* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Six Things Your Community Could Be Providing

We've taken a look at the necessary ingredients for meaningful, authentic community. Now, we return to the big questions we hope such a community might help us answer.
  1. How do I live in such a way that I'll be satisfied with how I influence the world around me?
  2. What am I passionate about? What personal life dream of mine creates greater wholeness in the world?
  3. Where do I find a genuine sense of belonging? Where do I find authentic community? 
  4. What fears get in my way? How can I dismantle those fears and understand what I actually want?
  5. How can I get what I most deeply want and need by creating less suffering and greater wholeness?
Specifically, let's look at the intersection of questions 1, 2, and 5. We've already dismantled the criticism that these questions are selfish. We know that we may have to do a bit of introspection and self-examination to determine meaningful answers to these questions, and that can seem like hard work. On the other hand, these questions are all interconnected, so it's likely that the answers are connected too.

Chances are that we are already engaged in community in some way. Human beings are relational, so it's an intrinsic part of being human to form community. Sometimes, the communities we find ourselves in are by happenstance, and sometimes our participation in them is a conscious decision. Whatever the case, we can choose to be more intentional in how we show up in those communities. This involves knowing ourselves well enough to understand what moves us toward wholeness, and it involves giving ourselves permission to do those things.

Knowing ourselves well enough to understand what moves us toward wholeness is a fancy way of saying understanding what we really want. We have to get past our anxiety in order to know this. When we're anxious, what we want in the immediate sense is for the anxiety to go away. If we can't manage our anxiety well, our autopilot reactions will make decisions for us. We can't get what we most deeply want unless we shift into a more intentional way of choosing our responses. 

Sometimes our anxiety is specifically about what we want. We believe that we have to want something noble or grandiose or selfless in order to be "good" people. Or we tell ourselves that we don't deserve what we want, or that we haven't earned it. And we usually don't have a very reasonable sense of what it would take for us to deserve or earn what we most deeply want. Sometimes we even justify not tending to our own needs because we are waiting on a supernatural to arrange our lives differently. And these are just a handful of the nearly infinite roadblocks we put in our own paths. 

The first hurdle, then, is recognizing that what we most deeply want is important. When we understand our personal guiding principles -- our internal guidance system -- and can connect what we want with our deepest values, this hurdle becomes easier to cross. Knowing the principles by which we want our lives to be governed gives us a solid foundation for determining whether we are identifying what we deeply want or we are instead just coming up with the most expedient way to make our anxiety go away. 

Our guiding principles also give us a way to cast vision in our lives, to imagine what a best possible version of ourselves might look like. This vision is, essentially, a way of identifying what we most deeply want. When we engage our imaginations, we can ask ourselves: What would I look like if I were in complete integrity with my guiding principles? The answer to that question is a vision toward which we can orient our decisions -- and something with which we can realign ourselves when we get off course. And we know when we are off course by recognizing when we are reacting out of anxiety rather than making intentional choices.

Orienting around our guiding principles may give the impression that what we most deeply want needs to be lofty and demanding. This is not necessarily so. Most often, what we most deeply want is not so different from what everybody most deeply wants. We just put a lot of obstacles in our own way, including believing that what we want has to fall into neat categories of either "shamefully selfish" or "impressively selfless". The truth is that what we most deeply want is probably rather simple, and our deepest wants probably help meet other people's needs too.

If what we most deeply want is a sense of belonging, for instance, the healthy community we create from that desire is going to benefit others as much as it benefits us. Rather than judging what we are passionate about, then, we have the potential to connect what we are passionate about with our deepest values and make intentional decisions in our lives. We can create community around anything, provided it aligns with our life-affirming guiding principles. 

(I'll reiterate here what I've said elsewhere: If you think your guiding principles aren't life-affirming, you haven't uncovered your actual guiding principles yet. You may have uncovered a fear you didn't know about, but our deepest values are not built on fear. Don't make excuses or feel ashamed when you get to this point, just be honest about the fear and keep searching for the deeper life-affirming values that it's covering up.)

Being honest about what is fulfilling to us -- and being sharp about distinguishing what we most deeply want from our anxious reactivity -- gives us a way toward creating greater wholeness for ourselves and for the world around us. When we engage in any community intentionally, we have the opportunity to develop deeper understanding of ourselves, more meaningful connection with the people around us, and a greater sense of purpose. Meaningful, authentic community inspires our creativity and provides us with accountability so we can stay aligned with our deepest values more consistently. 

The surface level activities of the community don't really matter (provided they're aligned with your life-affirming values). Bowling league, neighborhood parenting co-op, book club, activist organization, community garden, artist collective, whatever. We can be intentional about how we show up in any community, ensuring that our authentic needs are met in legitimate ways and simultaneously contributing toward wholeness in the lives of others. 

If you want a way to consider the strengths and growth edges of your particular community, some research by a couple of students at Harvard suggest six categories of human need that are met by authentic, meaningful community. You can read about their observations of various secular communities at www.howwegather.org. Their evaluation includes some theistic language, but it's easily ignored or translated. I just mentioned the six categories a couple of paragraphs back, but I'll list them again. If your community does one or more of these things well, that's something to celebrate. If it has challenges with one or more of these areas, that may be something you want to build up.

First, community provides for a basic human need in and of itself. Making sure the community has integrity -- that it is meaningful and authentic, as we've discussed over several entries -- is important. Belonging is important for human beings, but building community with a clear identity in which people are genuinely welcomed and accepted can be challenging.

Second, meaningful authentic community gives people opportunities for personal transformation. When we feel safe and can be honest about our deepest values, community can help us align our lives better. We can grow in our personal integrity and authenticity. 

Third, meaningful authentic community give people opportunities for social transformation. This means, we develop more mature and intentional ways of engaging in the world around us. We become more aware of how we can contribute to greater wholeness in the world.

Fourth, meaningful authentic community helps us identify a sense of purpose. Life doesn't have a larger purpose, but human beings are meaning makers -- we determine what will give us a sense of purpose. Even though defining purpose comes from within ourselves, being in community can inform that journey. 

Fifth, meaningful authentic community engages our creativity. Human beings are, by nature, creators. This doesn't mean we are all artistic, but rather that we all have the ability to contribute to creating something new. Community can provide us with collaborators and inspiration.

Finally, meaningful authentic community provides us with accountability -- people who will pay attention to what we say we want in our lives and will keep us encouraged and empowered to take the next steps in that journey. When we set public goals, healthy communities will hold us to those goals until we redefine them. People who care about us, care about what we want for our lives.

If we understand our personal guiding principles, we can identify our deepest wants and needs more easily. Any community can become a place where we engage in having our personal needs met while we contribute toward greater wholeness in the lives of others. Every community can probably become better at the mutual practices of self-disclosure, active and unconditional love, hospitality, truth-telling, and celebration. Every community can probably become better at setting healthy boundaries and clarifying shared purpose or vision. And every community can be evaluated by how well it provides a genuine sense of belonging, opportunities for personal transformation, social transformation, defining purpose, engaging creativity, and offering accountability.