To be lonely is different than being alone. Being alone sometimes is necessary, but being lonely is not.
A sixth way to expand your child’s world is to help him or her learn how to become a part of various communities. A community is defined by proximity, shared goals and interests, or a shared identity or purpose. In contrast, isolation is not belonging, or being separate either by your own hand or someone else’s.
Traveling long distances, communicating across the globe, and accessing information is getting easier, so as the world is expanding, it’s also easier to interact less. People are less prone to live near family members, less likely to stay in the same community for generations, and rely less on friends, families, and neighbors than they did before.
The world is also shrinking, because we can fill up our lives with the wrong activities, so much so, that the experiences that give us actual emotional substance happen less often. Today’s financial pressures cause more and more families to need two incomes to survive, and we are inundated with ‘busy-ness’. What gives us real substance are those experiences when we are in community together. When you help build up a person or group, and proliferate ideas or resources for the greater good, is when you gain substance. I met a girl once who said, “my parents were well off, but they lacked substance”. That’s a fascinating observation and affected her entire well-being. I admired her for choosing to be different.
Life Lesson: “We give back to our community because it’s better for everyone, even us.” If you’re not used to investing in your community, it might take some small experiences for you to see how it truly is better for everyone, and how it benefits you personally. The penalty of isolating yourself is too high not to try. By the way, you will need to make constant effort to be part of communities. You, and the communities in which you belong, are in constant flux with regard to needs, fit, lifestyle or ‘culture’, and therefore ‘season’.
Einstein once said, “It’s strange to be known so universally and yet be so lonely.” Regardless of your ‘station’ and personality, you must learn how to be a giver and a receiver. Here are some baby steps to living better ‘in community’.
- Name all the communities in which you belong, starting with your nuclear family and radiating outward until you realize you’re in community with mankind on Earth as well. For example, I am part of my nuclear family, extended family, and my neighborhood, city, state, region, and country, and nations. I am part of a community group for moms and babies, called Active Mama’s, and a homeschool group. I am part of a prayer ministry and the people that share the same faith. I am part of my alumni classes from two universities. I am part of my work teams. I am a part of my local Toastmaster’s chapter and Le Leche League Chapter. I am a part of several different online communities. I am among the very blessed adopted people on the Earth. I am a female, and I represent the young thirty year olds in America. You get the idea.
- Now, clarify how you belong in each group. Are you a silent member, serve on a team, a leader, a volunteer, an expatriate? How much time do you devote to the group? With whom and when do you interact? Anyone you’d like to interact with but need an introduction? How do these interactions feel to you? Why are you experiencing these particular feelings? Are there any unserved needs of yours for which you need to find a different community? Which community will you forgo in order to make room for the new one?
- Write down why you are part of each group. What purpose does the group serve in your life? What do you gain? What do you give? How much impact do you want to have, and how much do you want to impact the group, and at what level? Could anyone else you know benefit from one of your communities?
- What are your action items from this exercise? Is there anything you need to change as a result of this exercise? On what timetable? Any new realizations? Do any of your action items require input or resources from other people? What can you do about these changes in the next 2 days?
Once you can do this for yourself, you can do this exercise for your child. Once you can do this exercise for your child, you can teach your child how to do this exercise for him- or herself.
Let me be more specific. You can work with your child on how to cooperate and communicate; be well-liked, respected and valued; and get involved in community affairs. You can learn how to stay informed, have a voice, be a good neighbor, and why and how to protect the environment. You will learn when and how to obey ‘laws and rules’ and respect authority, and when and how to create changes and become a leader. Your child will learn that community is better than isolation, and that being alone is sometimes necessary, but feeling lonely is not. Your child will learn how to do that ‘higher level thinking’, that helps him or her see the big picture, have an opinion, and assert that opinion through tactical and practical steps for the greater good. You will also both learn when and how to gracefully ‘bow out’ or ‘step down’.
I’m wondering how you all feel about this specific life lesson. How motivated are you in your strategic decisions about the ‘who, what, when, where and how’ in your life? What is the moment that causes you to get off your seat and move your feet, use your voice, and rally together? Are you happier floating in the breeze, and taking life as it comes, or playing an active role in your outcomes? P.S. I don’t think there’s necessarily a wrong answer here, as long as you realize the ‘absence of choices and voices’ is still a choice. Finally, what other ideas do you have to help your children, and me, become healthy members of communities?