A Longing for Meaning
There is a nearly universal desire to shape our lives in meaningful ways. We want to feel that life has purpose, and be a part of creating it. A purposeful life starts with understanding yourself, and learning to develop and trust your inner guide. Practices in this transformative way of living are offered in my book, An Intentional Life: Five Foundations for Authenticity and Purpose.
But for life to be purposeful, something else is needed. We must learn to create healthier ways of being in relationship with each other. It has never been clearer.
We are in a crisis of belonging and a collective sense of separateness is causing us great harm, to ourselves and to the planet. Revolutionary belonging requires that we place relating to each other at the center of our core values.
Change takes time, it evolves, and you can’t skip steps. Yet sometimes small movements, built up over time, lead to a critical tipping point and a radical shift in thinking and acting. This radical shift often comes in a time of intense discomfort or crisis. We are in such a time of crisis.
The revolution that needs to take place, and which we are ready for, is a radical shift to new ways of collectively relating to each other. Can we shift how we perceive, think, make decisions and take action in ways that bring the best of ourselves to how we relate to others? Can we do this without diminishing our preferences, needs and unique voices? Our lives depend upon it.
We can make this revolutionary shift if we create places and opportunities to flex our “we” muscles. These muscles have become atrophied in a culture that celebrates winning, acquisition, and the importance of the individual over others. Our cultural values are making us sick, physically and mentally. We can make transformational change when we have access to models of change. With healthy models, we can better build our own versions of alternate realities. Our best chance to do this is within vibrant communities.
The Power of Community
What is a vibrant community? This was the central question I asked as I took a year to visit special communities in order to understand what qualities they shared. I spoke to dozens of people who participated in, reflected on, and wrote about ways to live together differently. They explored ways to honor individuals differences while recognizing the importance of the collective in adding meaning to life.
What did I find? Here are qualities that appeared over and over again. Communities of the future will cultivate these qualities. First, there is a universal commitment to show care and regard for every member of the community. This means that whatever the purpose of a community, it always includes caring for each other as part of that mission. A second quality is acceptance, which is essential for us to develop authentically as individuals. Acceptance means we are valued for who we are and don’t have to hide ourselves. Another quality is diversity. Vibrant communities, unlike most traditional communities, recognize that diversity strengthens community. Vibrant communities also have skillful means to handle conflict or tension, allowing tensions to ultimately strengthen rather than weaken the group. Developing skills to handle conflict can require outside help. Vibrant communities have a gift for welcoming others. They believe in the importance of hospitality toward those not in the group, which helps them move beyond a limited sense of tribe that fuels a sense of separateness. And finally, these communities place a high value on playing together. Because building community is hard work at times, vibrant communities value and make time for celebration and enjoying each other.
If we, as individuals, cultivate these same qualities in all of our relationships, we too can create communities of the future. We do this by allowing room for our uniqueness, and allowing it in others too. But we also learn the benefits of shifting from an individual focus to one in which we learn to belong to each other more skillfully and lovingly. Creating conditions and places for belonging, as a collective, is our best chance at healing the suffering and damage that comes from our crisis of separateness.
Here is an invitation to develop the most authentic version of yourself, and to offer your unique gifts to your communities. Feel free to read blog posts that give examples of others doing the same. May they provide you with support and inspiration as you learn new ways to care for yourself and others.