It’s been a few months now since I’ve read Peter Block and John McKnight’s book “The abundant community”, and I’ve been discussing their ideas with Anne-Marie and with friends ever since. Every day I find reasons to think about these concepts, to discover ways to apply them. As a friend recently told me, I should write a blog entry about it, because it’s quite exciting.
Why is it exciting? Because it answers a question that is burning in many people’s minds: “How can I feel more connected to people around me?”. This may apply to family members, fellow church attendees, work mates, or neighbours. Most church members I speak to tell me that they feel emotionally and socially isolated from others, that they don’t feel like they belong there. And most of them don’t know why they feel that way, and don’t know how to resolve this issue. I’ve been wondering the same thing for a long time, and I feel that I am starting to get an idea of the answer.
My first idea of how to help people get more connected to each other, is to facilitate their opportunities to meet and talk by bringing their gifts and interests into correspondence. This is a key idea of the abundant community: everyone has gifts that are worth sharing, values that are worth respecting, and needs that are worth fulfilling. If, however, we keep our interactions platonic and superficial, we stay blind to these gifts, values and needs, and we fail to connect on a meaningful, personal level.
So what is the idea? A survey that asks people what skills they have that they’re willing to teach others, and what skills they’re interested in learning about. The LDS Church has had one of these surveys for decades, and I’ve completed it a couple of times, but I’ve never seen anyone make any use of this information. Perhaps the response rate was too low to be useful, I’m not sure. I administered a family history survey about a month ago, and managed to collect data on 30% of our members, which I think is excellent. If I could obtain that response rate for a talents and interests survey, we could start to get people connected.
How would I use this information? Let’s have an example. Let’s imagine that 3 people indicate that they have a skill in bread-making, and 5 other people say that they’d like to learn that skill. We can contact the three and ask them if they’d be willing to host a regular bread-making class at their home on a rotating schedule, and invite the five potential students to contact them. We don’t need to monitor what happens after this, just let them know about the opportunities, then let them choose whether or not to take a hold of it.
From the point of view of a survey respondent, the experience might go like this. I express my interest in photography, touch rugby and carpentry. I receive an email giving me the details of people who have agreed to teach these skills, and of other people who have similar interests. I now have several choices. I can decide to focus on one of these interests, and get in touch with all the people who teach it, to benefit from their combined experience. I could contact those who have a similar interest, and get together to talk about or experiment with the skill. I could also choose to contact only one person, and meet over a cup of hot chocolate to chat about what to do next.
What is most interesting about this idea is that it brings people together who “normally” wouldn’t get together. Our society has shaped us to become so private that we live among people whom we know virtually nothing about, except their appearance, their behaviour, and their worldly possessions, none of which defines our character or represents our values, aspirations or beliefs. When we focus on a person’s gifts (e.g., “I value your bread-making skills, even though I feel uncomfortable around people who look and talk differently to me”), we can overcome the barriers of the visible and discover the invisible treasures within. We can stop talking about people in terms of their visible problems (e.g., “What can we do about Sister Grover’s noisy children?”), and instead talk and think about them in terms of their undiscovered gifts.
When I make a phone call to one of the people who is willing to teach others how to sew, I am going to make an instant connection. The interaction is almost bound to be positive, because the simple act of calling is making a statement that I value that person’s gifts.
“Hi Judy, I’ve just learned that you’re a passionate dress-maker, I had no idea! Would you mind teaching me some of the basics of sewing machine use? I’d like to learn to make simple shorts for my boys. A few of my friends would also be interested in joining along. Maybe we can bring some home-made cookies one day and bring our machines along?”.
Doing this requires overcoming a few obstacles, one of which is the fear of intruding on other people’s privacy or precious time. Privacy is important, but has been given far too much credit nowadays. Meaningful human connections require some surrender of our privacy, some openness to external scrutiny, some honesty and trust. Genuine love doesn’t grow without taking risks, and we must be willing to accept the uncertainty of what the other person will do with what we divulge. However, the benefits of such openness and candour far outweigh the probability and scale of the risks. Or, to put it differently, the effects of closing ourselves to others are far more damaging to us and our society than the risks of opening our lives. I speak from experience here, having been a very private person (nearly a hermit) for most of my life, and craving the genuine connection I could have with people around me.
Another obstacle is that we may feel that we don’t have the time to connect with people around us. We’re busy earning money, managing the home, keeping fit, serving in the church, and raising children. How can we spend even more time in seemingly trivial interactions with others? There’s no easy, universal answer to this problem, but there are a number of questions that can make easier to find a suitable, personal answer.
- How much money do we need to earn? What are our financial goals? Why do we have these goals?
- What do we value most in life?
- How can we live our lives in a way that we get more of what we value most, and less of what we value least?
Asking the right questions
As Peter Block stated in another of his books, “The answer to how is YES“, asking the right questions is far more useful and important than getting the right answer. No meaningful, long-lasting change has ever happened in anyone’s life before their willingness to ask some hard questions, and think and talk seriously about them. If we want to truly connect with others, to discover the richness and beauty of meaningful human interaction, we must be willing to challenge some of our assumptions, adjust our values, and let these changes shape our behaviour. It’s not easy, but, as I’m discovering, it’s the best investment one could ever make.
- How to ask Positive Questions for deeper and more meaningful connections (positiveprovocations.com)
- What We Can Learn from the X-Factor (phillipbrande.wordpress.com)
- Making Moments to Connect (sermonnotesforkids.com)
- What about social development? (nicolasconnault.wordpress.com)
- Seek Out Community in Your Own Apartment Neighborhood (apartmentguide.com)