This post by Kim Sproul from the Extend-A-Family blog looks at how our own assumptions can, intentionally or unintentionally, cause us to exclude others from taking part in community. By recognizing that everyone deserves the opportunity to contribute, to be invited to come together, we can change our assumptions and create vibrant, healthy communities that are welcoming to all.
This weekend I had the privilege of attending two community clean-ups, both coming on the heels of last week’s Earth Day. I say privilege quite intentionally. Being asked to contribute to the health and wellness of your community isn’t an invitation extended to all. I have come to learn this from some of my peers here at Extend-A-Family, who share openly that they do not often participate in these local opportunities, often because they don’t know about it.
While not claiming some insidious intention, the presence of some visual difference often results in some assumptions. I am guessing that one such assumption is that these individuals would not be able to (or want to?) volunteer or offer their support. This assumption can come from both the conscious level (deliberately not asking, fearing/expecting a certain response) or the unconscious level (never considering approaching a certain individual or group).
How often is there a house on the street that is bypassed by door knockers, a mailbox left empty of community flyer, a seniors center or local day program not visited to encourage participation? So often our assumptions about people, whatever the difference or similarity, means people are unnecessarily precluded from participating. Advertisements on a community corkboard reach those who feel and are understood to belong – a moment when they see the flyer and say to themselves, “this is for me”. If, however, there has never been that feeling of togetherness and belonging, such an advertisement is simply a piece of paper talking to other people.
What a loss! Both for the individual and for the community at large. On multiple levels! These opportunities to meet new people, share interests, build common bonds – these natural ‘coming-togethers’ can never be replicated! Nor forced. We rob one another of this beautiful gift, without much thought.
On another level, there is the health and vibrancy of a neighbourhood. When neighbours are encouraged to contribute in whatever ways they find meaningful, and the community relies on one another, there is a gorgeous building of reciprocity. I am seen as both a giver and receiver of support. I am seen and known in both my role as supporter and supported. One without the other will never result in authentic relationships with others. And I don’t know about you, but I yearn to live in the community where I am encouraged to come help clean the school yard, sell my wares in the street garage sale, attend a small gathering of neighbours sharing a meal, get together to problem solve the increased traffic on our street due to other road closures, and suggest a local teen who might be interested in babysitting for a new comer to the street. That’s the street I want to live on … that’s the world I want to live in.