When I gave birth to my first son via C-section, I was inside for 11 days. It hurt to reach for a plate to make a sandwich.
I needed my village.
Friends, neighbours and co-workers scheduled deliveries of delicious meals and groceries. Because I could only shuffle, a friend took my newborn on his first outdoor stroll, while another friend washed cloth diapers.
We weren’t meant to do this alone. Today, many families are isolated from their extended relatives — aunties, uncles, grandparents. We need our neighbours more and “need” is the glue!
Community is the answer because:
Relationships are crucial for human development. Attachment tethers us together and it’s our greatest need.
Adults help orient kids to the world. A village can help keep kids free from huge worries and orient them to caring.
It nurtures selfless service.
It creates local islands of sanity where we are with the resources and people available to us now.
It builds social cohesion, the bonds that bind people together.
It increases social capital, the networks of relationships in a society that enable it to function.
It combats the indifference and even hostility towards caring in our society.
As creatures of connection, humans experience despair if they don’t feel known or invited. This is also true if they sense they don’t matter, don’t belong, aren’t liked or loved. We can feel caring when we’re cared for and cared about.
Unfortunately, we tend to forget this when we’re stressed. “Stress, however, is one of the most powerful suppressants of our natural kindness and connectivity. When we are stressed our minds tend to “shrink,” and we have no space to think of others” says Gelong Thubten.
I love to build social capital in my neighbourhood. It lifts us out of our so-called “busy” lives. For example, I enlist a few neighbours to contribute to a welcome basket for new neighbours and everyone includes a note about why they love living here. We gift homemade soap, applesauce, garden fruits and veggies, bottles of wine, jam, and more. It’s a small gesture to offer the goodness of our own lives in the moment. People will give even when they are experiencing stress in their own lives such as a sick spouse or an eviction notice. The invitation to contribute opens hearts and offers a quality of presence we all desire.
To create and tend to a village takes skill and practice. Toko-pa Turner shares her two-step recipe in her book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home. You need someone to take the lead and someone willing to answer the call. (Be sure to try each role.)
Twelve simple ways to create local islands of sanity:
1. Assemble a welcome basket for new neighbours
2. Host a block party or neighbourhood BBQ
3. Start a Little Free Library or Seed Library
4. Coordinate a food share to help a family with a newborn, for someone struggling with illness or, dealing with loss
5. Erect a “sandwich board” with a joke of the day
6. Order mobile theatre (for example, Theatre SKAM) or telegrams
7. Host a street hockey tourney, music on the lawn or design a scavenger hunt
8. Hang a tree swing or place a bench on the boulevard
9. Create a community bulletin board to advertise skills to share, items to barter and garden bounties to trade.
10. Organize backyard garden tours
11. Look into getting a road mural or other art initiatives
12. Restore a local green space or create butterfly gardens (see David Suzuki Foundation’s Butterflyway project)
Note: Write a community grant to make any of the above ideas possible.
Have confidence you too can build and receive gifts of community. Take the time to start conversations with neighbours and find frequent excuses to get together! People are hungry to create a village and genuine happiness is on the other side of supporting one another.