Linda’s Thoughts on Creating Community

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In my own work, creating and participating in community is at the heart of what I do.  Whether I am working with the staff of a hospital, college or international group, if any real work is to be done we need to create an environment where people feel valued, a part of the process, and connected to a higher purpose – especially in the midst of great change.


Like Suzie and the diner, the single most important thing I do to ensure the success of any project or change initiative is to create an environment that is positive and inclusive, allowing people to connect around their common purpose and find a way to move ahead together.  This opens the way for people to bring their creativity, expertise and spirit to the table instead of checking it in at the door when they enter!  We have all been there: gone to jobs, been to groups, or lived in communities that fail to honor, involve or connect their members.  Or worse yet, lay blame on members for holding back or checking out.

I believe that given the chance or right environment people fall into community fairly easily. Once people feel safe in their environment, the first hurdle is breaking down the barriers that divide people based on their differences.  Sometimes this is as simple as sitting face to face with those whom we would not normally interact with.  There is an exercise I do when working with mixed groups on how to communicate when using a collaborative approach.

On the surface it is the practice of simple to progressively more difficult listening and communication skills.  Participants are paired with their opposite: manager to union employee, young to old, one ethnicity to another, etc.  These pairs are asked to respond to life-questions while practicing these skills.  Topics like: “Talk about a frustrating situation that happened in the last week,” or, “What is your long term vision or goal in life?”

It is an amazing thing to witness what happens – barriers between people dissolve – now we are talking human to human – and the rest slips away.  This is not to say that differences such as imbalances in power are not important, but that underneath it all, there is a place we connect to each other that transcends all boundaries.  Such a place allows people to come to the realization that: “What I thought about you may not be true! I did not have to engage in mediation, hear a lecture, read a book – I just listened and my heart opened.”

Community: coming together for a common purpose and connected in a more than superficial way, caring about and supporting each other.  We give each other meaning.  Creating community with others is life and work sustaining.  What communities are you a part of?  Like Suzie, do you create the conditions for building community where you are?  What are the building blocks of that?  In a future piece I will talk about involvement as one of the keys to building community and ownership.

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