Community disengagement does matter.

Yesterday I received a thought-filled email from Hayden Shumsky, a new member of our Ho‘ohana Community, written in response to this post: There is a community looking for you. Hayden is also a coach, and I asked him if I could share his email. In part, this is what Hayden wrote:

“I often work with my clients about the myopia surrounding isolation. As you’ve written- there’s a community looking for you- and this is true for everyone. I say it in a slightly different way to my clients- ‘you are not alone.’ I believe that if you look, you will find and if you ask, you will receive.

For many clients, the feeling of isolation from community is so prevalent that they believe that there is no-one like them or no-one who will share and support their fears, desires, ideas. Breaking free of this misconception is quite powerful and stepping out and finding a sense of community is so essential for personal change. Having a community and support network is the key to success in my humble opinion.”

Hayden reminded me of an article I’d read recently by Gretchen Reynolds for O Magazine, called “Feeling Adrift?” In it, she shares these research findings by Robert D. Putnam, PhD, coauthor of Better Together: Restoring the American Community.

“In the past 30 years, the number of Americans who’ve become members of a group, any group – the PTA, the Elks Club, church congregations, Girl Scouts, bowling leagues – has plummeted.”

And in simpler connections, “”we invite neighbors over for dinner 45 percent less often than in the 1970’s. Such disengagement does matter. The best predictor of a low crime rate in a neighborhood is when most of the people know their neighbor’s first names.”

Health suffers too, when we cut ourselves off from others. “Your chances of dying in the next 12 months are halved by joining a group. Social isolation is as big a risk factor for death as smoking.”

I would agree that community can prolong your life. In my own family, I’m convinced that her social isolation was the reason my perfectly healthy grandmother died shortly after my grandfather did. Without him in her world she had withdrawn from the rest of it, and we were too slow to see we had to help her forge new connections. When my dad passed away, I was so happy to see my mom jump into volunteer work that ran the gamut from candy-striping (how’s that for a word we rarely use any more) to voter registration and answering the telephone at the Aloha United Way. She’s still going strong, with an energy and vitality for life that surpasses many half her age.

The good news? The opportunities for volunteer work and community involvement are bountiful. Community organizers are looking for people to join up all the time. So here’s the question: like my grandmother, and like some of Hayden’s clients, why don’t we take advantage of these opportunities?

Put aside your first impulse to say we are too busy in today’s world: I’m wondering about those who do have the time, and who instead, are living with the “myopia surrounding isolation” that Hayden is talking about.

I may be looking at this far too simplistically, but here’s what I think: people want to be asked to participate and join in. Volunteering, no matter how big the need, is just not easy for people to do. They want to be invited, prodded, and encouraged, and yes, even pleaded with. We all need welcome mats.

Those of us who somehow organize, run, lead or manage a community of any kind must get better at opening our arms to people who need our embrace – kakou, inclusively. Think about what Hayden shares, and consider how you can let someone know that they are needed and wanted, how you can seek them out versus waiting for them to sign up. As a business owner, plunge your company into community connections which open doors for your employees to step through, and let them know that same door is open for others in their families too. Be the catalyst, the connector. Be the one to fulfill the need.

A huge reason I love this world of business as I do, is that we have such opportunity in the realm we are in. We are expected to be leaders. We expect it of ourselves. We are expected to take both the initiative and responsibility for leadership, and we are expected to bring our ‘ohana in business along for the ride.

Community disengagement does matter, and we can make a significant difference.

Thank you Hayden for opening our thoughts on community even wider.

If you have more ideas on this, or stories to share, please do.