This has been a year filled with community disaster. Given life on planet earth, one could say that almost any year. Earthquakes and hurricanes, shootings and riots and bombings – whether man-made or natural, from the time of the dinosaurs to today, life’s biggest occurrences are often outside our control.
Perhaps the greatest lesson from watching communities rally after a disaster, though, is that disasters bring out the best in people. Leadership emerges from unexpected places. Civic participation dramatically increases. Generosity and compassion blossom. Resources are mobilized that hadn’t been considered resources during more “normal” times.
All these components of resilience are rooted in one function: people getting to know each other as people, connecting and being open to the simple humanity in each other.
Which means that the most direct road to “Disaster Preparedness” may just be that we begin building those relationships right now – wherever we live and work. Imagine what it makes possible if we can strengthen our communities, disaster or no, without any need for federal grants or county commissions. Imagine what it makes possible if all we need to do is reach out to each other.
Small business owners know the power of focusing on their local community. But do we think about that community as the neighbors two streets over? Imagine what it might feel like if a disaster strikes – imagine how you will want to know each of those families, to make sure your business can do everything possible to be sure they are ok. Imagine how your heart would be opened up to whatever pain they might be feeling, because you would likely be feeling it, too. Imagine how much they will care about your business, wanting it to succeed in the face of whatever that disaster might be.
Now remove the disaster from the picture, and imagine how great it would feel to come to work every day, knowing your neighbors that well. (And yes, imagine how great it will be for business!)
The same holds true whether you are a hospital CEO or a stay-at-home parent or the ED of a homeless shelter or theater company.
Your efforts to build community don’t have to be rooted in grand plans. They can start right at home with something as simple as committing to get to know the family on either side of your house, the family across the street. It could mean bringing them each a little something at holiday time, recognizing that they, too, just want life to be enjoyable. Or it might mean growing a patch of flowers in your front yard, posting a little sign that asks people to please pick a flower to take with them as they pass. Or maybe just knocking on your neighbor’s door to say hello – and giving them your phone number, in case of emergency.
It could mean that your theater company or small business works with other groups in the area to host a block party for the neighborhood, where you just get to know each other as people – not as prospective customers or ticket-holders or donors. It could mean your hospital opens its conference rooms for neighborhood watch meetings – and participates as just another neighbor.
We don’t have to wait until disaster strikes to come together. Each of us has the power, right now, to reach out and get to know the people who make up our communities.
When disaster strikes, you will be ready to work as one family, from a place of strength and caring and a desire for everyone to be ok.
And until then, you will have created that spirit of community as your reality, right here and now.