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The Need for Community

Let me confess this up front: I’m not really what most would call a “people person”.  I know I’ve mentioned it before here, but I’m somewhat slow to meet people, even when those people come into my turf (like my workplace, or church). I just have a tough time thinking of ways to get conversations started, and I dread the awkward pauses that are sure to come fairly quickly after we start talking.

But, here’s the thing: even people like me need others around us. I’d prefer that they left me alone most of the time, sure, but I do enjoy having others around me, just for the sense of them being there.

We humans are social creatures. We’re made for living together in groups. Some of us like groups that are bigger (like New Yorkers), and some would prefer smaller communities (like those of us who wouldn’t live in New York if you paid us). But, we all need people around us. It’s an innate drive that we can’t overcome no matter how hard we try.

This need for community stems from the fact that we’re not good at everything we need to be good at in order to survive.  We’re specialists to some extent.  We are supported by, and in turn support, others.  Where our talents end, other’s talents begin (and vice versa).  We each have something to contribute.

But this is more than just some vague, general understanding that, “Yeah, I can’t milk cows, so I’m glad that the grocery store has 2% in their refrigerated cases”.  Beyond the understanding of specialization within a society, there’s actual community.  There are groups of people (we call them “family” and “friends”) who support you when you need help, celebrate with you when something goes well, and generally just make life more pleasant when they’re around.

We rely on these people to greater or lesser extents every day, depending on the situation, our psyche, and what random circumstance brings up.  But, not a day goes by when we can do it on our own.  We always need someone else’s contribution to our lives, no matter how much we pride ourselves on self-reliance.  It’s possible that we can make it on our own, but it’s certainly not possible that we can make it the best way on our own.  We need each other.

I say all this for this reason: I know that I personally get frustrated with the people around me, even the ones that care about me the most.  I struggle with my attitude, calling people “jerks” and “idiots” in my head or behind their backs, even if not always to their faces.

I need to learn to have more patience with others, as I know they have to have patience with me.  I need to make allowances for people to act the way they’re going to act, even when it frustrates me.  Because, from the very same mind that causes those annoyances also generates the actions that make my life worth living.

Focus on the good in people, and learn to cut them a little slack.  You’ll probably find that they begin to cut you some, as well.  And goodness knows, you probably need more slack than they do.

Why Doing What’s Hard Is Worth Your Time

Ed. Note – If you want to really understand what I’m talking about in this post, I’d recommend that you read this one first.

If the point of life is to tell a good story, then we’re going to need some conflict. Most people would say that they have enough conflict in their daily lives just by fighting traffic, fighting with customers, or fighting with their spouse.  But is this really what we mean by “conflict”?

I don’t think so.  These kinds of conflict don’t lead toward anything positive.  There’s meaningless struggle, and then there’s meaningful struggle.  The former just makes you tired.  The latter makes you stronger.

How can we tell the difference?  Why is it that some people struggle for 10, 20, 30 years climbing the corporate ladder only to discover that the conflicts they faced every day weren’t really important?  A lot of this has to do with what I wrote about previously in my Life Design series of articles, especially the ones related to getting a vision for your life.  If whatever struggle you’re involved in doesn’t get you closer to attaining your vision, then it’s ultimately going to be meaningless.

Much great literature throughout history has been written as a riff on the Hero’s Journey.  The protagonist of the story (the “Hero”) is met with a call to action very quickly.  The call is typically refused, and it’s only through great reluctance that the journey is finally undertaken.  Why?  Because something occurs to force the character to do what it needs to do.  It’s the “incitement” that puts a boot in their butt to get them out the door.

The problem in our culture is that we are rarely incited to do anything.  Simply having a desire to live a good story isn’t enough.  Humans are creatures of habit, and we shun uncomfortable circumstances.  We will do ANYTHING to avoid breaking out of our routine or our comfort zone.  There are very few people who will leave a comfortable position (job, location, relationship, whatever) for an unknown simply because they’re curious.  Sure, they’re out there, but they’re a rare breed.

We’d rather tolerate a crummy position at work where we’re underpaid and under-appreciated than make an effort to do something else.  We’d certainly rather do that than just quit our jobs with no safety net to find out what it is we’d rather do.  I’ve personally stayed in a relationship in the past that I KNEW wasn’t going anywhere, and was probably detrimental to my emotional well-being, simply because I was used to it and I didn’t want to be alone.  That’s. Just. Stupid.

And yet, people do it all the time.

The success stories that you hear of people finding the right partner or the right career or what have you almost always seem to start with, “So, I had just been laid off” or “One morning, my girlfriend called and said ‘We need to talk,’”.  It’s only when the option to stand still has been taken away do people find the nerve to move forward.

Simply because there’s no other choice.

Telling a good story with your life is HARD.  It’s going to be scary at times, because it will require you to get out of where you’re comfortable and make a leap of faith.  You’ll go through fits and starts of kinda sorta wanting to do something, but never really going all-out because you’re unwilling to be committed to it 100%.

How do we get those incitements?  Do we need to wait for them to occur organically in our lives, or can they be manufactured?  I think we can cause them to happen, but it requires us to make a pact.

A pact with ourselves.

We’ve become so conditioned to not making an effort that we begin to forget how to really care about what it is that we do.  We aren’t in the habit of promising anyone anything for fear of not being able to follow through.  “I’ll do my best” has taken the place of “I’ll get it done”.  Our word ceases to be worth anything to anyone, especially ourselves.

In order to win, in order to make a change in your story, you need to first commit to YOURSELF that you will do whatever it takes to make the change.  If you can’t make a promise to yourself and know that you’ll keep it, no matter what, then who can you trust?  If you’re going to punk out on promises you make to yourself, then you’ve got bigger problems than simply not telling a good story.

Photo “Determination” courtesy: Randy Son of Robert

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