Community used to mean a face to face interaction. Nowadays community has stretched to include the virtual world, including; intimate private groups, vibrant public forums, precious video calls and valuable live streams. All these ways to connect allow some people to feel more connected than ever, but leave others behind feeling lonely.
- What if if you don’t enjoy or feel comfortable using tech?
- What if you don’t have access to a lot of Internet data?
- What if virtual connection just doesn’t meet your connection needs?
As we are all asked to stay at home to ‘keep each other safe’, connection to community has never felt so starkly important to our Society. I wanted to share some of my surprising experiences of community while self isolating.
Where does community live?
In my experience community lives in the feeling of belonging. Community comes alive when you feel like you matter to people. Community shows up to meet you where you are at.
From a communication perspective it lives in the little openers and endings that bookend our interactions. The ‘Hey, how are you?” or the “Take care.” utterances we all know and do.
When we are freely moving around our neighbourhoods it is the friendly “morning”-nod in the street, being recognised and asked how you are in the local shop, or being warmly greeted at your weekly church event or exercise class.
These small verbal exchanges, known in linguistics as phatic communion, serve no other function than establishing, maintaining, and managing our social bonds. The term phatic communion was coined by anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski and means ‘bonding by language’. I find this a really beautiful meaning. It speaks to that sense of belonging we all yearn for. So you can see why it might be really important.
When these language-bonding cues don’t happen it can disturb us on a deep and subconscious level. Leaving us feeling lonely, isolated and depressed.
Interestingly, these small exchanges also matter in online spaces. Have you ever received an email that ignores these social cues? Compare that with the ones that start and end with greetings… For me the greetings feel like I have been seen, considered and acknowledged. Without them, the interaction feels more transactional. This can be fine in a quick flurry of back and forth information, but done regularly it can lead to a facelessness that can feel very detached.
Where I have found a feeling of community during this time
My remote Pomodoro Technique group
I see these lovely social nudges turning up in my whatsapp groups. For example my remote productivity group where we use the Pomodoro Technique in small groups for accountability when working from home. When I drop in for some task-accountability I get a greeting from my fellow ‘pommers’, acknowledging that I have arrived in the chat. This simple exchange makes me feel like I matter, and like there is a little bit of normal here. And I feel a sense of belonging there.
Find out more about the awesome Pomodoro Technique on this Lifehacker blog. If you’d like to know more about how to run a remote group pomming group get in touch. It’s been such a joyful gamechanger for my productivity. But i’ll save the write up for another blog 😀
My newly-online Tai Chi class
Back in the days of going to class in person we would have a tea break between classes, and catch up. Now we are all online we still have our tea break. Catching up with each other and seeing each other drink tea. It’s surprisingly comforting.
Wrap up the week with my co-working group
Every week we used to share a drink (of your choice) and reflect upon our week with a lovely format called Win-F***-Learn. Each person had a few minutes to share some thing that went well, a frustrating thing, and a lesson they got from that week. As we hold space for each other we nurture a strong sense of belonging. This has become so valuable to do from home. Helping me feel the week turn around.
Why small talk matters especially during a crisis
During a crisis normality is stripped away and a whole bunch of weird takes it place. You find yourself using words you didn’t even know existed until now like “furloughed” and “COVID19” in conversations with family. Don’t let weird is not the new normal. We need a feeling of social normality now more than ever to feel grounded, connected and safe!
There are so many ways to reach out. You can leave a little note, make a normal phone call, send a text or speak at a safe distance (until the physical distancing rules lift).
So while we navigate this new not-at-all-normal I invite you to lean into the much maligned small-talk and take time to pop it into your chats, calls and emails. Follow it with a bit of harmless chit-chat. Try questions like;
- How was your weekend?
- What your favourite podcast?
- Are you reading any good books at the moment?
Or just a simple “how are you doing?” and listen to the answer with loving attention.