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Where Do You Find Community?
Karen Erlichman

Recently I have had numerous conversations with friends, colleagues and family members who are earnestly “looking for community.” When I have inquired more specifically about this —their desire, their search-- people often find it challenging to describe exactly what they are seeking. Some of the responses have been:

“I want a place where all of who I am is truly welcomed.”

“I want my partner to feel at home there too.”

“I don’t want to be guilt-tripped about how I’m not doing enough.”

“I don’t want to have to choose allegiances in order to belong.”

My experience and training as a therapist reminds me that we bring all of our disillusionment, wounding and idealism to the search for community: times when we felt alienated, judged, or disappointed; memories or fantasies of a community in which we just fit effortlessly.

As I consider where and how one might locate such a seemingly elusive, perhaps idyllic, place or gathering of people, I can’t help but think about the current political backdrop for this question: economic and political challenges around the globe, street activism and demonstrations from Wall Street to Cairo and beyond, climate change and catastrophe, an upcoming election year, to name but a few issues on the hearts and minds of so many people.

On-line postings, blogs, tweets, and other social media have been described as “on-line communities,” and while they are not an equal substitute for face-to-face conversations, they do provide unique venues for conversation, information sharing and event organizing, particularly for younger generations of activists and community leaders.

What a rich and potent time to engage others in conversations about community, figure out what’s in your heart, build bridges across difference, and learn to listen and speak with what Parker Palmer identifies in his latest book as two “habits of the heart American citizens need in response to twenty-first century conditions, chutzpah and humility.”

How do we value each individual’s voice as well as cultivate our collective, diverse voice of unity around issues that matter most? When we are brave and humble enough to engage in dialogue from the heart that moves us beyond polarities of right and wrong. In doing so, we foster genuine connection, relationship and hope.

There is a poem by global justice activist Starhawk, aptly entitled “Community,” that resonates powerfully with "Healing the Heart of Democracy", and does a wonderful job of naming some of the essential qualities for which people seem to be longing:

Somewhere there are people
To whom we can speak with passion
Without having the words catch in our throats.
Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us,
Eyes will light up as we enter,
Voices will celebrate with us
Whenever we come into our own power.
Community means strength that joins our strength
To do the work that needs to be done.
Arms to hold us when we falter,
A circle of healing.
A circle of friends.
Some place where
We can be free.

Starhawk, from "Dreaming the Dark"

To be welcomed, seen and heard, encouraged to be our fullest, most humble and chutzpadik selves, supported during times of struggle, offered friendship, healing and freedom—these are some of the vital characteristics and fruits of community.

How do you find community?

What communities have you been a part of, and what has mattered most to you about that?

What words have been catching in your throat lately that you might speak aloud in a circle of trusted friends?

Copyright 2014.  Karen Erlichman.  All rights reserved.

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