A Longing for Meaning
There is a nearly universal desire to shape our lives in meaningful ways. We want to feel that life has purpose and be a part of creating it. A purposeful life starts with understanding yourself and learning to develop and trust your inner guide. Practices in this transformative way of living are offered in my book, An Intentional Life: Five Foundations for Authenticity and Purpose.
For life to be meaningful, something else is needed. We must learn to create healthier ways of being in relationship with each other. Read about vibrant communities who are creating inspiring models of connection and care in my new book The Practice of Belonging: Six Lessons from Vibrant Communities to Combat Loneliness, Foster Diversity, and Cultivate Caring Relationships.
We are in a crisis of belonging where a collective sense of separateness is causing great harm to ourselves and to the planet. Revolutionary belonging requires us to place relating to each other at the center of our core values.
Change takes time, it evolves, and you can’t skip steps. Yet sometimes small movements, built up over time, lead to a critical tipping point and a radical shift in thinking and acting. This shift often comes in a time of intense discomfort or crisis. We are in such a time of crisis.
The revolution that needs to take place, the one we are ready for, demands new ways of collectively relating to each other. We can make this shift if we create places to flex our "we" muscles that have atrophied in a culture that promotes competition over collaboration, "standing out" over "standing with". Can we change how we perceive, think, make decisions, and take action in ways that bring the best of ourselves to how we relate to others? Can we do this without diminishing our preferences, needs, and unique voices? Our lives depend on it, and our best chance to accomplish this is within vibrant community.
The Power of Community
What is a vibrant community? This was the central question I asked as I took a year to visit special communities in order to understand what qualities they shared. I spoke to dozens of people who participated in, reflected on, and wrote about ways to live together differently. They explored ways to honor individuals' differences while recognizing the importance of the collective in adding meaning to life.
What did I find? Here are qualities that appeared over and over again. Communities of the future will cultivate these qualities: first, there is a universal commitment to show care and regard for every member of the community. This means that whatever the purpose of a community, it always includes caring for each other as part of that mission. A second quality is acceptance, which is essential for us to develop authentically as individuals. Acceptance means we are valued for who we are and don’t have to hide ourselves. Another quality is diversity. Vibrant communities, unlike most traditional ones, recognize that diversity strengthens us. Vibrant communities also have skillful means to handle conflict or tension, allowing differences to ultimately strengthen rather than weaken the group. Developing these skills to handle conflict can require outside help. Vibrant communities have a gift for welcoming others. They believe in the importance of hospitality toward those not in the group, which helps them move beyond a limited sense of tribe that fuels a sense of separateness. And finally, these communities place a high value on playing together. Because building community is hard work at times, vibrant communities value and make time for celebration and enjoying each other.
If we, as individuals, cultivate these same qualities in all of our relationships, we too can create communities of the future. We do this by allowing room for our uniqueness and allowing it in others, too. But we also learn the benefits of shifting from an individual focus to one in which we learn to belong to each other more skillfully and lovingly. Creating conditions and places for belonging, as a collective, is our best chance at healing the suffering and damage that comes from our crisis of separateness.