Monday, March 28, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 19: Networking

Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them. ~ Benjamin Franklin

I think the idea of an eco-village is fascinating. I'm intrigued by the thought of living in concert with a group of like-minded people with whom I share the joys and sorrows of life; people who are there to celebrate when things are good and for support when things are bad. In a perfect world, we would all find that little niche into which we fit and then just move in and start living our lives surrounded by the radiating love of our community.

Unfortunately, life rarely plays out that way, especially for those of us in the suburbs. We often end up where we are for job-related reasons, or because we have family in the area, and while I do have in-laws living in the same town, we're not in the same neighborhoods. I think that's the norm for most Americans. Many of us consider our homes close to other relatives if we're within driving distance, but for the most part, living next door to Grandma is an anomaly.

We don't have family nearby, and with as mobile as our society has become, few of us live in the communities where we were raised. Being an Army Brat, I don't have a "community where I was raised", and until recently, I hadn't even had any contact with any of the people with whom I went to high school (and there's very little chance of my finding or reconnecting with any of those who graced the halls of Sherwood Elementary School when I was there more than three decades ago).

The result is that most of us feel incredibly isolated in our cookie-cutter suburban homes.

When I first started writing about staying in the suburbs in the face of TEOTWAWKI, the most oft heard concern had to do with not knowing the neighbors, or not trusting that the neighbors would be very valuable in an emergency situation. That bothered me on so many levels, because I think of all of the preparations we can make, this one, this developing a network, is probably the simplest. It requires no purchasing of anything, no hard labor, and no changing of one's environment to be more sustainable. All it requires is that one person go up to another person and make an introduction.

In the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment, I'm labeled INFJ. The first part of that, the *I*, stands for "introvert", which are individuals who generally prefer interacting with a few close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances, and they expend energy in social situations (whereas extraverts gain energy). What that means is that being in social situations drains me. I find it exhausting and incredibly difficult. So, when I say things like "just go out and meet people", like it's the easiest thing in the world to do, I need people to understand that I have a moderate level of social anxiety. I don't make this suggestion lightly, and it's not something that comes easily for me, which should suggest how important I think it is.

The fact is that having a network of individuals on whom one can rely is the most valuable asset we can have in a lower energy future. There are very few people in this world who don't have something of value to offer other people. In a lower energy future, we will discover that our networks are more valuable, even, than money, because it will be through those contacts that we find the things we need when money has become scarce or unavailable.

There's a huge difference between the kind of network I have and an eco-village community. Many of the people in my network have no idea of the depth of my crazy (well, they may now, after having seen my book ;). In short, they are not "like-minded", which is not to say that they don't hold some of the same values, but rather that it's not a part of the relationship I have with them to know what they think of Peak Oil or resource depletion, and in the greater scheme of things, it doesn't matter to our relationship whether they agree with me, or indeed, even if they believe these things are happening.

Which means that, perhaps, my network of very diverse people may actually be more resilient than the most perfect eco-village.

The bottom line is that in a lower energy future, we're going to need a lot of different kinds of people, and they're going to need us, but the first step is to get out there and meet them.

In his book The Great Neighborhood Book Jay Walljasper talks about reviving communities. Like building the network I suggest, Walljasper's solution requires being proactive. If you would like a copy of his book, please leave a comment.


The winner of the box of family fun is Hobbitkm. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

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  1. I thought about buying into EarthHaven, an eco-village, back when I had a little money. I didn't, for a number of reasons. Then I moved around a while, and finally ended up in an area where 'community' exists only among those have lived here for generations.

    I do network, but most of those folks are spread out all over the country/world, which will be no help if/when communications are down. I'd love to have a local network!

    I'm an INTJ, so my introverted self has a hard time going out and making contacts.

  2. My husband is an INTJ - we're opposites sides of the same coin ;).

    In Maine there are two kinds of people: the "natives (those who were born here) and "people from away." I'm the latter, and I was told in no uncertain terms when I first moved here that I'd always be "from away" :). That's just to say that I understand how difficult building that network is.

