I just know some of you are quietly singing YMCA, In The Navy or Macho Man, it’s alright to bust a move – I could never get the ‘C’ in the right direction. This eclectic and iconic group made adult dress up permissible. Thank you Village People, but what village did you come from?
Cities are strange places for those of us who grew up in towns or villages. When I think about the population of New Zealand creeping up to the 5 million mark, I realise how ‘village like’ we are compared to other more densely populated countries. But does ‘size matter?’ when it comes to developing a closer sense of community.
Growing up in a town of 4000 in the 70’s and 80’s had some special effects on me. When I tell people where I was born they sometimes look at me and their expression usually mirrors a mix of pity and surprise, as if I have overcome some terrible obstacle in my life.
I like returning home, hanging at the local markets and seeing who I might run into, kind of like a High School reunion but without the weirdness. Those connections no matter how long I have been away still feel strong because of the unique nature of how those relationships develop. But I believe those factors can be replicated in large cities because despite their overall population, people generally have a ‘local community.’ At the very least, neighbours! I’ve noticed more and more city dwellers embracing and valuing simple acts of kindness, conversation and reaching out that dissolve the sense of wariness and need for complete anonymity at all times – even from their Doctor (joking).
What are some of the ways this is happening? How can you get some small town magic in your life? Here are a few tips, but be warned – it comes cheap. Yes you heard right – it is easy and free.
1: First of all define your ‘community’ it might be the street, block or suburb.
2: Greet everyone like they are a long lost friend or family member even if they look ‘dodgy’ – try not making assumptions based on how someone looks. Ok so maybe a bit over the top, but at least acknowledge people in the street – I’ve developed a series of casual greetings – the simple smile, Hi/Hey smile and the ‘top gun’ wave (reserved for on my bike).
3: Share stuff if you have too much of it – especially fruit, garden produce. I loved going with my Dad to deliver fish as a kid – generosity doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.
4: Share skills and time – not out of expectation of the favour being returned like some form of time bank – no – just offer if you see or perceive it might be accepted. I am forever grateful to our neighbour who recently saved me from a giant spider…it turned out to be fluff blowing out the ceiling crack but he saw the funny side – love him for that -a unique shared experience we have bonded over.
5: Ask for stuff if you don’t have it – the old borrow a cup of sugar thing – but if you aren’t a baker or have no use for sugar – power tools, ladders, toilet paper…maybe not
6: Neighbours are better than house alarms – let each other know when you are away, feed pets, water plants, collect mail (don’t read it!).
7: Let kids play on the street – if you want cars to slow down, don’t do it artificially, I know it sits a bit uncomfortably with safety but it works. Clearly I am not talking about main highways or busy streets.
8: Learn the names of local pets. Greet them as in 2.
9: Read the local paper – finding out what is news worthy is one of the fastest ways to get a feel for your community.
10: Exercise locally, run, walk, ride, whatever it is you get a chance to observe without looking like a stalker.
Developing trust and respect require interactions and take time to develop. It’s become a popular idea to develop values by ‘serving the community.’ I think this is partly in response to a genuine concern that we are somehow losing compassion, caring for others. I’ve noticed a proliferation of ‘service based’ projects particularly for young people. But I’m not convinced ‘doing service’ is the same as being ready to be of service. It seems to me, doing things for others has become a pathway to recognition and status, it is something to put on the CV. Self-interest and a an almost ‘evangelistic’ fervour around ‘helping others’ is unsettling. This is where altruism gives way to narcissism because of a strong Ego undertone.
That is not to say young people aren’t out there just doing what works. The Student Army after the Christchurch earth quake is a good example.
If you want to serve – join the Navy, you don’t have to be a Macho Man. But if you want to make friends join a group, team, perhaps check out the ‘YMCA.’ Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
‘Doing’ vs ‘being’ continues to interest me.
I think there is an element of tending to the outward result or action that gets privileged in ‘doing’ – doing gets noticed, ‘being’ can be quite internal and unremarkable in many ways. Good to keep pondering.