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COLUMN: Community builders unite us better than online social networks

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:50 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Among special people, community builders are my favorite. These are people who, when they move into a new job or neighborhood, immediately begin to establish a community. They set about getting to know their new coworkers or neighbors and start to build relationships. Before you can blink an eye, they have assembled a group of strays to form a family of friends. Whatever remains of civility and good manners, I credit to community builders.

As more and more people separate themselves into individual cubicles and do most of their communicating on blogs and social networks, it’s good to drive through neighborhoods in the summer and see people gathered for picnics and barbecues. It’s good to discover that there are those who still play bingo, cards, board games, bowl and enjoy each other's company. Although some anthropologists insist that we are social creatures, many people think that in earlier times when individuals lived in villages, people lived in close proximity purely because they felt safer that way.

This is probably one of the most telling signs of our times. I have run in to a number of people who genuinely do not like others, often individuals they have never met and therefore do not know. For the most part, these people-haters are consumed with self-interest and consider any attention paid to others threatening. They simply can’t imagine that people actually enjoy living around others.

I never felt satisfied with the inference that safety was the chief motivating factor for building community. It doesn’t explain, for example, why women got together for quilting bees and to can food for their families. As a child, in my neighborhood there were women who got together every week to iron their family’s clothes. Others spent an afternoon with their sewing circle. To me, it always made perfect sense that human beings were meant to live in a community, to share with each other and help each other out. I think the fact that people cling to each other when they feel threatened by disasters is proof that deep inside they know they are supposed to live together. Whenever I think about this subject, I am always reminded of two friends who made a decision to live together. One could not see and the other had trouble hearing. Together they were able to enjoy a natural domestic life, each able to make up for the other's shortcoming.

Now there are some who resent community builders and fight efforts to join others in any kind of community activity. While it’s undoubtedly true that not everyone enjoys company, I find it unnatural that people would prefer to communicate long distance with total strangers rather than individuals in their own neighborhood.

Although I think technologists will continue to invent products that try to meet every possible social need, I also think that, ultimately, most people will get bored and seek human companionship. I think that such things as love and companionship can be embraced more wholeheartedly when people are in the company of each other. So, I think there will always be work for community builders. Although many have concluded that the art of conversation has been lost, I think these people are guilty of associating with the wrong people and need to find new acquaintances. Most of us are fortunate enough to find people of similar interests who enjoy sharing information and ideas.

It is true that some who do not read books and spend most of their time watching television tend not to be as interesting as those who have a broader worldview; still, they can often be depended on to bring a different perspective to a discussion.

I have found that community builders share several positive advantages. They usually had happy childhoods and grew up in loving families, and they genuinely like people and want to get to know them better. Furthermore, they seem to have an uncanny instinct for knowing how to respect invisible boundaries. They understand people’s need for privacy and they don’t cross lines. All of these qualities make them successful as human beings as well as uniters.

As for those who want to live in the world by themselves, my mother had a saying that suits them well. She always said people who want to be left alone usually are.  For better or worse.

Whenever I encounter a community builder, I consider myself as having a rewarding day. Life doesn’t get any better than when you can share whatever gifts you bring with another loving, caring person. I think they call that being happy.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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