Good communities—make them happen!

One of the joys of participating with several colleagues in a speaking troupe we call Thinking Forward involves creating thoughtful talks for our audience. Our latest theme, Transforming Your Community for Good, got me thinking…

What do communities look like?

Communities of people come in lots of different sizes and shapes. They may be specialized and similar or diverse and different in terms of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, cultural background, residence, level of education, economic status, type of employment, or some other demographic.

Communities likely have insiders and outsiders. They are exclusive in some way. Members may live in the same neighborhood. They may work for the same employer. Maybe they have the same professional degrees or licenses. Communities can have different structures. They can be hierarchical, where members fall somewhere between the top and the bottom. They can be flat, where all members have an equal voice. In some communities, you already belong. If you graduated from a specific college, you are in the community of alumni. In others, you have to join. For example, membership in an association of alumni likely makes you a more exclusive member of the community, with additional perks.

Though communities look different, members share a bond; there is common thread; there is a tie that unites. And all communities—as different as they are—are part of a global community of human beings who breathe the same air, walk the same earth, and touch one another, someway, somehow.

How do you know a good community when you see one?

Good communities can be anywhere and everywhere. And you know a good community when you see one. These communities seem to live by some sort of exemplary standard or model of excellence—sometimes written and objective; other times informal, unspoken, and subjective—that is evident and visible. You can experience their goodness. You know them by their fruits—there’s love and laughter, friendship and respect, joy and kindness, compassion and strength, and so much more.

How do we create a good community?

We can follow the example of communities in which many people enjoy a good, extra long, healthy, meaningful life. According to findings in the Reverse Engineering Longevity study by Dan Buettner and a National Geographic team who studied the world’s longest-lived people, there are communities that seem to have found the secret to living long and living well. In the Barbagia mountainous highlands of inner Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece, an Aegean Island; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; the Seventh Day Adventists community near Loma Linda, California; and Okinawa, Japan; people behave in ways that add years to their life. They move naturally. Physical activity is built into the fabric of their daily routine—there’s no need to work out at the gym. They have a purpose for waking up each morning and have rituals to shed stress. They stop eating when they are 80 % full, eat more plants and less meat, and drink wine—in moderation, daily, and with friends. Faith, family, and social networks that support healthy behaviors are part and parcel of everyday life. You can learn more about Reverse Engineering Longevity by Dan Buettner here.

Reading about the guiding principles for designing an urban landscape provides yet other clues. The designers’ plan for creating a good city included enhancing the pedestrian experience; constructing gateways to connect districts, neighborhoods, and sites; greening the downtown area; developing the river; and creating mixed-use neighborhoods. One can only imagine the wonderful possibilities for community members to live a good life in an urban setting that is both functional and beautiful. You can learn more about how one community envisioned its future here.

Your turn

Think of the many organizations in your world. Think of them as communities of individuals with shared interests, shared values, shared resources, shared space. What do the good communities in your world look like? What makes them good? What can make them even better? I’d love to hear from you.

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