, but nothing major except for a big adrenaline shock.
I tried to stand and felt both nauseated and faint. I went back to the ground and laid there. A neighbor brought a chair and a bottle of water for me. He insisted on calling an ambulance which I refused. I was about to regain my composure and continue walking home – as I’ve done so many times after tripping and falling.
This time was different. One women had her phone and called her partner alerting him to the situation and asking him to drive over. He did and she got me into the car and drove me home – a mile from where I fell.
I felt vulnerable and shaken, but the power of having others support me was transformative to my episode. I’ve always been the type to “do it alone” and this time I took the assistance that was offered with gratitude.
While being self-sufficient is useful, we are social creatures and the benefits and power of community out-weighs going at things alone. Since the beginning of time, humans have created their own communities. It continues today, as important communities are formed around locales, shared interests, professional associations, neighborhoods, volunteer groups or sports clubs.
Belonging to a group or community helps us develop a stronger sense of personal and collective identity. It can also give a boost to our self-esteem and to our willingness to take on the world and make our dreams happen. But the importance of community goes beyond that.
Benefits of community and how you might grow one that you trust:
1. Support and safety
Living with uncertainty is the norm. This has made it more important than ever to have a strong support network in place. One of the main reasons behind the importance of community is that it can help fight feelings of hopelessness and give us the certainty that we are safe when surrounded by our community. The benefits go both ways; as supporting others gives us an emotional boost.
2. Connection and belonging
Togetherness is so central to our experience as humans; that feeling we are part of something bigger can help give meaning to our lives. Finding others with the same values, interests, and world views makes us realize that we’re not alone and makes us feel valued. Indeed, belonging highlights why community is necessary: being accepted into a group gives us a stronger sense of self and can help us cope with negative experiences and feelings.
Sometimes we need a nudge to stop us from falling into unhealthy habits or thoughts. Studies confirm that our overall health is partly determined by our ability to look after ourselves, but sometimes we don’t feel capable. Communities can help to influence and motivate us to invest in our well-being and to change our lives for the better.
Sharing activities, ideas and feelings reinforces our sense of self, and adds worth and value to the community. This can also help mental health. Higher engagement, positive emotions, and empowerment are just some of the benefits.
Communities are usually built around common interests, but that doesn’t mean they’re homogeneous. We can still find people within them who have different views, experiences, or beliefs, and learning from them can help us reach insights that we may not have reached on our own.
Developing community bonds with others who have different views may be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to practice acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily imply agreement. There’s another side to acceptance: self-acceptance. Community belonging helps us accept that sometimes we’re strong and sometimes we’re vulnerable. We need the support of others to mitigate emotional struggles and pain.
7. More connections, more chances of success
The importance of community goes beyond the personal sphere and extends to professional development. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a stronger focus on supporting local businesses, so start networking and building strong relationships. You never know where that could take your business ideas or professional life.
HOW you can cultivate community:
1. Build it.
In order to benefit from community, we have to be intentional about creating and maintaining it. Despite our tendencies, we all need regular social interaction. This means engaging in and starting conversations, joining a group, going out with co-workers, or re-connecting with old acquaintances.
One of the best ways to do this, it seems, is through the phone. According to research, phone calls produced feelings of connectedness between people, more than emails or texts. Try calling a friend or family member who lives far away or someone you haven’t seen for some time.
2. Be vulnerable.
The quality of our relationships depends on how willing we are to be vulnerable with others and the degree to which we respect others’ vulnerabilities. Vulnerability is the feeling we experience during uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure. Establish genuine, authentic friendships and relationships by taking these emotional risks.
To experience deeper relationships and shared connections with others, be willing to share struggles, hopes, and needs with others. Vulnerability arises when we let ourselves be truly seen and known by others, which can be the antidote to shame and create a foundation for trust and connection.
3. Keep it small.
Building a community doesn’t mean we have to befriend everyone nor fill the weekends with social events. Community can be nurtured by taking small steps, such as starting a conversation with a neighbor, checking in on a new co-worker, or texting a friend who has been having a tough time. A sense of community can start with small, intentional acts.
Be intentional about connecting with community. As our relationships are the foundation for our health, happiness, and well-being, they deserve the time, energy, creativity, and sacrifice needed to strengthen and maintain them.