Making peace with uneasy communities
I am notoriously bad at joining in, parties and large gatherings strike fear into my core and I am literally incapable of evening socialising BUT I say hello or smile at virtually everyone in my neighbourhood (living across the road from my children’s old primary school helps) stop and chat, commiserate or encourage and also feed dogs, cats and occasionally small children. I have a clutch of close friends who tangentially know each other although a gathering of all of them at the same time might tip me over the edge (just turned 50 and enjoyed a series of lunches or walks with each of them in turn!) I’ve never read anyone explain the cons of community whilst still acknowledging its importance and always felt a little bit guilty in a ‘one foot in, one foot out’ kind of way but I feel better for reading this so thank you Katherine!
It makes me sad that there is some shame to your faceblindness. But I can relate. I remember faces but often forget names especially when I’m anxious and almost always as soon as I have to introduce people. I’ve been known to forget names of family members or friends I’ve know for years when trying to introduce people, it’s incredibly embarrassing. When I was lecturing I would put brief hand written descriptions of students on my registers so I could put names to faces. I suspect it might be something to do with attention narrowing,
a concept in psychology where increases in nervous system arousal can cause attention to narrow to one thing, often the stressor, and away from other processes that are actually needed in that moment (like a name!). I wonder if it’s a possible explanation for faceblindness too?🤓 So I’m with you on the name badges or even people introducing themselves to each other to save me/the host the trouble. That’s a community I’d be grateful for, but for now I’ll stick to your Nan’s
philosophy. Sounds great to me. 💚
Thank you, Catherine. I’ve never read such a perfect description of the ambivalence I feel towards community. Reading this and other comments makes me feel less alone. So many wise elders these days talk about community as the solution to our world’s ills and this leaves me with a great deal of guilt for being allergic to “joining in.” Your suggestion that all the small kindnesses we can bestow on our neighbors can count as community participation is eye opening and affirming! Thank you!
Your post comes at such an apt time as I struggle to support my anxious tern through the fear and panic of rejoining the school community in September. We have recently started to counselling but the panic at having to face the noise and unkindness us looming huge. I am trying so hard to allow her to enjoy thus breathing space but eaves of panic engulf her daily
Your piece on communities is giving me much to ponder on, and much to agree on. I am notoriously unskilled at feeling comfortable in communities, whilst desperately wishing I wasn't. As a former counsellor, I know how much disconnection is damaging for people's mental health; yet the 'wrong' kind or forced communities can be just as damaging. It's a conundrum and one I haven't solved yet.
I am in a church community, which does give me some of this good community connection, but not without significant problems and dilemmas, for me.
It's complicated, as the kids say these days (I'm 50!)...
I truly enjoyed your thoughts on community, Katherine. Growing up in a huge family, then living in a dorm until I joined the service, I was surrounded by lots of people until I was in my 20s. My first attempt at living alone I went to the extreme of renting a shack on winter-grazing pasture in the Sierra Nevada foothills. I believe I went slightly mad over the next 6 months. When I returned to civilization and room-mates I was a bit hypervigilant at first, and sensitive to noise and intrusions into my personal space.
My wife and I decided to move to a small town far from Los Angeles, our childhood home, when we turned 50. Our intention was to develop a community for our retirement, and we did so very successfully... at least she did. She took early retirement while I continued to work, and at nearly 60 I was offered a job in the big city that paid too well to decline. I bought a mobile home near my workplace and spent most of my time while not at work in solititude. Working nights, even my time at home was largely in spent in isolation, since I needed to sleep days to maintain my internal clock.
Retiring at the start of the COVID epidemic I struggled: my ties to our 'new' community had become tenuous at best as a consequence of several years of noninvolvement. Our town took social distancing and isolation seriously, and many of our aging friends have since become virtual recluses. I now am far more comfortable with ZOOM and this type of written engagement than I am with face-to-face encounters. I appreciated especially, as a consequence, your described struggles.
Thank you for inviting me into this community, and for listening
You are so smart. I have been blessed with symbiotic community both in my native rural Vermont America and — on a less demonstrative scale—my newly adopted UK, and realize, on reading this, that I have taken that for granted. I received homemade meals on my porch each night for at least a fortnight after having both my children, then again, for a longer term, when my husband became terminally ill. I did not ask for this. It simply appeared. And it’s a wonderful tradition. COVID and politics has made me feel more sceptical, more insular. And that feels like a loss to me. And a loss to the world.
I, too, struggle with the concept of community. A little bit goes a long way with me. I understand its merits, but I prefer to spend lots of time alone, photographing and botanizing. I do get along splendidly with my plant friends. I do find this community so real and full of support on many levels.
I love the phrase "communities normalize the flow of care."
I have so many thoughts and feelings on this as a disability activist. More than I can fit on here, but just to say, as someone who is looked at in the publishing industry right now as a voice for the disabled community, it's both a massive blessing and also a burden. It's so challenging being in the spotlight fighting for better access for disabled people, particularly authors, when I have my own disabilities (I'm autistic for one thing), because it's such a conflicting position. Launching an access guide (the Inklusion Guide) to an international audience with major publishers is such a great thing because it turns heads and forces those at the top to seriously plan their access at events, to integrate it from the ground up. But suddenly everyone wants all the answers, the overnight fix, when no such thing exists. It takes a grassroots, marginalised community, and risks turning inclusion into a tick-box exercise.
One thing I can say is the community is where I find the energy to keep going, and the understanding when I feel drained, or like the world isn't hearing us. It's so hard to carry the whole self - the human, the me part, with life and everything that it brings, the writer and creative who is ambitious, and the activist/leader who is so tired of begging for a bit of respect and dignity for people like me.
It's all a lot, and you do a wonderful job of sharing that truth with us, and holding the space of the unknown, and making us feel seen. I can't wait to see you at Ed Book Fest - I'll be hanging about in the yurt afterwards if you'd like me to introduce myself xx
The Electricity of All Things gave me permission to choose myself. This post does the same. At first I wrote that 'I miss having a sense of community.'. But, then I paused because those words are not true for me. I have most often found a 'geographic community' a really awkward fit - from schools to a small town. In fact, it usually ends up with me feeling bullied or shunned if I show up too much. No, I prefer to create my own sense of community in spaces such as this and in my choices of who I invite into my life - as though making a beautiful salad. Some days I grab a handful of seeds to sprinkle on top and some days I am good with eating spinach out of the container while staring into the fridge. The trick is to find that sense of community within the beautiful ways that make up me.
Once again you have given voice to my uneasy and complicated feelings on something that seems accepted and promoted by the status quo.
I, too, have difficulty embracing the importance of community, especially when it’s presented as something that shares physical space and leans into extroversion social tendencies. I often feel a greater sense of community when I’m in nature (I’m a bird-watcher).
I feel seen and understood when I read your writing and listen to your podcast. For instance, I was relieved to hear you say in your interview with Dacher Keltner that you feel the emphasis on being happy all the time skims over life’s experiences, which is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Thank you!