Almost two years ago Tamarack launched its 1000 Conversations campaign (now called Community Conversations) to explore people’s experiences of community across Canada. This journey has introduced us to many incredible people who shared beautiful stories of communities coming together in times of need and opportunity. These stories, and the insights they have generated, have been shared as blogs on www.seekingcommunity.ca and through quarterly newsletters.
Into the future Tamarack will be continuing to explore and deepen our understanding of community and will also continue to partner with local communities to host Community Conversations as part of Deepening Community, a movement focused on building a shared understanding of the unique role of community as a driver for social change. The learnings gleaned from the Community Conversations campaign will inform and shape this work. You can learn more at www.seekingcommunity.ca.
Insights for Deepening Community
Self-Awareness and Self-Care
Virtually all the community conversations documented in this campaign have focused on the experience of coming together as a group. A recent conversation with an intentional community in Guelph highlighted a new dimension to consider in how people come together: the impact of the individual’s relationship with self. One individual shared specific examples of how he had witnessed communities that he has been part of fall apart, in part because people within the community had not (in his estimation) paid adequate attention to creating space for self-care. As a result he believed that personal issues led to conflict with the larger community that ultimately could not be overcome.
The importance of self-awareness and self-care was also highlighted in a conversation with one neighbourhood group who observed that community thrives when people are clear about their boundaries, needs, and capacities. Setting such boundaries requires individuals to have a strong sense of self-awareness and understanding as well as enough trust to share honestly with others in a group. Within this particular neighbourhood group, this insight led to several people within the neighbourhood participating in the same self-discovery program. This enabled them to create a common language and lens to use to keep each other accountable to this important task.
This insight evokes an important question for us all: In the busy-ness of our daily lives, how are we enabling time and space for self-reflection and taking care of ourselves?
The Need and Value of Storytelling
● Identity Building: The stories we share about ourselves help to shape and reinforce how we see ourselves and interact with the world around us. A conversation hosted at the Bennett Health Centre explored the role of storytelling within the context of people with dementia. One staff member shared how he used storytelling to help people with dementia retain a sense of identity.
Just as individuals have stories about themselves, so, too, do communities. The stories that a community tells about itself help to shape a collective sense of identity and citizens’ shared beliefs about what is possible. The telling and retelling of community stories help residents to build and maintain their shared sense of identity. In our increasingly transient world, where people move in and out of communities all the time, recognizing the importance of capturing and sharing community stories is particularly important.
● Sense-Making: At Halton’s community celebration to wrap up its community conversations project, one member highlighted the importance of storytelling for helping people to make sense of life and the different curve balls it throws at us. This insight is echoed in the Spiral of Experience visual, which Christina Baldwin shares in her book, Storycatcher, which she describes as a “map for making sense out of life that can be applied to any life event we work with in story over time.”
Another participant in Halton’s community conservation, who shared her experience of leading the emergency response to the 2013 Christmas Day Ice Storm on behalf of the region, illustrated this same idea. She was quickly inundated with community members stepping forward wanting to help. She stated that it was an intense experience but also a time when she experienced the greatest sense of community. Afterwards there was a need among the volunteer team to share stories with each other about their experience. The act of sharing stories about what happened was really cathartic for the volunteers, helping them make sense of it and harvest insights and learning from this intense experience.
How can we incorporate storytelling more deliberately into our regular practices and rituals? How can storytelling be used to nurture a shared sense of identify within our communities?
Community Conversations Wrap-Up: Where to from Here?
Tamarack’s Community Conversations campaign was originally created as a learning journey to help us find a sense of direction and energy from community builders across Canada and beyond to help us develop the then-fledgling Deepening Community movement. It has succeeded in doing this. Now as Paul’s book Deepening Community has been launched we are getting ready to move into the next phase of this movement. As such we are wrapping the Community Conversations campaign up. The learnings from all these conversations are compiled in a report released this summer. The community engagement model that was developed from this learning will now become part of the Deepening Community Movement.
Here are just some of the ways that you can be part of Tamarack’s Deepening Community Movement:
● Communities of Practice: Join citizens and neighbourhood-builders across Canada, the US, and beyond in peer learning networks focused on: Neighbours; Policies that Build Community; Programs that Build Community; Community Conversations Local Campaigns; and the Deepening Community Book Club. Learn more and join at tamarackcommunity.ca/events.html#CofP.
● Deepening Community Thought Leaders: Join Al Etmanski, Vickie Cammack, Jim Diers, Milton Friesen, Paul Johnson, John McKnight, Peter Block, and other leading thinkers as they share their newest ideas on www.seekingcommunity.ca.
● Deepening Community Webinars: Join us for regular webinars profiling the latest thinking and ideas on building and nurturing deep community. Check out our events page for a schedule of upcoming, free webinars at tamarackcommunity.ca/events.html.
● Deepening Community Workshops: Paul Born is traveling across the continent sharing insights from his new book and working with local groups to deepen community. To learn how you can invite Paul to your community, contact Caroline Mills at [email protected].
● Host a Local Community Conversations Campaign: Tamarack is now partnering with interested communities to co-host a series of local Community Conversations campaigns across Canada. To learn more contact Sylvia Cheuy at [email protected].
We are very excited about this next chapter in Tamarack’s ongoing work to make community a central organizing principle and a guiding force for positive social change. Join us and become a member of the www.deepeningcommunity.ca Learning Community.
Campaign Animator Closing Reflections
As my role as the Campaign Animator of Tamarack’s Community Conversations campaign comes to an end, I want to share some personal thoughts and reflections. It has been an incredible privilege for me to interact with close to 2000 people and participate in more than 150 community conversations as part of this campaign. I have been inspired by hearing people’s stories and ideas and have made many beautiful friendships.
This campaign has been an important part of my own personal learning journey. Being part of such rich community conversations has challenged me to explore my own thinking and experiences of community. Two of my most significant personal insights from this campaign are:
Community Is Radical
Community is a radical concept. It is counter-cultural. If I choose to make community a priority it may mean I will need to completely reorganize my life. This includes working less so I can spend more time with family, friends, and neighbours, and really nurturing these relationships. It means carving out more time for meditation and journaling so that I can be more present, authentic, and empathetic with those I interact with. Working less may mean I have less money, which could mean less travel, less eating out, and higher levels of financial insecurity. If I make community a priority it may mean laying down roots in one location and staying put, which could impact potential career opportunities.
Making community a priority for me means packing fewer events into my life so I have more time to really enjoy the activities and people most important to me. This may result in less involvement with boards and committees, fewer sports teams, and, possibly, fewer friends.
At the same time, I recognize that it is possible that what I may lose in terms of money, career advancement, or breadth of a social network I may gain back and then some through the richness of deep and meaningful community. I gain a deep contentment from belonging to a community that I care about.
It Is All About the Little Things
“When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.”—Creighton Adams
It is easy to get overwhelmed with the immensity of something as radical as a choice to deepen community. Where do I even start? Rather than making some grand gesture, ultimately I am realizing that building community is very much about the everyday actions that I take which, over time, become rituals and eventually norms of behavior. And so, I tell myself to “find the low hanging fruit” by looking for the easy opportunities to build community into my day-to-day life, through something as simple as a smile.
I am coming to realize that in a society where individualism is the norm, being a champion for deep and meaningful community is a radical calling. For those of us who have chosen this path, it can be a hugely rewarding one. How can you contribute and join the movement to deepen community?
Derek Alton has been Campaign Animator for Community Conversations to Shape our Future. See also his article “Digging into Community: A reflection from Tamarack’s 1000 Conversations Initiative” in Communities #163.