Love me – Love me not

I’ve been a little flaky with my time lately, double-booking myself right and left. I hate having to choose between two good things but it’s even worse if you’ve already committed to both.

One morning I had booked myself at two conflicting community-building events; one at the office and one in the neighbourhood. At first I thought it was a no-brainer. The office one was just a breakfast party, while the other one was a pow-wow involving the Hamilton Spectator, Mohawk College and Trivaris coming together with social entrepreneurs of all stripes to see what kind of partnerships might be possible to help build stronger communities. All three of these organizations are tremendously generous, industrious and visionary in their conviction that communities start with people, and I love them for it.

You too, on reading this, might conclude that this second opportunity was a goldmine of potential, ripe for idea expression (my forte?), resource tapping, and yes, an ulterior motive to pitch my community blog as a Community Column to the Spec. Until almost the last minute, so did I.

But when I asked myself what these two events had in common, it was the community-building. And when I asked myself what differentiated them, it was the community-building. I have been at the Centre for Social Innovation and with the South Sherman Hub for the same length of time, but because I see the work people daily-ish, my own integration, sense of belonging and commitment has progressed a lot faster and further than with the neighbourhood group where we meet only monthly and with a rather high turnover of attendance.

I realized that at work, there would be people expecting me (since I had sent out the invite, if nothing else) possibly even missing me, whereas at the Hamilton meeting, no one actually even knew me as an individual. As a representative of the hub, they might expect someone, but not me in particular.

So I went to work and we had waffles and eggs and home-made jam and freshly squeezed orange juice and an unbelievable number of people showed up early and everyone kept saying “we have to do this more often!”. I wonder if choosing the CSI Breakfast is one of those things that Philip would call “not a business decision”, meaning, I suppose, not founded on sound business principles. I wonder how common it is and if there really is a payoff to choosing the sound business principles over the  people we love and who love us back? And therein lies the answer to what motivates me; those people.

Maybe it was Seth Godin, or possibly that other guy, who claimed that what we all want most is to be missed. I beg to disagree. If that were true, I’d have gone to the high-potential meeting while enjoying being missed at the low-stakes breakfast.

I think what we all want most is to be wanted.

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If you can’t beat ’em…

I was regaling the nephews one evening over dinner with stories about me (naturally) when during an anecdote about fighting at school I asked them about their experiences. At seven and nine I figured they were no strangers to bullying and just plain surviving the Canadian penal, I mean, education system.

“What do you mean,” says the nine year old, “like, people hit you?”

I was stunned. Do we really live in a world where a kid in grade four has never been beaten up at school? I had always thought that if I had kids, school was one of those things that I would protect them from, conjuring up elaborate home-school schemes that would have tested the finances of a Sultan. Never did I imagine that things would improve.

I remember getting picked on for things as stupid as out-of-season clothing. I remember being the bully now and then, particularly punishing towards little TB, the sweetest guy ever by the accounts of people who knew him later. I suppose his great crime was being… content. I couldn’t stand it.

In those days it wasn’t just kids who got physical. I remember trips to the barn, following the dangling belt. I don’t remember the strapping, but I remember the use of power, being forced to walk to your punishment of your own free will, a grown-up’s assertion of who is boss.

I remember kindergarten, a harrowing walk past rabid German Shepherds and a teacher who had to show that kid who’s boss. “No you can’t go to the washroom now, it’s time for story circle.” So I sat in the circle, crossed my arms and didn’t take my eyes off of her as a great pool of pee spread outwards and the other kids fled in horror. Then I went home instead of to the washroom. Why does everybody have to show a kid who’s boss? Was there some doubt in her mind as to whether she or I was in charge? Did I really have issues with authority all those years, or did the authorities have issues?

For twenty years Mike, aka the best, has been trying to get me to cooperate.
“Why can’t you fold the sheet yourself?” I ask, bewildered. “Because I want to fold it with you,” his equally befuddled reply. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know you when you were little”, I tell him, “cause I would have beaten you up for sure.”

