Are online communities replacing real ones?Â Have you noticed that most people are gazing into a hand-held device rather than making eye contact? Have you observed how many people are plugged into their private world of music? Do you have to pull your grandkids away from their Wii or other video game to play Monopoly or toss a ball around? Are you using email to 1. send birthday greetings (guilty!), 2. offer sympathy, 3. get something off your chest (ouch)?
I couldn’t live without the Internet and my cell phone but the way we are today makes me nostalgic for the years I lived in Hoboken, NJ, a true walking town where every errand could lead to a conversation, a collaboration, a dinner invitation or even (so I heard) a proposal of marriage. On a fine summer evening, we would sit on our stoop on 11th Street and chat with neighbors on theirs, or with passersby. A neighbor and I planted flowers in the divider down the middle of our street one summer, and when I go back there, it still makes me feel really happy. I felt very safe living there, knowing a lot of my neighbors, the restaurant owners, the local merchants. Building community the old-fashioned way is still possible. Here are a few ideas on how to get started.
Turn off your TV and/or computer. Leave your house. Look up when you are walking. Know your neighbor. Sit on your stoop. Greet people. Plant flowers. Use your library. Play together. Help a lost dog. Share what you have. Buy from local merchants. Take children to the park. Garden together. Read stories aloud. Dance in the street. Talk to the mail carrier. Listen to the birds. Put up a swing. Help carry something heavy. Donate what you are not using. Have potlucks. Support neighborhood schools. Fix it even if you didn’t break it. Ask a question. Open your shades. Ask for help when you need it. Hand write a thank you note. Pick up litter. Hire young people for odd jobs. Turn up the music. Turn down the music. Organize a block party. Start a tradition. Share your skills. Bake extra and share. Honor elders. Barter for your goods. Volunteer your time. Take back the night. Sing together. Learn from new and uncomfortable angles. Listen before you react to anger. Mediate a conflict. Seek to understand.
(Thanks to Mary Barknecht, a Voluntary Simplicity workshop leader based in New York City, for the tips.)