There is this thing called “community” that I am extremely passionate about. For the past few years, I thought that my obsession with having it, finding it, and ultimately learning to create it, came from a place of not fitting in when we moved abroad, and then returned home. Only recently did I realize that my community definition started much earlier.
What I have since realized – from the time I began researching and putting together my opening keynote speech for the Families in Global Transition conference (March, 2017, held in The Hague, Netherlands) – was that this obsession actually began for me in my childhood. Because of our “other” status as a family of color in the early 1970s, as a family who chose to homeschool, and as a family who experience divorce, the need for intentional community was strong. I’m sharing the majority of my speech with you, in written form and would love to hear what you think in the comments!
Community is not something simply nice to have, like a first class ticket. Community is not something that we can take or leave, as you would choose sparkling water over still. NOT experiencing community is no longer an option for our physical, emotional and mental well being when identifying as a globally mobile individual or family.
Community (and it’s more practical action – building a tribe) is that thing we can not afford to miss out on. A community is the very thread that brings us together to advocate on behalf of each other. It allows us to bring comfort to one another, and offer support – sometimes when we don’t know yet that we need it. Inside the sense of belonging that community brings, follows a set of resources, balance, and strength to do brave things in this world. -Naomi Hattaway
It gives me a feeling of safety, of belonging and of something in common with others. It makes me feel as though I would have someone to share my stories with, a friend to explore with, and a relationship to grow with someone else, outside of my immediate family.
The dictionary definition of community is this:
Let’s break down the definition a little bit.
First, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” Think about you .. and your current location. This first definition could be described as your physical neighborhood. The homes that share property / lot lines with yours. If you live in an apartment complex or on a compound, it would be quite easy to describe your “same placeness” as a physical location. Or if you look at the last piece of the definition … having a particular characteristic in common, this could perhaps mean personality traits, or a life phase. We can find community with others whose children have left the nest, or frequent travelers who happen to be single, or even those among us who speak similar multiple languages.
The second definition then expands a bit on the concept of community by giving us the words “fellowship”, “ a feeling” and “common goals”. I also really like the point of the definition where it talks about having a joint ownership or liability inside of a community. Remember that — joint ownership and liability, we’ll discuss that later this morning.
Another word commonly used when discussing this concept around groups of relationships, or those who share similarities, is the word TRIBE. Hold tight to that word as well, we’ll come back to that.
When my family lived in the rural confines of Nebraska, we desperately needed community. As one of the few families “of color” in that same location, we needed community. Because we chose to homeschool during a time when it wasn’t yet popular, we really needed community.
I watched my mother methodically and intentionally create community for our family. She reached out and asked for connections. She started new relationships and consistently explored how we might be of service to others in our community.
Community has always mattered to me, I guess, from a very young age. However, not until we moved to New Delhi, India to start our life abroad, did the absolute importance of it really start to sink in.
When our plane touched down in Delhi, which was slated as a “hardship post” in 2009, I literally felt as though we were welcomed with open arms. This was due — in large part – to my husband’s tireless antics before we arrived (as he arrived India a LONG four months prior to our arrival) and the amazing Ellen Wereen!
When I landed with the children, our home was already staffed with amazing people, we had massages waiting for us after hauling in our massive suitcases (full of beef jerky, macaroni & cheese and all of the other things I knew we would be miserable without). My husband even set up a dinner with new friends – a fellow expat new to Delhi, and his family.
We also felt a very warm welcome into our new community because, when you have children attending a VERY large international school, the invite to be a part of a tribe is par for the course.
But the longer I lived abroad and the more people I met and got to know with different life circumstances, the more poignant the stories became. Life overseas is not always a warm hug with a double kiss on each cheek. It is not always an understanding nod, a lunch date invitation, or a cuppa extended with an offer to “sit here!”
After our three years in Delhi, we found ourselves suddenly in Singapore, in an attempt to heal my body from the long lasting effects of chikungunya. Unfortunately, my husband’s job didn’t quite find its way to Singapore, so we spent the next year living apart, with very infrequent time together as a family. We realized as a family that the long term separation was not a wise choice for our family, and so we — just as suddenly — repatriated back to the United States. I was quickly in a place where I was supposed to feel was home, and desperately missing my community, my tribe.
Knowing that I was struggling, my mother (who went on from raising me and my siblings to serving as a missionary in Kenya) shared a concept learned at MTI (Mission Training International) during a debrief from the mission field. You can read all about the I Am A Triangle concept if you’re not already familiar, by visiting the website or a story on the I Am A Triangle movement. The Triangle concept is a thread that runs through everything that I do today, and I’ve used each letter of the word Triangle to help demonstrate what my community definition is:
T // tribe
R // resilience
I // international impact
A // authentic, adjustment
N // navigation, nomadic neighbors
G // growth, “get out there”
L // longevity, do they “like” me
E // engaging, experience
What is the RISK for not finding community?
I asked Dr. Lori Woodring, psychologist and author of the workbook, “My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary, Big Move” – a workbook for children moving to a new home to answer this question for us.
