Building Resilient Communities: Mind the Gap.
At a lovely lefty festival I had the privilege to be at this hot summer, my daughter came out of the impressively clean portaloo commenting on how she was going to take the toilet’s advice and ‘smile at someone today, because (she) might make all the difference’. What struck me was that she’d read the faded sticker and it had meant something to her. I too had read it (as I strategically hovered) and the words had passed through my eyes as if I was reading ‘mind the gap’ or ‘please drive carefully’. Yadayadayada. My brain must be sending a signal to my awareness saying “nothing to see here, we know all this already” and so I come out of the loo without a reflective moment. After all I’ve been doing ‘help’ in a ‘helping’ field for many years. I’ve been on the courses and given the lectures. Smiling is the basic basics, everyone knows that.
Truth is, though, that between me and my 9 year old daughter, the person who needed a reminder about connecting and kindness is me. Because even in a festival of joy I busy ‘doing’ festival, consuming and soaking up what I can, squeezing every ounce of hedonism out of MY weekend so I could feel that I’ve got what I came for. Ironically, part of what I came for, is a shared experience of happiness. It’s easy to spread love in a festival because the personal risk is much lower. Smiling, hugging, feasting, dancing, chatting… connecting and feeling alive are all part of what I paid for. I went home filled with love and paid-for shared happiness. Home to my street where I say hello to my immediate neighbours, chat with a couple of them about kids, parking, extensions and bin collections but generally we go about our lives independently.
So not much smiling, hugging, feasting, dancing…..connecting and feeling alive in my own manor. Hmm. Here the risk to me is much greater. Well, what if they don’t want to connect? What if they don’t like me? What if they find out what I’m really like? And anyway I’m too busy. I’m too busy rushing off to my community group all about kindness to ask my neighbour how she is, when I know her husband has left her and her children. Yes really. This was a real reflective moment on a rainy Wednesday evening when I saw her broken heart on her face as she went in her house as I was getting in the car. ‘Mind the Gap’ between my rhetoric and my behaviour loud and clear this time.
I took the risk and knocked the door, we talked about our lives, our children and began a connection. It was scary and I’m still not sure she likes me but I feel like I have communicated that she is not on her own and that feels very important. It will take time.
So, am I saying we should model resilient communities on festivals? At a festival there’s no hierarchy, no supporters and supported, just people. Sharing joyful and fun activities together connects us: breaking bread, dancing, playing; losing inhibitions inherent in our real life roles as ‘helpers’ or even as neighbours. I’m not suggesting we go home and set up twee street parties but I am suggesting we take risks in relationships, without vulnerability we can’t create authentic relationships and yet we know it is authenticity in relationships that creates resilience. Knock the door, offer to break the bread.
How can we lose some of our personal inhibitions and find ways to connect joyfully, eye to eye (not screen to screen) without having to pay for the experience? Or professionally without ‘doing’ the best practice model when we get to work and demonstrating the outcomes to those that pay us. We know the importance of sports and community groups to build resilience in children (Link to resilience research here) but do we all get in our cars and drop our kids off at these while we catch up on screen time? I’m noticing the ‘please drive carefully’ as I navigate this one for myself. I could definitely bring more to this street party. I am challenging myself to BE someone who contributes to resilient communities, which is very different from DOING resilient communities. I’m reminding myself to stop for a minute and be curious. To see ‘mind the gap’ and notice where it applies to me but I can only see it if I’m going slowly enough to notice it and then notice how it makes me feel and be brave enough to bring myself to the party.