Where It All Started
My first experience with being a part of a found community was a political volunteering experience where I spent my weekends walking the hot streets of the Las Vegas suburb knocking on doors and talking to voters. I hoped someone would answer, and asked them if they were registered to vote. I originally signed up with the goal of beefing up my college resume, but instead of getting into Harvard, I left with a newfound interest in political engagement and community activism.
My most important takeaway from this entire experience was that communities are created to support and help people. I learned that I was passionate about racial equality and environmental conservation and that being part of a community helped me address these issues. Ever since then, I have continued to nurture my interest by finding good communities to be a part of.
For one, finding a community can make us feel less alone. The transition from high school to college was one that was quite lonely at first. I only hung out with one person on a regular basis during my first semester, and even as someone who never needed a lot of friends, I was having a hard time. Joining clubs on campus gave me the chance to meet new people, make new friends, and improve my overall mental health. For example, I joined Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity dedicated to mentoring leaders, but also where I met the best friends I have had in college so far.
Communities can be empowering. Identity-based communities are built up of people who share a similar or same identity, and they can be not only uplifting but also helpful. When I joined IGNITE, I wanted to connect with other women looking for similar career paths, and at every meeting, I learned more about what they’re doing around the community and how they have overcome challenges in their own lives.
Through my interactions with other people in these communities, I discovered what I care about and how to pursue it. They hold a special place in my heart. Communities have the power to change the world for the better. What’s equally important to communities is the action of all of us showing up, for if no one shows up, there is no community to be part of.
What most people don’t realize is that there are countless ways to show up. Though I’ve mentioned extensively my involvement in organizations, I also show up by voting, by supporting small businesses, by having tough conversations, and countless other ways.
By now, voting has been jammed down all our throats to oblivion, so I’ll keep this short. While it may not seem obvious at first, voting is a way of showing up. When we vote, we show our support for who we care about, and in turn, what we care about. This upcoming election is one way we can vote (vote.org is a fantastic resource), but don’t forget about local elections, or even elections within our organizations and schools.
Having Tough Conversations
As another unlikely candidate for what it may mean to show up, having tough conversations is about exposing the people closest to us to issues they don’t understand but are important to discuss. These conversations can be hard to start and even trickier to navigate, but here are some basic tips.
#1: Come in with the right mindset.
Just like how you’re not going to go skydiving without being mentally prepared, you’re not going to have tough conversations without knowing what you’re getting yourself into. Be ready for push back. Be ready for frustration. It takes time to unlearn our biases and our beliefs, and these conversations should never resort to character attacks. Be ready to be more patient than you have ever been in your life. Know that a conversation likely won’t even be enough to change their minds, but even planting the idea can make an impact and open their eyes.
#2: Do your research
Returning to our skydiving metaphor, this would be the part where you make sure to bring your parachute. While you may not be able to convince someone to believe in basic human rights, you have the power to debunk common misunderstandings. Having a complex and nuanced understanding of what you’re talking about can make the other person more open to hearing what you have to say.
Another crucial component of getting the other person to listen to you is to listen to the other person. Talk about what they’re saying and explain why it may or may not be a valid point. Being heard and being able to reach a common understanding on certain issues is going to make people more sympathetic to your point, and the great thing is that you may even learn something in the process. We should never be too quick to discredit someone else’s perspective just because we disagree with it. Upon further listening, we will generally find that most of us want the same things, we just have different approaches to the goal.
#4: Set aside time.
Needless to say, you’re not going to go skydiving right before an important business meeting, just like how you’re not going to have a difficult conversation right before you leave for school or work. Pick a time where you know that both you and the other person will be free and don’t rush the process.
#5: Know when to stop.
We can’t all ask for perfect people, and we can’t always expect someone to be open to a tough conversation. When you feel like you are giving more than you’re getting and the other person is not being open, it doesn’t matter what you say, your message just might not be getting through. At this point, the emotional labor we are putting in may not be worth the final result.
Supporting Small Businesses
We should all know the importance of putting our money where our mouth is by now, and supporting small businesses is the same deal. If we want to show up, we have to show up to our local small businesses and let them know we support them and their goals. Not only do these places provide jobs and generate revenue within your community, but they are also what makes each community stand out. Without small businesses, every city would look the same.
Find businesses that align with what you believe in. Whether that’s being zero-waste, ethically sourced, sustainability-focused, there are tons of great businesses out there who have a similar outlook. Do some research on what’s local in your area or the options available online, and choose to support those places instead.
For me, fashion and sustainability are both important, but typically, cheap clothes are not sustainably produced. Even if I wanted to make my own clothes, most fabrics go through a very wasteful production process. So as someone who can’t afford to shell out big money for sustainably produced clothing, I choose to thrift instead. In-person, I can always count on Goodwill or Savers. While they may not be the most glamorous places to shop, they are both inexpensive and accessible. If you do some research beforehand, you can even find out which days they have sales and take advantage of those opportunities.
Another great site I want to plug is ThriftBooks. Like many other people, I’m a bit of a book hoarder but can’t bear to pay Barnes and Nobles’ prices. ThriftBooks has an extremely amazing selection of books (though sometimes that does mean sacrificing pristine covers), and they also carry textbooks. For college students or anyone not willing to shell out a small fortune on books, ThriftBooks is a must.
Finding Your Community (what do you care about?)
Finally, we come back to one of the biggest ways we can show up. By finding communities that we relate to and thrive in, we can improve our own situations and help those around us. If you feel lost about what communities to join, there are a couple of ways you can get started.
Make a list of what you care about. Is it the environment? Mental health? Empowering young kids? Using this list, look up related organizations. These can range anywhere from local to national to international organizations. Their websites will typically have everything you need to know about them and how to get involved.
Another way to seek out organizations is by asking the people around us what they are involved in. Since we traditionally surround ourselves with people who have similar interests and beliefs, the people around us may be involved in something you may also care about. Many of the communities I’m currently active in were all introduced to me by those around me, and so it’s a great way to connect with more people.
What Community Means to Me
It’s easy to talk platitudes on the subject of communities, but no words can replace the overwhelming feeling of what it’s like to be surrounded by people who are passionate in a common cause. This feeling is what originally sparked my own journey into community involvement, and I know that with a leap of faith, it can spark interest for a lot of other people.
Although we may not realize it, we are a lot more tied to our communities than we might think, and we have a lot to gain from these ties. Our common experiences motivate us and bind us to each other, and inspire us to create a better community for all.
About the Author
Cecilia Winchell is currently a sophomore at UNLV studying philosophy with a minor in public policy. In her free time, she enjoys all things fashion, food, reading, and content related.