“When an individual moves to a new location for a new job or assignment, it is vital for everyone to find their “community” or their “niche”. A certain level of culture shock and alienation is common among all of us who relocate. No matter how much you prepare, it can feel incredibly isolating to suddenly find yourself in a new location/country/culture without friends, family and resources to rely on. Without reaching out and taking the necessary steps to immerse yourself into the new culture and find your own tribe, feelings of anxiety and loneliness can lead to depression. This unfortunately can begin a negative cycle whereby the more isolated and lonely you feel, the harder it is to go out and meet new people, which makes you feel more alone. If you do not feel settled and happy with your own tribe/friends/life it will also impact everything: your (and if applicable, your partner and children’s as well) overall happiness at home and satisfaction, productivity and success at work or school.
When individuals and families do NOT have a support system and a strong community around them, they often find themselves in the middle of early and unexpected repatriations, unsuccessful assignments and frustrating postings. The sheer expenses of moving families and individuals when a previous posting or opportunity doesn’t work out – QUITE BLUNTY — because of a lack of community – is staggering.
It goes beyond cost to the company or personal expenditure however. The emotional and mental impact of landing in a new community without proper support or repatriation without a net to catch you, is a high price to pay as well.
So, until now, we’ve been talking about we each need – individually. Me, me, me. I, I, I. Often times we look at our existence in this great big world in far too much of an insular way. What about me? When will I find friends? Will I survive? Will this ever feel better? What if we all turned the tables and instead of focusing on the I, we focus on the WE.
What can WE offer others?
Ubuntu is a beautiful — and old — concept from the Bantu languages of Southern Africa. At its most basic, Ubuntu can be translated as “human kindness,” but its meaning is much bigger in scope. It embodies the ideas of connection, community, and mutual caring for all.
I am what I am because of who WE all are. -Leymah Gbowee
Desmond Tutu’s take was more descriptive.
“Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone WE say, ‘Yu, u nobunto’ :: ‘Hey so-and-so has ubuntu.’ Then you are known to be generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, ‘My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.”
In unity is strength. In kindness is humanity.
Try something for me. Say the following phrase out loud. Seriously! Say it out loud: “I have experiences and wisdom to share with my community. I am what I am because of who WE are together.”
Bravo! Do you believe it?
Not only do you have things to share with your community, you NEVER know who might cross your path who is in a sad place, or feeling lonely or just needs a smile to pick them up. In order to put yourself in that position of giving of yourself to a possible new friend, you have to be out there .. literally crossing paths with people. If you find yourself better off “inside” and with quiet voices, seek out an online community where you can impact someone else’s life or provide support. The I Am a Triangle community is an excellent opportunity to slowly integrate the power of support back into your life.
The opportunities are endless and perhaps, with a bit more showing up and kindness — two things I believe very strongly in — we can start to be community builders, each and every one of us.
If you are willing to go all in, focus on the WE, and commit to building and creating your tribe on the move, keep these things in mind.
Remind yourself often, of the things you offer your tribe, your community. Replay the sentences in your mind: “I have experiences and wisdom to share with my community. I am what I am because of who WE are together.” Ask yourself, “How can I add value to this situation?” with every new opportunity. Keep your values, wisdom and offerings at the forefront of your mind — writing them down on post-it notes if you need to!
Stay Curious, Explore & Embrace the Challenges.
Go on hikes, take a trip to the market and get to know the cashier. Sign up for an art class even though you know you’re rubbish at it. Sit at the bar of the restaurant around the corner so you can be in “arm’s length” of another person who could become your friend. Pop outside when the mail carrier delivers your packages so you can ask where she goes for ice cream. You never know WHEN you’ll find a fellow tribe member, but you sometimes need to put yourself out there!
The Grass isn’t Greener, just a different shade.
It’s often difficult to leave a location you REALLY loved. As you seek out your new tribe and community, keep in mind that the grass is never greener on the other side, it’s simply a different shade. Also? it’s been said that the grass IS greener … where you water it. Don’t you just love that? When you put some intention behind creating community, the grass will always be greener!
Patience, a Smile and an Open Mind.
Ah .. the beauty of an open mind!! Walk into new opportunities with eyes wide open and a mindset of allowing new beginnings. A smile is worth a thousand words, it’s been said, and with just that simple act, you can open a world of possibilities!
What comes to mind as you’re reading this for ideas that you might have for ways you can get out into your community? Perhaps you’ve remembered a skill you mastered while living at your last post. Maybe you have always wanted to learn how to make a fabulous mixed drink, and you’re outgoing enough to bring a group of people together for a fun evening gathering for that purpose. If you have young children, then organize an afternoon playdate, where the littles can play and the adults can exchange favorite recipes. If you know a foreign language, your skills are likely needed for an upcoming volunteer opportunity.
Quite possibly, there is space for you to simply sit with those in need of human touch.
We are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand. -Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States
SEEK OUT the commonalities we share with each other. This is a big, sometimes scary and complicated world. Only by acknowledging our human connection with each other will WE start to effect change. Maybe your personal space rules say that you’ll only connect with 1-2 people. Maybe you’re a “the more people, the better” individual, so your connection results will be much higher. The point isn’t in the numbers, but in the intention behind the mission.
I have a feeling, that massive change will be heading our way in 2018. We can get an early start —- today, right now! I’m partnering up with Emmy McCarthy to explore the concept of Redefining Communities and we’re excited to begin this conversation. Pop over to read our collective thoughts on community and feel free to “clap us up” as it helps others find our work.
To community. To finding our tribe. To being on this journey, together.
If you’d like to listen to / watch my speech, here it is!