At the latest Hub meeting, we apparently had a breakthrough while discussing Movie Nights. A number of us, sitting in a circle talking about our latest effort to engage our neighbours, and one after another, people chimed in as to how they could contribute to spreading the word about it. Like a hacky-sack the ideas bounced from one to the next until the movie night sub-committee was ready to run with it on their own.

David Derbyshire, our veteran Hub builder pointed out our successful use of collaboration and the asset-based method in forwarding the Movie Night planning and we all congratulated ourselves. And I wondered if a couple decades of reluctant cooperation has gotten me ready for collaboration, which seems to be a lot like cooperation, but with more people.

And nobody had to show any body who’s boss, and nobody had to pee on the floor to make a point.

Rise up, all you by-standers, talk is cheap!

When some random person shows up at a meeting of community volunteers and takes issue with the way things are being done but doesn’t want to come out to help, I have to say, my patience wanes.

The issue at the recent South Stipeley meeting was that there was a message from one of the churches in our Newsletter and someone who read it was offended that we were printing church messages, that it implied an affiliation.

Hello! We are affiliated; we hold our meetings at New Westminster Church. The church minister is our treasurer. St Giles Church is the anchor for the Community Hub. The complainant wanted us to stop running church stuff because other organizations aren’t represented. Rise up all you other organizations and get involved! If a thing looks lopsided, it’s better to add more than to take away what you’ve got.

Last year, five Hamilton churches from different denominations got together and asked themselves how they could be helpful and make a difference in the lives of people in the neighbourhood, even those who weren’t members of any of the churches. Together they collaborated to initiate and sponsor the South Sherman Hub where the local planning team (of volunteers!) works to engage the community in sustainable improvements. This is a good thing.

I remember being a theatre student at university. Theatre is one of the most logistically driven industries in existence, with everything planned to the second and planned way way way in advance. My job was to secure some sound equipment from the university’s media department. After handing it over, the guy says “It’s due back in three days”. Three days! Our show runs for two weeks, I told him, steam coming out my ears at his impenetrable obtuseness. “So”, he said, “it’s due back in three days.” I protested some more, to which he replied, “We aren’t the theatre department supply depot. Theatre isn’t the only department in the university”. Oh. I see. And my own impenetrable obtuseness became gallingly clear.

After that he became my go-to guy when I needed things and we figured out creative ways to get what we needed without hogging equipment.

After our random neighbour had dominated most of the meeting with newsletter griping, or church griping, or whatever it was, that was it. She didn’t pitch in on the food drive or community garden or graffiti measures, or neighbourhood watch. I invited her to lend a hand and get the other organizations in the area to participate, to submit their blurbs to the newsletter, but she declined. It makes me wonder if some people are just take-take-take.

Or maybe it will sink in later and we will become her go-to team when she starts to feel a little bit inclusive. Maybe, she will even join the team.

People-People in your neighbourhood

As the epicenter of front-porch-culture in Canada it is no wonder that downtown Hamilton is attracting people-people; more and more every month. My question is, does the place make the people or do the people make the place?

Here in Hamilton I have found a community of like-minded souls, motivated by each other, eager to integrate, to participate, to be themselves and to get to know one another. Who could have imagined that so many people would come out in sweltering heat or pouring rain to clean up back alleys or deliver newsletters with no inducement beyond each other’s company? At these events I catch up with people I am getting to know and meet people I don’t yet know, and as I observe them what seems clear is that Hamilton is bubbling over with people-people.

Rows and rows of front porches, peppered with upholstered furniture and old TVs, clusters of people every few houses. Betty next door mows and weeds people’s lawns and Rob on the other side shovels up and down in the winter. The neighbourhood kids help me prepare for parties and the fellow across the road helps them with computer homework. I hear many, many stories of people being  neighbourly like that (mostly from Betty) while others get involved with the community groups for more collaborative projects. Still others turn their vision of helping into services like the Hamilton Dream Centre. And so it spreads, this interconnected web of helping-giving-doing interaction. It is a community rife with need but rich in assets, the greatest of which is its people.

Are all the people-people living here in Hamilton or are there other neighbourhoods where this sort of thing goes on? You tell me…