I have a Tuesday night ritual where I meet friends at a local coffee shop or brewery to check-in with one another, discuss the books we are reading, deliberate current events, share how our families are doing, commiserate about work and tell stories from our week- the essentials of Community. Missing a Tuesday night reinforces how important my community is in the rhythm of my week not only because I miss out on hanging out with interesting people, but because how apparent it is that others miss me when I was away. When returning after being out of town for 2 weeks, my friend Thomas greets me with a hug and communicates how I was missed and tells me all the things I missed out on and wants to know what I was doing in the world while I was away. Tuesdays are an essential part of our week and friendships like this is an essential part of community.
This past Tuesday, we ended up at a new restaurant where we met new friends. The conversation turned to how being a successful adult is not easy. Thomas reflects how “‘Adulting’ is hard’ and how he would like me to “Help him ‘Adult'” Having 10 years on him with a family puts me in a different place in life that he has in front of him as he is newly engaged and strategizing career choices. As the conversation meanders from topic to topic we find ourselves discussing our various sensibilities of how prepared we felt for life through school- balancing check books, writing resumes, making budgets, knowing how inflation works and what that means when negotiating fair wages. ‘Adulting’ as Thomas put it, seems like something to be avoided for as long as possible. It is a world of responsibility, credit card debt, mortgages, Home Owners Associations, and working jobs out of necessity to pay for all the stuff we accumulate. Successful ‘Adulting’ by our cultural standards can be viewed as the degree to which I am an autonomous adult who is self sufficient for all my needs. The self oriented view of successful ‘Adulting’ runs a risk of creating individuals who sense the void of isolation and communities where the people around you are neighbors in a nominal and superficial sense of the word. Perhaps there is an alternative view on ‘Adulting’ that acknowledges our weaknesses as individuals and seeks to find the strength we can build together in community. When we are vulnerable and authentic with others who are vulnerable and authentic, we find friends who will stand by us when we need them, advocate for us when we are down and cheer us on when we succeed. This is the kind of ‘Adulting’ we are building every Tuesday night.
In a 2016 commencement address to Kenyon college, John Green reflects about how the practice of listening combats the lie that successful ‘Adulting’ is a life focused on the self:
“I hope that listening will help inoculate you from the seductive lies of our time — the lie that strength and toughness are always assets, that selfishness is not just necessary but desirable, that the whole world benefits most when you act in your own narrow self-interest.
Living for one’s self, even very successfully, will do absolutely nothing to fill the gasping void inside of you. In my experience, that void gets filled not through strength but through weakness. You must be weak before the world, because love and listening weaken you. They make you vulnerable. They break you open. And it is only when you are weak that you can truly see and acknowledge and forgive and love the weakness in others. Weakness allows you to see other humans not as enemies to defeat, but as collaborators and co-creators. In the end, we’re making humanness up together as we go along. ”
From John Green <http://www.kenyon.edu/middle-path/story/learn-to-listen/>
I believe that being intentional about practices of building community is a far better indicator of successful ‘Adulting’ than where I am on the income ladder, home ownership, social status or my degree of self sufficiency. Community building practices are those actions that draw us to value each other’s gifts and capacities as we collaborate toward building a community where everyone belongs and contributes for the common good.
Community Building Practices can take various forms but all essentially press against scarcity of resources, isolation and self interest. These practices reinforce abundance, belonging and inter-dependency.
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We love to host dinner parties where friends from various circles can intermingle and connect. Networking our friends can lead to generative connections where we all belong and feel cared for. I try to be intentional about asking good questions. Asking the right questions creates space for people to come together and hear each other. They evoke a sense of commitment. What are powerful questions? Community developer Peter Block has done a lot of work on this question. He believes that good questions have power and can change thinking by creating space for people to 1) listen to each other, 2) to choose accountability and 3) to take action. Every meeting is an opportunity to have meaningful conversations that draw people together.
It is through Intentional hospitality where I have joined with others in community development projects and built new friendships that will last the rest of my life. Friendship is an intentional community practice where at the deepest level, we build a mutual concern and interest in each other’s welfare. The closest friendships I have had are those where we have stood together, sweat together, bled together, rejoiced together and mourned together because my welfare is wrapped up in the welfare of my closest community of friends.
Community Practice: Collaborative Giving
Collaborative Giving is a community building practice where friends, colleagues or community members who have a common desire to assist in meeting needs of people in their community, give to a common fund and make collective decisions on how to help their community. The practice of Collaborative Giving presses against resource scarcity with a belief that together a community has an abundance of resources and capacities. Self-sufficiency can lead to isolation from sharing in the abundance of gifts, talents and resources of their community. A generous community builds a strong social fabric and can share out of its collective abundance, leaving no one isolated or in need.
I started a Common Change group called ‘Generosity of North Carolina’. We use the Common Change platform to give recurring donations to our group’s fund, share needs of those we know and collectively make decisions on how best help with those needs. Giving is on a one degree of separation basis, helping individuals through acts of generosity that reduce economic isolation. 100% of the money donated to our Common Change group goes to meet the needs shared by our group, making it clear exactly how your money is helping out. I am always looking for generous people that want to rethink wealth and experience how money can be used to build a social safety net in our community.
“Abundance faces the questions of our relationship to money, the right use of wealth, and the reconstruction of money and market, including forgiving our debts, reducing debt slavery, and limiting usury, making money on money.” Peter Block, An Other Kingdom
Community Practice: Become a Regular in Community Establishments
In an over-connected world where our digital calendar rules our availability, time is often the biggest barrier to getting involved in community practices. We feel over-committed and drained. I suspect that the more we fill our time with self-interested activities and label it ‘practical’, we will continue to feel a growing ‘void’ and a sense of isolation. Choosing to re-think our view of time and to get involved with practices that build community, isolation will be replaced with connectedness.
I make an intentional practice of being a regular at a local coffee shop where I get to know the names of the owners, staff and other regulars. It is also a good way to get through books. Being a regular connects me to new friends. My support of their business through my regular patronage and referrals is also good for supporting the local small business economy.
Community Practice: Get involved in a Local Food Movement
“What is important in the local food movement is that we are experiencing practices that support community. When we imagine a future that nurtures aliveness, it comes in the form of the producer and consumer having an intimate relationship with each other. What is appealing about the local market is not just the local circulation of money, but also the relationship of mutual accountability that says, “We are creating this community and the commons together”” Peter Block, An Other Kingdom
I have been interested in local food systems for some time. I have been a backyard vegetable gardener and supporter of local CSAs for years. I like to support CSAs because they support the local economy by providing the farmer 90 cents on the dollar vs the 20 cents on the dollar the farmer receives through selling to grocery stores.
I recently became an owner in a local grocery CoOp startup. Supporting local economies and specifically local food systems creates jobs in the community and supports a healthy relationship to the food on our plates.