The dictionary defines community as ‘a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.’
This is, strictly speaking, true. However anyone who’s experienced a close community will tell you that successful communities share much more than this: they share a sense of connectedness.
But what makes people feel connected?
Sometimes it is the small gestures, done regularly, that make an impact.
Many Saharan tribes embrace a tribal culture that is built around the idea of ‘seeing’ and ‘being seen’. The common greeting ‘Sawu Bona’ literally means, ‘I see you.’ The typical response ‘Sikhona’, means ‘I am here’.
Seeing and being seen on a regular basis helps people feel connected to each other and diminishes the sense of ‘otherness’ that is the opposite of community.
In cities, in particular, it is easy for people to share ‘specific locality, government and even cultural or historic heritage’, yet feel disconnected from others. Cities often attract transient residents – those looking for work or new opportunities – and this can make them lonely places. A friendly greeting - in any language – can be the difference between feeling isolated and feeling included.
Auckland city centre, with its relatively recent boom in apartment living, combined with a rapidly changing cultural demographic, can be a real challenge for newcomers. Although many have ‘cultural and historical heritage’ in common, living in different apartment buildings, or even just on different floors of the same building, presents a perceived barrier to connection.
What would happen if you defied the norm and smiled at strangers on your way to work? Or struck up a conversation with someone in a bus shelter or whilst queueing for food? There’s a high chance you would learn something from the interaction. And even if you are not ‘seen,’ in the very act of seeing another, you are helping – little by little - to build connectedness: the hallmark of authentic and sustainable communities.
There are many areas of need in our city, and there is no ‘quick fix’, but by starting with small and regular changes, we can all make a difference.