I am a resident of Boulder Colorado, one of the many towns that experienced or witnessed a huge sense of loss and devastation from the 100-year flood that crashed through Colorado over the last few days. Whenever the rain stops, I hear a constant sound of Chinook helicopters flying over my house to evacuate people and pets who are trapped in the nearby town of Lyons. Lyons is about 20 minutes from my house and one of my favorite places to mountain bike. Like many other parts of Colorado, it looks like the trails are going to need some serious restoration in the months to come.
As I reflect on what the last few days have been like, I realize that one of the biggest gifts to come out of this tragedy is a growing sense of community. Here are some of the things that Boulder residents said:
[stextbox id=”black” color=”000000″ bgcolor=”afacab” bgcolorto=”afacab” image=”null”]
“Amazing support angels kept showing up and beautiful connections happened in abundance…whatever is terrifying to us in the energy of aloneness is nourishing and loving in the energy of community.”
“It’s true that what is frightening alone, can be so enjoyable in community. Some of the grossest and truest experiences the last couple of days. What amazing people bring food, work all day, hang out and have a good time. It’s the quality of the time we spend together no matter what we are doing that counts!”
“The neighbors were coming out in droves. People I didn’t even know offered to help me get water out of my house, bring over fans, or run to the store for supplies. My 19 year old son was walking the streets offering to help people pull furniture out of their house, build trenches, drain water, or anything else they might need. I have never felt a bigger sense of community.”
“I’ve watched a community define itself out of tragedy. They stopped and talked to each other out of genuine concern. Neighbors were going door to door asking if people needed anything. Even my business partners stepped up and supported each other so that people could take the time they needed to take care of themselves and their families.”
The word community has a couple meanings. First, a community is a group of people living in the same place or having certain characteristics in common. Community can also mean a feeling of fellowship that results from sharing common interests, attitudes, and goals. What this looks like in the way you live your life is different from person to person, and from culture to culture.
Some cultures, like America and many Western cultures, value independence. With that comes a sense of self-worth that is based on ability, intelligence, personality, goals, preferences, and personal rights. People strive to be unique, reach for their goals, and value full self-expression. Contrary to this, many Asian, African, and Latin American cultures value interdependence. In interdependent cultures, self worth is based on a person’s ability to fit in and be part of a group and to adjust and attend to the ongoing relationships within the group. People’s sense of “self” is dependent on context, as they strive to establish and follow through with their roles, obligations, and social responsibilities.
Interestingly, it is common for people from independent cultures to tackle things on their own. Not only is this unnecessary, it is likely to cause undue work, frustration, sadness, and pain. In times of crisis, it is clear that even in independent cultures we are not separate from context. We are impacted by, and responsive to, the context in which we live. Much like someone who has experienced a divorce, moved across the country, or started an entirely new career, many of the people in my community are rebuilding. They are working to bring things in their life back to order and begin the process of starting over.
What Can You Gain From Community?
1. Camaraderie: Friendship, companionship, company, and fellowship are all synonyms for camaraderie that represent building mutual trust and friendship among people with whom you spend a lot of time. Whether you organize a regular poker night, or meet to watch football at the local sports bar, these communities are a place to build camaraderie.
2. Normalcy: No one likes to feel like they are alone. Being part of a community allows people to voice their challenges and share their stories. This can help people feel like what they are dealing with is normal, which can restore how they feel about themselves.
3. Support: Being part of community gives you an opportunity to give and receive support. You learn that you are not alone in what your a dealing with, and you work together to solve problems.
4. Ownership: It is normal for people to be attracted to groups and settings in which they feel they have influence or power. Taking ownership allows you to be part of the solution, rather than a victim to your circumstances.
5. Hope: It is easy to lose hope when life throws you challenges. Challenges present a degree of “unknown” that can be both frightening and exciting. Being with others can help you to see that while things are changing, life will move forward and things will get better.
Regardless of whether it is a divorce, a natural disaster, or some other major life event, it takes time, patience, and community to start over and rebuild. I am certain that Boulder will not look the same for many months to come. In fact, it will probably never look exactly the same; just like your life does not look the same when you go through a divorce. Yet, through the process of accepting what has happened, letting go, and rebuilding, you can come the other side content or even inspired by what you have.