Community Resilience and Being the Change

Written by Community Solutions Senior Fellow Don Hollister

“Perform random acts of kindness,” reads a car bumper sticker. Boy Scouts pledge to do a good deed daily. My first reactions to these dictums are, why not “systematic kindness,” and “many good deeds all the time?” However, I do recall in my scouting days trying to do that one good deed each day. 

What small daily acts, what routine social habits help weave the fabric of community? 

As a personal next step, in your particular life situation, what specific social act would you identify that would be effective in enriching the social fabric around you? What would be your Social New Year’s resolution? 

In my neighborhood, a suburban tract developed in the 1950s and 60s, we wave at our neighbors as we put out our trash can for the weekly pick up or as we drive by on the way to work. I have had many of the same neighbors for 20-30 years, yet know them largely through activities in our small town outside the neighborhood --- through school sports, scouting, civic meetings, in the grocery store, at a coffee shop. They are acquaintances through casual contact over the years. At the far end
of my street I may not even remember the names of people I have waved to for years. 

I resolve to have a substantive conversation with a different neighbor at least once a week. I am going to make a list of everyone on the street and gradu- ally try to visit with them all. There are 35 houses on our one block long street. This will be no small task, but once the pattern is established it will be fun. I will be more consistent in my neighbor- hood walks, looking for opportunities to chat. 

So what is my point in writing this? Much of our talk about society and promoting resilience is about environmental sustainability, economic patterns, and local food and energy supplies, with relatively little about the 

social and psychic. In a crisis, be it the aftermath of a record breaking storm or the slow motion desolation from the departure of a major local employer, the existing social relationships and morale will be a key factor in effective- ness of any emergency measures or lon- ger term recovery. 

It seems harder to get specific about the emotional and spiritual sides of community resilience. Yet every day in our daily lives we interact with people, family, neighbors and coworkers, build- ing bonds in little ways ... or not. How we live has developed out of daily inter- actions as we have grown over the years, much of it by unconscious imitation. Many bits in my daily routine I associate with a family member or friend. 

“That’s how Dad did it.” “The lady at the garden center showed me this way.” And that behavior building or altering process continues throughout life. 

In many ways the social interaction and the spiritual dimensions of community are more immediate and accessible to an individual’s initiative and influence than the economic and structural aspects of a community. By being attentive to how you interact with people in your daily life you can make a difference. Whether you know it or not, how you live is teaching others. Whether you know it or not, you are being the change. 

The more intentional you are in your behavior, the more conscious you are of the impact of your actions, the more you can “be the change.” This is hardly an exact science. We may misunderstand the effects of our actions, but keep watching and learning. 

Imagine how you wish the world would be and try to live in such a way that your actions contribute to making that vision a reality. Picture what you wish your local community would be like and use your daily life to help paint that image. Of course, your neighbors may have a very different social ideal in mind, or, as likely, they are living unconsciously from a different social conditioning and have not stopped to think about it. 

How can Community Solutions help you with your work in your own community and in your effort to Be the Change? 

As adults we go through stages of life, changes in our relationships, as partners, as parents, as caretakers changes in our work--our physical health -- and changes in our values and motivations. We do not stop grow- ing and changing. Each phase of life presents different internal personal challenges and new potential ways of influencing the world around us, new ways of being the change. 

People who hear about Community Solutions tend to be attracted at a time that they are shifting in their life. An individual reads one of our books or views one of our DVD’s, attends one or two of our conferences, finds the stories of other people’s work and ideas to be inspiring, becomes a member for a few years, pays dues, reads the newsletter, and moves on to another stage of their life. Over our 75 year history perhaps a few thousand people have attended a conference and become an engaged member. A much smaller number have remained in touch with the CS office through correspondence and the occasional phone call or visit, sometimes for decades. 

We want to facilitate that long term contact and mutual communication. Our thought is that by encouraging more direct contact among those members who share interest in a particular theme we may foster a synergy in ways that the more passive communication of ideas and information from our office cannot. In turn, a network of working relationships among social activists will inform and strengthen the work of our office center. 

We are in transition from being primarily a center for ideas and information to becoming a network and fellowship of people at work in their home communities. This is a work in progress and your suggestions are welcome. 

If you have a story to tell about your own work or the work of others that you consider to be a model worth sharing please let us know. 

Would you like to organize a showing of one of Community Solutions documentaries, The Power of Community, The Passive House Revolution, or a presentation about The Hundred Year Plan with a trailer of that upcoming film? 

We invite you to join a cluster of Community Solutions members focused on one of our areas of concern: Resilient Community, Regenerative Land Use, Energy Democracy, Community Economy, Being the Change. Call or write us to hear more about what other members are doing in your area of interest. For those members who live in our southwest Ohio region you may be interested in more direct involvement. 

Read the entire newsletter here.