Rediscovering Community: With a Little Help from Our FriendsBlog / Produced by The High Calling
“I’ll bring some lemon chicken tomorrow evening,” a friend from church texted.
“You are so good to us! Thank you! We will gratefully and gladly receive it,” I texted back.
During an intense two months when my husband and I dealt with a chaotic situation, our family’s meals had become makeshift and sporadic, so when my friend offered to bring us food, we responded, “Yes, please.” Though she is a local friend, we leaned on high-tech tools to arrange the delivery of a low-tech, much needed dinner. Later another friend heard about our struggle and, via text, invited me out to coffee—a welcome break.
Word also trickled out among friends spread out across the United States—friends I’ve gotten to know through my online work. They, too, longed to help us during that strange and stressful time. Gift cards to local restaurants arrived in the mail. Flowers to brighten our table. A gift of tea from a local tea shop, arranged long-distance.
Does Technology Support or Limit Community?
Community, for me, has included people from my local neighborhood and church as well as virtual relationships. Friends from each community have found ways to love me well; neither community feels more real than the other. And technology has become a tool used by both local and long-distance friendships, to communicate and connect.
Sure, one can argue the dangers of how technology distracts us from each other or complicates our lives. But it can also pull us together, helping us laugh together, share our struggles, and pray together, whether through texts, Voxer, email, Twitter, or Facebook. Even Snapchat has proven an unobtrusive way I stay connected with my college-aged daughters. Yet, I’ll admit I love it best when they’re home and I’m looking across the table into their eyes, laughing as they tell a story.
Building Authentic Connections in the Workplace
Making connections—real connections—helps us know and love people at home, in the neighborhood, and in our workplaces, as well. A recent Chinet TV advertisement illustrates our longing to enjoy community as if it’s a vintage experience. The company models how we can reduce barriers to it here and now (by using their disposable tableware) and encourages us to get together. As for workplace connections, a Fast Company article by Vivian Giang highlights women who know the value of connecting with people—really connecting. These women, the article says, are the ones getting things done. “Their secret? They don’t network; they connect and as a result, they are the most powerful people in their industries.” Shane Snow offers similar thoughts in another Fast Company article about “superconnectors.” He interviewed “dozens of famously connected people and experts in business psychology about what makes for effective networking in the 21st century.” The conclusion? “uild genuine authenticity.”
Some question whether we can build genuine, authentic connections via social media, however. On an August airing of The Diane Rehm Show, guest Susan Pinker concedes that online activity serves as an excellent tool to search for information. She warns, however, “What it isn’t good at is deepening your relationships, establishing empathy, and maintaining empathy … [T]he research comparing online to the face-to-face is just emerging now. But what we’re finding out is, without face-to-face contact, your relationships decay in as little as 18 months.”
In “Can a Digital Connection Replace a Physical One,” Joseph Grenney proposes, “Social media can boost productivity, improve decisions, and drive sales, but the danger is that managers will be deluded into thinking it can substitute for the day-to-day investment in face-to-face connections.” He continues, “the more employees connect face-to-face with people outside and inside the organization, the better things get. The less it happens, the worse things get. Period.”
But Zeynep Tufekci, another guest on that same August The Diane Rehm Show, countered the generalization that social media only negatively impacts relationships:
I definitely agree face-to-face relationships are important. But … I don’t agree with the framing that the online takes away from it because what we find in research very clearly is that people who keep up with each other online also keep up with each other offline … For most people, the social media, Facebook, telephone, texting, it’s done with people you also see offline … So I see online and offline as supporting each other.
Vulnerability Leads to Community Connections
Michael Simmons in his Forbes article “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” described Dr. Brené Brown’s experience presenting her research on vulnerability in a TED talk. Dr. Brown thought about simply sharing the research results, then decided to actually be vulnerable and share personal challenges. The risk paid off by creating a connection with her audience and spreading into the world digitally. Depth can happen when we’re willing to share. Simmons concludes, “It’s easy to turn feelings of uneasiness into an excuse for why it’s not worth the risk. Here’s the problem, if you play it safe, you could be robbing the world of you and your message.”
Making connections requires risk, whether connecting in person or digitally. But making connections and sharing our message can—with help from the Holy Spirit, as Shelly Miller points out—lead to deeper relationships and community, and isn’t that worth the risk? The connections within my communities have shown me I’m not alone in my struggles, and as my husband and I have weathered a chaotic storm, we’ve done so with a little help from our friends … both near and far, online and off.
Online community is a real thing. Isn’t it? Maybe it depends on whom you talk to. How important is it to spend time with someone face-to-face? Can you build meaningful and lasting relationships online? Where do you find your most significant interactions, and how do you make time for them? Jesus focused on building his deepest relationships with three of his disciples while he walked the earth. What can we learn about community from Christ’s example, and how do we translate his example to the digital age? In this theme, we are Rediscovering Community in old-fashioned and new-fangled ways. We’ll celebrate the gift of relationship while exploring ways to build community in the modern age. Join us!