Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Characteristics of a Supportive Community

Community. Most people want it, and feel they aren’t getting enough. And it matters, if we’re going to grow, if we’re going to persevere, because most people don’t amount to much of anything without a supportive community – much as we Americans like the myth that we can lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

What does community look like, so we can look for it, cultivate it, and provide it to others? This list from a session at the Navigators workshop I attended rang true with me:

Care giving: Do you have a community where you receive this, not just provide it for others?

Transparency: Do you have a place to go where you feel you can be honest and open with others about your life?

Vulnerability: What about inviting feedback from others? Going beyond transparency, vulnerability is allowing others to respond to you (hence making you able to be wounded).

I realize I often get to “transparency” and stop there: vulnerability has a higher price tag. It’s not safe. So the next item is:

Safety: If you're like me, you're looking for an environment of grace, where you are free to be who you really are, not giving in to pressure to cover that up with something more acceptable or impressive.

Affirmation: Environments characterized by affirmation are rare. The best affirmation is that which recognizes, speaks to, and encourages our true, essential identity; not just praising our ability to perform to others’ expectations.

Acceptance: This aspect of community may be the flip side of affirmation. It’s not hard to find a group of people who will accept us on the basis of our strengths or accomplishments, but what about a place where our weaknesses are accepted?

Protection: Members of a supportive community protect one another and help each other in areas of weaknesses. (If, on the other hand, you feel you have to protect yourself, you will find yourself vulnerable to those same weaknesses.)

All this sound too good to be true? Which are you experiencing? Which are you feeling the lack of?

Among the hindrances to experiencing community, said the speaker, are:

  • Independence (self-sufficiency).
  • Task-orientation (i.e., an environment of performance rather than grace).
  • Unreconciled relationships (e.g., harboring hurt and anger or withholding forgiveness from others).

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