The storms of life test the quality of the house we’ve built for ourselves. If we’ve built well, we will be kept safe in the storm; if not, we’ll find ourselves with a leaky roof and water in our basement, or worse.
In the fall and winter of 2000, in the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in the midst of a lot of storms.
- The Mets lost to the Yankees in the World Series.
- I was diagnosed with cancer and began six months of treatment with chemotherapy and radiation.
- My father passed away unexpectedly.
That was enough trauma for a while, I figured, because what else could possibly happen in 2001?
That I survived and kept moving forward was due, in large part, to the community(ies) to which I belonged. Many people came alongside of me in many ways to help me get through that time. My experience of community kept me safe and stable in the midst of big storms.
What does healthy community provide for us?
Healthy community offers us 2 experiences that are indispensable for our sense of safety and security, and for our formation as human beings.
1. Safety, empathy and “non-shaming”
I need to have regular contact with people who accept me for who and what I am, in all my human-ness. With these people I don’t have to hide; in fact, I’m encouraged by the examples of others to take risks of vulnerability. Those around me don’t compare my story to theirs, but they identify with my pain and with my hope.
2. Attunement and resonance
With these specific people I feel seen, heard, understood and accepted. In the recovery culture of the Twelve Steps, we are encouraged, “Keep coming back until you hear someone else telling your story.” I see my pain, as well as my hope, mirrored in the faces around me. I know they see me. I know I matter to them.
How does healthy community happen?
The mechanism by which this happens is “the shared honesty of mutual vulnerability openly acknowledged” (from one of my all-time favorite books, The Spirituality of Imperfection, by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham). When I realize that I’m not the only one struggling with these problems, I stop feeling alone and start feeling like I’ve come home.
Here’s the fuller quote from The Spirituality of Imperfection:
Human beings connect with each other most healingly, most healthily, not on the basis of common strengths, but in the very reality of their shared weaknesses. … Shared weakness: the shared honesty of mutual vulnerability openly acknowledged. That’s where we connect.
Healthy community happens when we are open rather than closed; vulnerable rather than impregnable; emotionally naked rather than highly defended. If the community we’re creating with others is safe, empathetic and non-shaming, we are building on a firm foundation.
Would you like to brainstorm about how to find or create this type of community? Write, call or come in, and let’s explore this together.