I'm going to post a new section of my book, temporarily titled "How to Build Connected Community," every week. I invite you to read, comment, ask questions, or share stories. Your input will improve the expression of our community voice. Thank you for being part of my community and joining me on this project.
We’ve got some big problems. The human race that is. All of us. These problems show up in every space where humans interact with each other or are supposed to. They show up in the way we interact with our environment and how we feel about ourselves. They show up in our mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical health. They’re complex and they’re not going to go away by ignoring them. They’re also not going to go away by continuing to problem solve in the same way we’ve been problem-solving so far. We can’t just respond to each crisis as it shows up. We need to be preventive. Or even better, we need to promote health.
I'm going to write a book in 2021.
It's about building connected community and the underlying concept is that it's up to the people in the community to pull it off. We can't wait for our traditional leaders to tell us how to be. They are a reflection of us and we need to change our culture and norms from our grassroots core if we want to be healthy individually and corporately. This happens by intentionalizing the quality of our individual, organizational, and institutional relationships. We need a better, more connected narrative.
This book will be based on a lot of science from different fields brought together to reveal startlingly familiar implications. It will also grow out of a couple decades as a community psychologist (professionally since 2019 and more of a community geek before that).
Since this is a book about community, I'd like to enlist you, my community, to help write it. To do this, I'm going to post sections to my blog every week. I'll attempt to do it in order so that readers will get a sense of the book's progression. What I'm asking you for are your questions, comments, and stories. I'll use these in the book (with permission). Each section will contain a quote, a summary, the main content, some stories, and Q&A about the concepts and applications. If you'd like to be a part, you can sign up to receive blog posts here: http://eepurl.com/gKeIZv.
You can also check progress on my website blog page: https://www.connected.buzz/blog. You are on that page right now...
I'll send a free copy of the finished book to the 50 most interactive readers. I'm looking forward to sharing this adventure with you!
I'm just trying to look friendly so you'll read my book...
The Influencer's Simple Guide to Social Restoration
In almost all of my experiences with organization and community building, the need to shift focus from problem to possibility comes up repeatedly. Prevention and health promotion need more attention while we remain vigilant with crisis response. The greatest prevention was and always will be healthy social connection. Belonging is the shared experience of social connection. To bring the elements of prevention and belonging together, I created a tool called KNOTS. This simple tool looks upstream for the individual and then opens doors for that person to invest their identity in ways that bring them deep satisfaction and meaning. It relies on an interdependent synergy of giving and receiving. And it uses story to spread the contagion of connection as a new norm for our culture. In short, KNOTS is the answer to the problem of disconnection that focuses on the upstream need for prevention and health promotion.
Know yourself: What are the most powerful characteristics of your character in your story? What are your perspectives, resources, passions, and natural tendencies? How much extra time and energy do you have?
Notice others: pay attention to what’s going on around you. Not everywhere, but in your particular circles of influence. You will notice when opportunities arise that might benefit from your participation.
Offer what you have: This is a mix of Know and Notice. When you identify an opportunity, if you have something to offer that might help, do so. There is a trick to this one though. You can’t offer what you don’t have. It’s like a governor to protect you from overextending yourself. The next step extends this thought.
Take what you need: Be humble enough to realize that if you are offering, others are too. That means that sometimes you’re going to be on the receiving end. When this happens, don’t resist, be grateful. This is where the resources you need when it’s your turn to offer come from.
Share the story: Finally, when this exchange happens, it’s a story that needs telling. This kind of exchange is what healthy communities are made of. Since culture is defined and sustained by story, we need to share ours. Sharing is different than telling. It speaks of a mutuality and building something together - the story of “how we do it here.”
I heard someone say the other day that no religion is completely right. It’s so true. Religions are people designed constructs intended to reduce realities of eternal, mythical, infinite proportions down to a manageable size. We want desperately to write the rules and right the wrongs of the universe so that we are in control of our own immortality.
I don’t think the question should be, “which religion is right?” I don’t even think it should be “which religion is best?” I think it should be “how do things work?” Followed closely by “who or what set it all up?” And if there is a who or a what, then I want to know why? I suppose that gets to the meaning of life question.
We are the only ones with a choice.
There are systems all around us. From the subatomic to the solar, systems function according to immutable principles. Rules like “don’t bump into each other,” “cooperate with your neighbor,” and “stay with the group” keep systems working for the benefit of each component and the whole (video: How Do Schools of Fish Swim In Harmony). None of the different parts of any of those systems ever think about whether or not they should follow those rules because they don’t have a choice. Those rules are built into their survival mechanisms. They are not handed down from a boss or bureaucrat. They do not argue about or compare their rules. They never think one single conscious thought about their rules.
That’s a big difference between human systems and systems made of atoms, cells, organs, animals, plants, geography, climates, planets and galaxies.
We get to choose to follow our natural rules. Or not.
We live, work, and play around other people. Some we know, some we don’t. Some we like, some we’d rather avoid. If we were to map out all the people you are connected to and all the people they are connected to and so on, we would create a map of your social network. Recently, this field of science, called social network theory (it is not the study of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), has discovered that your behavior and beliefs have a significant influence on the people in your social network. What you eat, wear, and drive, how you feel, spend your time and whether or not you smoke affects the likelihood of your friends, friends, friends doing the same. It is not until three degrees of separation that your influence begins to wane. And it works both ways. It’s only three degrees though so you and Kevin Bacon are not influencing each other. Sorry.
Building a healthy, mutually enjoyable relationship takes longer than a chirpy episode of “Friends.” One report says It takes somewhere around 200 hours. It also takes a bit of emotional/mental muscle work. That’s why there’s a season in relationships called the honeymoon phase. This season ends when the awareness of how much time and work is needed sets in. And the realization that either you or this other person (or both) may be comparable to the hind end of a donkey. It’s not just for newly married couples. It’s also true for friendships, family relationships, neighbors, and work associates.
We spend a great deal of our energy on fitting in. While insecurity and ego are sometimes part of this effort, it’s inappropriate to think of “fitting in” as a weakness or a crutch. The drive to connect is built into the essence of being human. Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk in his (one of the best I’ve read in the last five years) book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” says, “Our culture teaches us to focus on personal uniqueness, but at a deeper level, we barely exist as individual organisms.
The words we use reveal our paradigm. How we talk tells the story we believe. With words we speak truth and tell lies. We encourage or dishearten. We influence those who listen and can dissuade when we mispeak. We’ve known forever that we make our decisions based on our feelings. We’ve experienced the emotion that is brought forth in the beauty of song, poetry, preaching and storytelling. We’ve also experienced the emotion brought forth from criticism, accusation, name calling and bullying. The words we choose and how we use them matters.
Once upon a time there was a little goat named Bartholomew who avoided danger. He was small and soft and timid. He avoided danger because he felt fragile. He stayed under rocks and hid behind trees and never went near the road, or even well traveled paths.
I write semi-regularly about belonging, storytelling, community building,