Forming Friendships in Your Community
The confetti has been swept up, the champagne bottles are in the recycle bin and the calendar is turned to a fresh new page. All over the planet, people are using the new year as a leap board into healthier lifestyles, organized homes and a myriad of other goals intended to make our lives simpler or more fulfilling. One of the enjoyments of the New Year’s celebration was watching excited crowds ushering in the new decade at different points all over the world. From Sydney, Australia to Rome, Italy to New York City, technology and global connection allowed us to “join” far-flung celebrations from the comfort of our own homes, a fact that some older people still find amazing.
I imagine one of the biggest and most impactful developments since 2000 has been the ease with which we can connect and interact with people in nearly any geographical location. The internet and social media have eliminated borders when it comes to sharing information, meeting people of diverse cultures and expanding our own circle of friends and acquaintances. You don’t need me to tell you just how easy it is to reach beyond your community, you are likely reading this a distance from Marietta Ohio while you are checking out what your Facebook friends are doing across the country.
While technology is bringing us evolving connectedness, most of us still want to have authentic relationships and positive interactions with people.
Sadly, the other side of this coin is a bit depressing. While we expand our online “communities” without borders, we may be missing out on the real benefits of the living, breathing local community in which we live. According to a 2018 poll by OnePoll, two in three millennials don’t feel like they belong to their local community. When citing reasons, lack of time headed the list, followed by “not friends with anyone in their neighborhood” and “don’t know how.” Over half of those millennials reported feeling estranged from their community and lonely as a result. And while younger people may be developing strong online communities, many of them would like to feel more connected to their physical neighborhood. In fact, 69 percent of the polled said they wish they participated more in their community. So even while technology is bringing us evolving connectedness, most of us still want to have authentic relationships and positive interactions with people.
Online communities have many benefits – the exchange of ideas with people of diverse backgrounds, the connection with people holding similar interests, hobbies and experiences, and of course the ability to stay in touch with distant friends and family members. But while we enjoy the positive impact of social media, maybe we should challenge ourselves to develop closer connections with our neighbors and communities. As we begin a new year, why not make this the year you “shrink” your world a bit by engaging with the one right around you?
Back in the day, most people lived in their neighborhoods for years, with children growing up together and residents very familiar with each other. People looked out for other parents’ children, neighbors watched houses while the owners vacationed, and a heavy snow would have everyone pitching in to clear walks and driveways. Even with today’s busy schedules and demands for our time, we can still find ways to have a positive impact on our community.
In many towns, the small businesses have their finger on the pulse of the community.
There are countless ways you can take small steps to strengthen your sense of community. If you live in a walker-friendly neighborhood, take a stroll and say hello to the people you meet. If you are lucky enough to have a comfortable front porch, spend some time watching others walk by and offer a greeting. Pay attention to the folks around you, whether your homes are 10 feet apart or down the country road. Are the newspapers piling up? Lawn unkempt? Pay a visit and ask if the resident needs help with anything, you may find an elderly person or stressed parent in need of help and/or company.
Instead of leaving your neighborhood for the mall, try shopping local and support your small businesses; you’ll develop some fine relationships while helping them contribute to the local economy. In many towns, the small businesses have their finger on the pulse of the community – you’ll often see posters for upcoming events or perhaps a club you’d like to join. If you want to join a non-profit, local organizations such as Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis are a great way to meet people while having a positive impact on your community.
Take advantage of venues that host like-minded people. The local dog park, public walking trail and community gym play host to others who are there for the same reasons – and how could you not strike up a conversation with a fellow lab owner? If you can spare a few hours a month, there are a variety of classes that create an instant group of people sharing the same interest. Art classes, cooking classes or a make-and-take workshop will let you indulge your creative passion while meeting potential friends.
Maybe this will be the decade for stronger human connections, neighborhood engagement and fulfilling relationships.
If you’re a parent, chances are your child is opening the door to lots of people-meeting opportunities. Band parents, sports parents, PTO committees and event coordinators often spend many hours in the same space. The next time you’re waiting to pick your student up from an event or watching a practice, why not put the phone down and step out of your comfort zone? Slide down that bleacher bench and offer a friendly greeting. The worst that can happen is you’ll be rebuffed and feel sheepish – the best that can happen is that you’ll enjoy a human connection and perhaps forge a friendship.
This new decade will bring an ever-increasing reliance on the internet and social media to gather information and expand cultural borders. But while you are expanding your online community, why not step back and draw your physical community a bit closer. Maybe this will be the decade for stronger human connections, neighborhood engagement and fulfilling relationships.
Happy New Year!