Take 3 Steps Toward Community Cohesion and Fight the Great American Divide
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If our nation is so splintered why aren’t there more voices for unity? We have watched the divide in America grow deeper and wider over the last decade. You can blame it on a president or a social movement if you’d like but blame won’t help us. On a macro level blame seems to be pretty fun and an effective way to make money. It also gets a lot of clicks and gets people pretty riled up.
We have seen brilliant minds diagnose this new aged “tribalism” but rather than find a cure we are left with this burning question:
Is this division in America terminal?
At the micro level the effects can be felt by us all. Its become more than just a simple joke on late night television or a witty bumper sticker. It affects people’s professional lives, their safety and security at home as well as some of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human. We crave interaction and community but so many fear the repercussions of stepping outside the lines of social justice that people are turning to isolation. The riots, the public shaming and violence give us pause and for good reason.
For the last five years we have worked to create a blue print for what I call community cohesion. This is the process of bringing communities and neighborhoods back together. The goal is build stronger more prepared communities.
Prepared for what?
Prepared for the next Harvey, prepared for worse and prepared for nothing at all. There is something to be said about being prepared to enjoy one another’s company. Even that takes some planning but it shouldn’t be over looked.
There is a whole community of survivalists and preppers who believe that in a serious disaster their neighbors will be their biggest enemy. For a while I subscribed to this same type of ideology. I got news for you, this leads to the same type of dehumanization that was used in Germany during WWII. This mindset is incredibly dangerous to society.
Once you get to know your neighbors you will begin to see them for all they are. You will understand what they are worth and the skills they possess. Don’t forget, most people are experts at something. They have a job and they spend 40 hours a week doing a task that could be beneficial in a disaster or in recovery.
I want to talk to you about three highly effective methods for bringing neighborhoods together. These are three methods that we have used to connect our community.
- Neighborhood Watch
- Community Gardening
It may sound like hippy talk, but the community garden is the most powerful first step you can take. I don’t know how to say it any clearer.
Well, it transcends all the ugly division that exists in our nation. The community garden is nearly impossible to argue. No matter where you fall on the social, political, hierarchal, racial or religious spectrum, eyes light up at the idea of growing food in the neighborhood. There is no better way to get people together than over a raised bed with a seed pack in their hands.
You grow much more than sprouts in a community garden.
Our community garden started with a check for $300 dollars from our civic association. We turned that into two raised beds. Our hopes were high and we all wanted people to come out and see the humble beginnings. Well, once the deer found out about our little project they basically ate everything down to the root!
Now, some 6 years later we have a massive plot that is protected by gates and a number of different deer deterrents. Last year we grew 5 types of herbs, zucchini, several types of tomato, okra, cucumbers, kale, radish and jalapeno peppers. It was an amazing yield and most of it went to FeedMore, our local foodbank.
It’s not uncommon to see families with children out there picking food from the community garden. That is a powerful moment to witness. Still, the bulk of its appeal comes from the fact that you will get people talking again. You will form a gardening group and neighbors will slowly start to interact within this group and outside of it.
Communication is the key in any relationship. I feel like that’s common knowledge, so why are we so surprised that our communities are fractured when all the interaction we have is a short walk to the mailbox where we awkwardly look at each other and maybe talk niceties for 45 seconds before scurrying back into the safety of our homes?
Well, in the same way that we cannot flag people down to talk about situational awareness we also can’t jump right into people’s business. If community cohesion and preparedness are really in your list of interests, you will have to put in work and take your time. You will have to slowly open those lines of communication. As much as I hate to admit it, you must start online.
Nextdoor is an incredible application that our community uses daily to communicate all sorts of things. We use it to relay information about road closures and seasonal services. It is also a powerful tool in stopping crime in our neighborhood.
One of my favorite residual benefits of using a communication method like an email group or Nextdoor is being able to check up on at risk populations before and after a weather event.
Eventually groups will form. These little clusters might be event planning committees or parent’s groups. You might have a group of runner or cyclers who communicate as well. They will communicate through the online network you have created. Suddenly, your community becomes a place to live a Dynamic and involved lifestyle.
If you don’t own it, you won’t take care of it. That has become the case with many communities all over the nation. We see these places that are just in disarray because the people who live there do not have a sense of ownership for their community. One of the best ways to build that ownership is to start a community watch.
Its not about owning the home its about owning the community, loving it.
Whether you institute a neighborhood watch that happens from the windows of homes or one that happens through physical walks around the community, it will add a level of ownership to your community that is unmatched
Now, you must be careful about how a community watch is managed. We all remember what happened with Trayvon Martin and Frank Zimmerman. No matter where your heart fell on that issue, we can all agree it was a terrible situation. The best way to start is by talking to the local police. They will offer you tips and give guidance on how to handle situations. They also might spend a little more time in your area as well.
While it may not seem beneficial to have a neighborhood watch in your neighborhood today, this is about ownership. It’s about planning for tomorrow. The future is known to weigh heaviest on the unprepared.
If you like the idea of an active community watch in your neighborhood (not just a sign) then check out www.nnw.org
BONUS: Have Fun Together!
Community brings many more benefits than just stopping crime and growing food. When you have real relationships with real people you grow as a person. Many people are stifled by the isolated life they live. Get out there and have fun in your community.
- enjoy one another
- have a community cleanup
- meet to discuss issues
- Community Yoga
- Easter egg hunts
- Have barbecues
Everyone is looking for the next revolution and right now it seems to be happening on the political and social fringe. The truth is there are far more people out there who just want to get along. Those are the people that make the world go ‘round. We can find power and influence in this revolution of unity through community.
Its gonna take work and you are going to feel the sting of rejection, a lot. Trust me, its all worth it in the end. I look at every neighborhood that follows this path as one stitch that holds civility together.
If you want the full blueprint for how to pull this off read my book Come Unity; Community and get to work!