So, we’re going to build a connected community together. Or at least you’re curious enough to have picked up the book and flipped to the first chapter. Maybe you’re in your hippy friends bathroom and this book is your only option for reading material. Whatever. I’m going to take you seriously because this work is desperately needed and I am going to hope that even if you are stuck in your hippy friend’s bathroom that you might get sucked into this story and decide to be an instigator. So, from here on out, I’m going to talk to you like you’ve taken the plunge. You bought the IKEA cabinet and brought it home and now you’re reading the directions so you can put all the parts together right. You can imagine that cabinet all done, looking great in your kitchen and full of all the snacks and dishes that make life complete. Motivated. Passionate. Relentless. Sorry about switching metaphors but it felt like the bathroom one got sketchy when I used the word plunge.
It’s important to keep in mind that what you are about to do has never been done before. There are other connected communities out in the world and many of the recommendations in this guidebook are proven wisdom with a great deal of reliable, validated evidence to back them up. Some of that proven stuff, when you do it, will be very satisfying. You can read the directions, talk about it with your team, give it a shot with a few glances back at the directions, and it will work. You’ll high five each other and feel great about doing it right. Really. I’m not being sarcastic. That IS going to happen. Sometimes that happens with IKEA furniture too. But there’s a whole bunch more that, in your case and everyone else’s, will be very experimental. It’s not that these experimental efforts haven’t been tried before with great success. It’s that when you try the same thing that was tried with one group of humans on a different group of humans, it is, they are going to get all wiggly. It won’t work the same. Doesn’t mean the guidebook is wrong - let’s be clear about that. And it doesn’t mean you did it wrong. The principles apply but it’s an experiment. So you’ve got to know who your working with, learn a little bit more every time something you try doesn’t quite work, make an adjustment or two and try it again.
However, this is not like it was in biology class. My professor would lecture about the properties of this and that and their interactions with each other. She would explain how the equipment works and what not to touch with your bare hands, sniff with your bare nose, or stare at with your bare eyes. Then she would put us in groups, pass out the worksheets, and let us go to town. She’d walk around to answer questions, give warnings, and reassure the timid. We’d do the experiment. It would work or not. We’d hopefully learn what we had done wrong or what we’d done right. Sometimes it was obvious and other times it was a total mystery. We’d make some notes, turn in the worksheet, and go home.
This is not like that. This experiment doesn’t end until the world and all the people on it burn up in the apocalypse. Or maybe something better happens because it really did work. This is how we participate in evolution as self-affecting agents and it may even be a big part of how the apocalypse is avoided. We take all the stuff we’ve learned, all the stuff we’ve read, and our independent AND collective understanding of the implications. We look over the worksheet/guidebook, discuss it amongst ourselves, and try really hard. As we’re going along, someone will sniff something with their bare nose and temporarily fry some part of their brain. We slow down or pause to apply some ointment with a long Q-tip and make some notes. We adjust how we were going about it so we can accommodate that new information. Really, no matter how bad the brain fry is, we do our best to heal, learn, and tweak our technique. Then we keep trying. We’re not leaving anyone behind unless they want out. This is like Cypher in the Matrix wanting to take the blue pill because he’d rather live a lie with good steak than the truth with raggedy clothes and gruel that tastes like chicken. We don’t get to say, “well, I guess that didn’t work,” and just turn in our worksheets with an indifferent shrug. We apply what we learn to the work and keep growing. We build the foundation out of the bricks we make out of all the big and small things we learn. We keep going until the foundation is solid and we are building floors, walls, and roofs. We keep going and put in cabinets, carpets, and bathrooms with heated floors, towel warmers, and a bidet. We put in that IKEA cabinet, some other furniture, we decorate, and make Pinteresty changes every season. And we’re not done even when the house is a perfect sanctuary for our family. We keep going and build neighborhoods and cities full of one-of-a-kind houses because everyone needs a place to live and everyone wants to live in the place that is perfectly suited to them. All those people - the foundations of their houses will be built out of different bricks. Some will be cut stones. Some will be monolithic concrete foundations. And there will be different experimental learning that goes into each one. That’s the only way to find out how to make the perfect house for each person and family. Trial and error from beginning to end.
There’s content in this book that has literally never been tried in the situation you are going to try it. You can look at case studies and research and watch some Ted Talks but you’re going to be heading into uncharted territory.
In addition to that kind of uncharted territory, you’re going in to some with me. I’ve taken the risk of writing this book before I’m dead. I haven’t learned everything I need to learn to be justified in passing it along. I haven’t practiced everything until perfect. Some things I’ve learned the really, really hard way and some things I’ve learned by extrapolating from those things. I’ve also stolen lots of brilliant ideas from people who actually did practice until they got it perfect. I’ve listened to my elders because I thought it would be cool to not make all the same mistakes they made. I’ve learned to trust my intuition a good bit of the time. I see the implications and pass them on. When this, that, and the other thing are true, it means that what they add up to is true as well. It’s like math.
In this book, I’m leaning into the idea that if belonging is fundamental, if we can experience it by sharing stories, and if, when we figure out belonging, it tells us what our shared purpose is, then when we tell stories, find belonging and fulfill our purpose together we should see an increase in overall health. Things will work the way they’re supposed to even if we couldn’t predict what that was when we started.
That’s what this guidebook is all about. We want to see people at peace with themselves and each other instead of anxious and angry and sad too much. We want to see healthy coping rather than substance abuse, overeating, smoking, and binge watching. We are tired of youth suicide, child and domestic abuse, mental illness, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and auto immune disorders. We want community conscious politicians, pastors, principals, entrepreneurs and business owners. We want well paid, engaged, reliable employees. We want students who are learning content in ways that are exciting and useful - to them. We want clean streets and parks, community activities that bring us together to laugh, cry, and celebrate. We want to get along with our neighbors.
Belonging is a fundamental human need.
We can experience belonging by sharing stories together.
When we experience belonging, we understand our shared purpose.
When we live out our belonging and fulfill our purpose, we become healthier as individuals and as a community. And that’s what we want.
So, I wrote a book about how we can do it.
If you were the guy stuck reading this in your hippy friends bathroom. I recommend, for the sake of the circulation in your legs, that you finish reading it somewhere else.
I write semi-regularly about belonging, storytelling, community building,