Community. Beehive or lone wolf? Which one describes us and which one do we really want to be? I will be honest and say that for most of my life, the image of a lone wolf is the one that I identify with, but I acknowledge that there is something mesmerising about the beehive that attracts me and that I want to be a part of. I don’t think that’s just about producing a sweet golden liquid that never perishes, but more about realising that there is a place for each person within the hive. And that is a thought which every community can embrace.
In a recent blog, I looked at what it means to be a community and if I am honest, I only scratched the surface of this subject. A community includes not only what is happening within the city or town, but also in our neighbourhoods, residential complexes and blocks. This is where the heart of the community lies, the network of relationships that support us and where - for better or for worse - our actions have enduring impact and importance.
As I am contemplating this, I am well aware of the fact that it is not comfortable for any of us to look so closely into our backyards and that there is a certain safety in talking about what is happening ‘out there’. But I also know that aside from contributing to worthy charities and good causes, there is so much that we can do on a personal level to help build our local community.
So in order for me to unravel this topic, you will have to bear with me as I take you on a journey of ramblings. Thoughts and ideas which may or may not exist in your present locations. Challenges which we may not want to think about. Encouragement to keep building relationships and to not give up.
Although I cannot claim to have any skills in physically building things (quite the opposite, I have a natural gift for breaking things even when I’m not trying…!), I am drawn to the idea of construction and of creating something where previously nothing has existed. So I like the idea of constructing things, but more often than not, I end up breaking something and often that happens unintentionally.
Isn’t that just what happens to some of the relationships around us? I’m not referring to the relationships that drain us and should be reassessed, I’m referring to our intention to have strong relationships and then somehow, without much effort, the wrong thing comes out or what we say is interpreted in completely the wrong way, tiredness takes over and means that we hear half the sentence and all of what has been said or sometimes, pure selfishness gets in the way of us showing someone how much we truly care about them and appreciate them. Hmmm… It happens to all of us at some moment in time and most of the time, these slips are unintentional.
Just recently, I made the decision to tell two of my friends just how much they meant to me. So often we wait for a moment of crisis to put things into perspective and say the things that truly matter and I decided that before we face another wave of the Coronavirus or someone was facing a life-threatening illness to tell these two friends just what they meant to me. The reaction I received from one friend was rather amusing. ‘Have you been smoking something?’ I was asked. This made me chuckle as neither soft drugs nor hard drugs have ever played a part in my life, but it did also reiterate to me just how unaccustomed we are to hearing words of appreciation from those who we care about the most. Even though we don’t do it so often, it’s not too difficult to contemplate doing this for those who we care about. But what about those who are irritating, rude, self-serving or just a general nuisance? And let’s be honest there’s a few of those sorts in everyone’s lives and neighbourhoods.
I think that part of our problem lies in the fact that we see the person who is right before us, only as they are in that moment. At this moment, whatever annoying characteristics they are portraying seem to be the end of the story for us. Do we ever take the time to understand that there is much more to know? Or that perhaps we have just met them at a difficult moment in their lives. Of course we don’t. We are aware of ourselves and the impact that the other person is having upon our lives in that given moment. Granted, I know that there are toxic relationships that need to be either eliminated from our lives or contact time reduced, but in between the toxic relationships and those who we love is a wide playing field filled with every possible character under the sun. And somehow we have to find a way to deal with all of them.
So the irritating person who jumped in front of you in line at the supermarket, the neighbour who plays her music so loud that you can’t hear an audio message on your phone when the volume is on maximum (one of the situations that I must currently deal with), the family member who perhaps doesn’t treat you in the right way, a friend who is tired and misunderstands what you have been trying to say or a business arrangement that wasn’t successful as a result of someone’s interference, these all add or detract to our day in either a positive or negative way. And on these I have a simple thought that I want to share with you.
Of course it is possible to flare up, shout aggressively or even make some snide remarks just loud enough to get under the other person’s skin, but we know that in reacting this way, we haven’t helped the situation to become any better. My simple solution is this; try to find a solution for whatever problem you are facing. And nine times out of ten, there is a solution. Find it. Be empathetic and kind and you will discover that bridges are built and communication flows.
Let me tell you something that happened recently which is an example of this, but before I do, I want to emphasise that many times I do not get it right and I am by no means setting myself up as someone who has it all together. My situation involves a family member who when stressed or tired sends some very short and abrupt Whatsapp messages. Just recently there was a family video call between six of us in three different countries and I noticed that this particular family member was ill at ease and rather tense. during the call. Following the call, we had a short Whatsapp message conversation that went like this;
My message: ‘Are you alright?’
The response: ‘WHAT DO YOU THINK?!’
That was definitely the sort of response that could cause me to react something like this:
‘Well, how would I know? That’s why I was asking!!!’
Yet I know that this response would have just started a Whatsapp conversation fraught with tension and misunderstanding. I tried something different and to be completely honest and this was my response:
‘I think that you are fed up and have had enough.’
My response sparked a communication flow that lasted for about half an hour with complete honesty and transparency on both sides.
Bridges. Easy to build and easy to burn. Both require our decision and our permission. The person who is irritating you today may very well be the person who lends you a helping hand tomorrow. Our choice of action should never be determined by the person who is in front of us, although much of the time we are reactive as opposed to cool, calm and collected. But what if we made a decision to be the same to everyone, no matter how they treated us? Consistency in me. Not determined by circumstances or individuals. A solution or olive branch offered to all during my day. As I pour more Burn Yo Face Hot Sauce on my tofu for my supper, I look out the window and reflect upon what a community built on small bridges between neighbours, flatmates, friends and colleagues would look like. Bridges being built and not burnt. I like it. Yes, I’ll build the bridges and save the burn for my palate.