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Five ways to think about community

People and cars moving along Main Street in Northfield, Minnesota.

Where do you find yourself in community these days? I know that during the past two years, my typical communities have been shifting. I am finding myself in new communities and reflecting on different ways of being “in community” with others.

Thinking about my communities is giving me new energy and offering new ways to engage with people.

As you read this, I invite you to consider your communities.

Community, in its most basic definition, can be defined as individuals who share a common interest, background or purpose that gives them a sense of cohesion.

Throughout history, groups of people have formed communities. They were formed to increase their chances of survival to look out for each other and support each other. Communities were often formed around common interests or concerns that led to a sense of responsibility to one another.

Today, we often think of community as “people with common interests living in a particular area,” but that is just one way to think about community. There are many types of communities. I invite you to consider these five types to stimulate your thinking about where you find yourself in community.

One: A community of place

Describes communities of people brought together by geographic boundaries. Examples of this include where you live, your hometown where you grew up, and your neighborhood.

Two: A community of interest

Describes communities of people who share the same interest or passion. Examples of this include book clubs, recreational (biking, snowmobiling, hiking) groups, a choir or musical groups, art clubs, and online gaming groups.

Three: A community of practice

Describes communities of people in the same profession or undertaking the same activities. Examples of this include teachers, EMTs, farmers, business owners and a training program.

Four: A community of circumstance

Describes communities of people brought together by external events or situations. Examples of this include a catastrophic event like a flood or a fire, passengers on a plane or train together, and support groups.

Five: A community of action

Describes communities of people trying to bring about change. Examples of this include League of Women Voters, local task forces or coalitions, and service clubs.

Consider one of the five types of community I just described of which you are a part. What does your community have to offer you? 

Being a part of a community can make us feel as though we are a part of something greater than ourselves.

Community, at its best, can offer a sense of belonging, especially when we have opportunities to connect with people and to work on things of mutual interest. This connection, often referred to as ‘social capital’, makes communities better places to live. Having a sense of community can unite us in many ways, especially when attention is given to helping all members of the community feel valued. Being ‘in community’ gives us opportunities to connect with people, to reach for goals the community would like to accomplish, and make us feel safe and secure. This is what community has to offer, though it isn’t the complete story of what makes a community.

Rethink for a moment, not what the community has to offer you, but rather what you have to offer the community. What do you bring to your community?

There are so many ways each one of us can contribute to our communities. Sharing our gifts such as our time, our knowledge and our skills, our resources, and our connections are all important to building a healthy community. 

What we offer, more than anything we receive, sets the tone for the health of the community.

Each of us has an opportunity to influence our communities with the attitude we bring. Several years ago, I came across a story published in the book Stories for the Heart titled "What’s It Like in Your Town?" I have used that story many times as an example in my teaching to emphasize how the attitude we bring, and the actions we take, creates the community where we want to belong.

Being part of a community is something many of us take for granted.

When we are in a community with others, it is also important to remember that not all people are included in community. My invitation to you is to consider who might not be part of a community, who might not yet be benefiting from what community has to offer, or who might not be invited to add value to communities of which you are a part. This is a topic where I’d like to go a bit deeper in a future article to encourage creating strong communities where all people feel a connection.

Community is what you make it. What are you doing to build strong, healthy communities?

“A strong community benefits individuals, the community itself, and the greater society. People who feel a sense of belonging tend to lead happier and healthier lives, and strong communities create a more stable and supportive society.”

— Embracing your community, Penn State Extension

Author: Jody Horntvedt, Extension educator

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