We Need To Get Serious About Community Connection

by Jeannette Mare

We need it, a lot of it, and in our hyper-busy, overly tech-connected lives, we’re not getting enough. By becoming intentional about kindness, we can build and nurture the connections that help to create a healthy community.

On the surface, kindness may seem like a “soft” issue, but evidence is overwhelming that learning kindness skills is vital for individual achievement and community health. Over the past 20 years we’ve seen a sharp decline in social connectedness in this country.  Over half of Americans report having no close confidants or friends outside of their family – over half! This lack of connection leads to all kinds of social and physical problems that can be relieved by helping people learn to connect and engage through kindness. A connected community is the foundation for solving our social problems and together, we can build that foundation.

The 2009 Gallup Arizona Poll revealed that Arizonans highly value community connection but don’t feel connected to one another. Only 12 percent of Arizonans believe that people in their community care about one another. Ouch.

Guess who gets to change this one … Our legislators? Nope, this one’s ours.

Let’s care for each other.

It’s been 14 years since my nearly 3-year-old son, Ben, died. You may know him as the child who inspired Ben’s Bells. Ben’s Bells was born out of the need to honor the kindness that was offered to us after Ben died. It wasn’t until I was face down in that devastating grief that I truly understood how powerful and vital connecting through kindness is.

From my experience, kindness is usually not a polarizing issue. But there are some skeptics who question the value of the practice of kindness or who just oppose the idea of being a joiner. I get it. I joke that as the “kindness lady” I have to leave town to be even a little grouchy. But my experience of the positive benefits of intentionally practicing these skills is undeniable. Even in my darkest moments – and I have plenty of them – I know that I have skills to employ that will allow me to experience those dark feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them and without taking them out on others.

Let’s practice connecting in kindness together.

What does practicing look like? Here are three ways to get started:

1) Take time to think about how you think. Our brains are wired for self-protection, so we can easily make snap decisions that are based on fear, not reality. If we want to be able to shift from automatic reaction that originates in our amygdala, we have to consciously practice noticing that part of ourselves and naming it. This skill, called metacognition, can help free you from the grips of your reptilian brain.

2) Employ empathy. The better you get at metacognition, the more self-aware you’ll become. The more self-aware you become, the more likely you’ll be able to experience empathy. Practice imagining how others feel and try to imagine that their behavior is well-intentioned.

3) Allow time for kindness. Consciously leave for work a few minutes early so you won’t be stressed and self-focused on your commute and schedule time to care for relationships. Take the time to respond to injustice when you see it.

Let’s create a connected community by demonstrating the courage and toughness that it takes to cultivate kindness instead of falling back on cowardly, fear-based reactions. Kindness is not something to be dealt with after the real problems are solved, but rather is the base on which a healthy society is built. Kindness benefits all of us and prepares us to face the problems of the world together.

December 17, 2016

Posted in: Connect