by Paul Born, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement
Thanksgiving, Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ashura, Bodhi … these are just some of the seasonal celebrations that bring people together to remember, celebrate and enjoy each other. For people like me, who has a community and people to be happy with, it is a season of blessings. However, for others, such times can be a source of loneliness and pain.
I have often wondered what it would be like to be homeless and invited to a charity Christmas dinner. Songs are sung, lots of traditional food is served and many well-meaning people are making themselves happy by serving you. Would the experience evoke happy memories of Christmas past? Or would it evoke pain by heightening your awareness of your present situation?
The feeling of emptiness or being alone is another common feeling for many during the holidays. It is a paradox when the holiday season is often so full and busy. Alone is not just for isolated people. It can permeate one’s being even during the most festive occasions.
Can community find us this holiday season? Can we find community? I am struck by a simple understanding: our sense of community is easily shaped by our expectations. When I go to a sporting event or seasonal concert, my expectations about finding a sense of community are low. I do not go to these events expecting to find much more than a common love of the sport or the music. Yet, when I gather with my family, my expectation of a sense of community is much higher. I want to feel cared for and I want to show caring. If these opportunities or feelings of caring are not present, I feel disappointed, or, worse, I feel alone and my longing for belonging and community becomes far greater.
Faced with these possibilities, I have two choices for how to approach the holiday season. First, I can manage my expectations. If I keep them low, then I will not be disappointed. Many of us enter family events this way. A second option is for me to be deliberate about building or deepening my feeling of community.
Here are some examples of what that might look like this season:
- Build some fun new traditions – Invite people to go for a pre-meal walk; place “crackers” on everyone’s plates and crack them open one at a time; play a group game like charades; or open gifts one at a time in a circle. Research confirms that people who spend time together and enjoy the company of each other build bonds of trust that lead to a greater ease of reciprocity.
- Build opportunities for everyone to contribute – Potlucks are famous for encouraging and celebrating this. They not only make a party easier and more fun to host, but they provide an opportunity for everyone to simultaneously care and be cared for.
- Evoke collective caring or altruism – Suggest that everyone bring a hand-made, local or fair trade gift. Assemble care packages or school kits. Have people share their favorite seasonal stories of resilience or take a moment to reflect on others whose situations may not be as fortunate as our own.
Have fun together. Take care of each other. Work for a better world. These are three simple ways to be more intentional about deepening our experience of community.
Take stock of your expectations when you gather together this holiday season. It is amazing what a little creativity can do to bring people together.
- Visit Seeking Community, Tamarack’s Online Learning Community for exploring the power of community
- Subscribe to A Seekers Journal - an e-newsletter exploring the possibilities of community
- Visit the Seekers Journal Archive to find past issues
- Learn more about Paul’s forthcoming book, Seeking Community: Finding Belonging in Chaotic Times