Intentionally Building Strong Community Ties
You can't live well without being part of a strong community. Generally, that means knowing similar people who live nearby, and being involved in their lives.
In Boston, we didn't have a strong community. We had friends, but were careful about how we presented ourselves in order to maintain those friendships. Our interior lives were separate, and we didn't talk about our deep struggles with others. Nobody was “just like us”, and I would have been embarrassed to ask our friends to go far out of their way to help us if we ever needed it.
Living that way was a pretty miserable experience, although I didn't fully recognize it at the time. Each of these relationships was the sort that only continues so long as both parties are enjoying it. I think this describes a lot of people's relationships today.
When we moved to Idaho, I decided to be intentional about being part of a strong community and forming close friendships. I'd never been part of a strong community before (I always felt like I didn't fit in), and didn't know how to find one. I did know that because being a traditional Catholic is the most fundamental aspect of who I am, the community I needed was a traditional Catholic one.
So I tried! I'd make an effort to meet someone new after Mass every Sunday and maybe invite their family over for dinner. Sometimes I was successful. Sometimes I just stood quietly in a corner being a timid introvert.
It took a year for me to really get the hang of talking to strangers. After that, my efforts started to blossom and pay off. We started hosting gatherings almost every week, and I built up a circle of close friends. These friendships were very different than the ones I'd had before. They were not one-sided needy friendships. These people genuinely cared. I didn't have to wear a social mask around them.
Why are strong communities rare?
It has been more than two years since we moved here. Now, at any parish event, I look around the room and realize I know almost everyone; many are close friends. I didn't realize how big of a deal that would be when I started this journey. I'd rather be destitute and have my community than be the richest man in the world and not have it. It's not even a question I have to think about. My community is part of my identity in a way I didn't think possible.
I believe this kind of community is vital to how people are supposed to function, and losing it is one of the biggest issues causing the rot in society today. We've forgotten who we are, and imagined that more money, power, pleasure, or honor will make us happy. So why did we lose this sense of community?
First, because we're too busy. It's a strange paradox that as our standard of living has increased, our amount of leisure has decreased; the richer we are, the more we work. We also have smartphones and social media that keep us pacified and entertained, such that we don't feel the need to venture out and spend time with others.
Second, because we believe we are forming communities, even when we're not. An online community is not a community in the traditional sense, and it's a shame that we use the same word for both. You might find similar people online and get many benefits from doing so, but you don't get the social capital that comes with a real community. Will the people you've friended on Facebook know when you're sick and come deliver meals without needing to be asked? Will your favorite subreddit offer to pay your expenses while you get back on your feet? Will they come pick you up if you're stranded? Share inner feelings and make sacrifices for you? If you don't see a clear difference, then you've never experienced a real close-knit physical community.
Third, as our culture becomes increasing decadent and immoral, we're losing the willingness to make sacrifices for others. Close relationships that aren't just for convenience or pleasure require significant sacrifice. Strong community ties are like having many more family relationships, and it's a lot of work. Most people today aren't willing to put in that kind of work without thinking of themselves.
How can you build up your community?
The decline in community—and the corresponding lack of social capital—is destroying our society. It's been a primary factor in an epidemic of loneliness, suicide, drug abuse, violent crime, and the inability to civily disagree with others. What other factors contributed to this decline, and how do we stop it? What can you do this week to build up a sense of community around yourself?
Here are some ideas:
- Go to church and stay to talk to people afterward.
- Knock on the doors of houses on your street and introduce yourself. Bring a small gift, like cookies.
- Whenever you meet someone you might get along with, schedule a meetup together. Family dinner, coffee, playdate at the park, etc.
- If you walk by someone who doesn't look busy, stop and chat for a minute. Be brief, but show that you're willing to connect.
- Put your phone (and headphones) away while in public. You won't meet many people if you're looking down.
- Brighten the day of each person you talk to, even when you're in a bad mood. Make them smile.
These basic social skills will open up a bright new world of deeper human connection.