Making REAL Community

What is “real” community?

I was facilitating a meeting of the Council of Governments in Ephrata, Washington, last night and stumbled across the notion that people are generally in agreement about what “community” is – “You know, its the people and places and cultures and attitudes that surround us at any given point.” All 25 people in the room nodded their heads in agreement.

But then somebody chipped in that that isn’t the same as “real” community. “What is ‘real’ community then?” “Well, it’s the people who we are really connected with, who we really “click” with.”

Maybe the issue is that we don’t really connect or click with very many people. At the turn of the century sociologist Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone, an indictment of modern society’s indifference for this idea of “real” community. Using a bunch of different measures for how Americans are involved throughout their communities, Putnam carefully laid out how our social capital is falling because we don’t have “real” community around us, and because of that we’re all essentially going to hell in a handbasket.

I think that young people are proving this wrong.

Not in droves, and not all at once, but more than ever, young people are connecting meaningfully, powerfully, and purposefully throughout their communities. They’re forming and reforming our ideas of what “real” community is, and along the way they’re strengthening the places we live and the people we live around.

I want to challenge anyone who isn’t sure about what “real” community is, or who doesn’t believe that “real” communities are still being grown, to research and meet any one of the powerful communities featured on The Freechild Project website. And then look for “real” community among the young people of your city or town or neighborhood. Guaranteed, some of them have it.

Now, if we could only get them to show what the secret to forming those communities is…

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