“Find your community … or create one”

“Find your community … or create one”
Simon Harvey

Do you feel that Kensington or North Melbourne is your community? I’m not just asking about where you live – for most readers it will be Kensington or North Melbourne. I’m asking about a feeling!

I revisited what I wrote in September 2021, Issue 8 of North West City News (NWCN); the title of my article was just, Community. Frankly, in revisiting this article I’m reacting to some observations and a bit of gentle self-criticism. Reading the NWCN and the Flemington-Kensington News I’m struck (in general) by the overwhelmingly informative and positive nature of the writing.

The self-critical part is a feeling that the Kensington Association columns (most of which I write) frequently have a negative or critical slant. I make the excuse to myself that this is because we (at the Kensington Association) are somewhat on the defensive – we attempt to “defend” the amenity of Kensington. In that 2021 I wrote – “The Kensington Association is – in essence – about community betterment, enhancement, improvement”. So now, in addition, I’m saying that we attempt to defend what we have that we value.

Also, unlike any other organisation, we are a conduit to power – we try to constructively connect with, and make representations to, different levels of government on behalf of the community.

I was recently introduced to the writing of US-born author and teacher Catherine Ingram who hosts the podcast In the Deep. I read a very dark extended article she wrote in 2019 (but regularly updates) called Facing Extinction, and I listened to her give a Ted Talk, entitled “courage and acceptance in troubled times”. In her talk she offers seven suggestions to help us face “troubled times”, the first of these is – “find your community … or create one” (by the way, her fourth suggestion is “pace yourself with your intake of news”). Her article Facing Extinction is not for the faint hearted. While I would highly recommend it, it needs to be read mindfully).

My 2021 article recognises that the factors making us feel that the place we live in is “our community” are diverse. I suggested that the quality of personal relationships we have in our community is a key factor. A sense of “belonging” is one way of expressing it. There’s clearly a consensus between social researchers and psychologists that a sense of community is critical for our wellbeing. The COVID pandemic has strengthened that consensus.

Allow me to prompt you to reflect on your own personal feelings in relation to “community” … lots of questions. How are your neighbours? Do you live alone, with a partner, or with your family? Perhaps with young children, and maybe a dog? Dogs and young children are classic connection facilitators!

Do you shop locally, but not always at the big supermarkets? How do you find the service staff – at the chemist, coffee shop, post office, pub, or other small locals? Are they friendly, welcoming and personable? We know it makes such a difference if they are, particularly if it feels natural rather than forced of pushy!

What groups or organisations are you a member of, are “involved with”, or frequent? Perhaps a school or kinder, a sporting club, or a church, or a particular shop where you feel you know them, and they know you – perhaps by name? Do you work locally or elsewhere? What about our community press (of which North West City News and Flem/Ken News are a part)? Do they provide “community compost”? We shouldn’t forget the communication tech-fixes, or “surrogate” social contacts – Facebook, Good Karma Network, WhatsApp groups, Zoom convos, etc. How are they for you? Are they important, a “turn off”, or “better than nothing”?

It’s complex (we are complex), so many factors and so many people coming together to evoke in us a sense of community … or not.

What happens if you don’t feel that community vibe? Catherine Ingram suggests you need to “create” it! How do you do that?  If the previous paragraph prompted you to reflect on your own feelings about your “hood” in Kensington or North Melbourne, and you decided that your “hood” isn’t working for you, what then? I suggest you begin by looking at yourself. Take courage, we are all full of foibles. Some of us are more self-sufficient, but we all give off … for want of a better word … “vibes”. Did you discover something about yourself during the lockdowns? Did you feel more or less “needy” than expected in relation to personal contacts?

The fact is we are social animals, so we do need others to survive, not always, but sometimes … even often! Anyone who has lived through a “Lismore” or “Mallacoota” experience will appreciate that fact. The main theme in Catherine Ingram’s Facing Extinction article is about finding courage and acceptance as we face the future, and part of that is the need to find “community”.

As parents, we have an additional task – we are duty bound to help foster community awareness and community building skills in our children. •

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