  3. Thank you for mentioning the introversion and social anxiety. I deal with both of these, and so often when I read these kinds of posts about going out and trying to create community, they're written by people to whom it doesn't seem to occur that this isn't just easy or comfortable for a lot of us, and that it can be really draining.

    I'd love to have a copy of the book. :)

  4. Little kids of similar ages are often the best neighborhood icebreakers. Of course that is more applicable to newer neighborhoods in growing areas.

    The easiest way to build up your connections is to figure out who the neighborhood extroverts are, and if you have anything at all in common with them work toward at least a passing friendship with them. I have done that somewhat by accident, and know all sorts of people.

    If I see any Sherwood Elementary School Alumni, I will send them your way.

  5. Angela - I have it bad sometimes. I even get tightness in my chest and have trouble breathing. It's bizarre and very discomfitting. And it's been particularly difficult for me as a home-based business owner, because I have trouble with cold-calling. :).

    Russell that would be so awesome. Be sure to send them over to my facebook page, too ;).

  6. I struggle between wanting to meet new folks and build community and the pull to stay in my cozy cave. When I lived in Portland we had a good network of friends, all within walking distance. All of us moms who liked to read, a few of us who knitted, all of us had kids around the same age and most of us were "poor". I miss the connectedness. But I have also learned that with time it finds me, I just have to be patient.

  7. I'm an ISTJ, myself, so I know the challenge of new social interactions.

    I live in an intentional community but it's definitely not an eco-village. Probably 95% of the residents of my neighborhood consider themselves environmentalists -- possibly even 100% -- but getting people to actually put time and effort into group action to be sustainable can be a real challenge. (Too many of us have young kids, for one thing!) I do feel fortunate that if/when TEOTWAWKI hits, we'll put aside our petty differences and work together as needed.

    We can't aim to be a well-stocked, well-armed outpost -- as individuals, as households, or even as neighborhoods. If everyone's not taken care of and fed, eventually every stocked outpost will be overwhelmed. We all need to do what we can to make sure our whole society pulls through, come what may -- so your point of community is well taken.

  8. Funny, I thought I'd also be "from away" forever. Or the "damyankee." I never heard the first, and haven't heard the second in ages except from in-laws who are being funny. Then again, there are now three times as many people in the county as when I first moved here, so in relative terms I'm a long-timer. It helped to marry a local too. :P

    Having said that, we don't interact nearly as often as we ought with the people within walking distance of the manor. OTOH, grandma *does* live just down the road. That's not always a good thing.

  9. I live in the city now, for the last six years, not suburbia, and for the first time ever, am trying to get to know my neighbors. Some of us in the neighborhood are attempting to build greater local connections, last summer we had a once a week garden-stuff swap where extra veggies found new homes, and we've had a few get togethers for canning and about mason bee houses. I'm hoping to do what I can to encourage this, since the folks that I am close friends with live scattered all up and down the west coast, not in the few blocks around my home.

    I'd love to have a chance to read the book you mentioned, hoping to get more Useful Ideas.

  10. Amen for social anxiety! :)

    Kids can be a great ice breaker, but still, often it seems like we find ourselves more different than alike.

    Still, when we moved into suburbia two years ago, and self-proclaimed ourselves the "crunchy" ones, the garden was the thing that brought neighbors together. Funny how some greens from lettuce that has bolted started conversation with a neighbor who has a pet rabbit, and tomatoes had us meet other neighbors. That, and the fact that there are now 4 more gardens in this neighborhood.....kill them (or feed them!) with kindness.....and sharing the bounty goes a long way.

    Interesting book! I'd be interested in seeing it as well...

  11. I'm hopefully getting a couple from Helpx next week that have lived in a eco community in Germany for 6 yrs.

    I can't wait to hear from them what it was like.

    I don't have many like minded people around me either.