Community while distancing

I used a planner called the Full Focus Planner to help me organise my life. I like it because it contains a range of features, and makes me think about conscientiously planning my life. One of the things I like about it is that there’s a weekly review that includes space to outline how I will support myself that week. It has various headings included in this section including sleep, move, eat and more but the one I want to talk about this week is “Connect”.

I have to admit, this is a tough one for me. I’m notoriously bad at keeping in touch with people, especially when I don’t see them for a while. It means friendships drift sometimes and I don’t like that. However, one upside of the COVID-19 virus is that I’m getting more and more used to checking in with friends virtually. I’m organising and taking part in virtual games nights. I’m looking at how to keep in touch with friends with kids whose lives aren’t always plannable (cos even if the kids do go to sleep on time, parents are often heading to bed at that time themselves just to try and catch up!) I’m having hour long talks with my parents on the phone, instead of the usual weekly duty call (and I’m stretching the weekly there!!)

So now I’m consciously listing out the people I want to connect with each week. It’s not exactly a rota, it’s not on a formal, regular basis, but I am looking at who I’ve not spoken to in a while and depending on their circumstances, make a task to call them, message them or set something with them. It’s a conscious decision rather than leave it to see when it pops up in my brain again and it’s working pretty well. Which leads me to community in this time.

I’m a member of several communities, many of which have developed through a mixture of online and in person events, conversations, etc. I had thought that the communities that were used to conversing and mingling on line would be easier to manage during this time and yet there’s been a definite mix of community response in this time. Equally, with all the social distancing, it’s hard to figure out what’s permitted in our in-person communities.

So I’m coming to some conclusions. One of the most important things I can do for any of my communities right now is just to check in. Ask a genuine “How are you?” or “How’s things?” Give people space to talk and be genuine about their responses. Support the charities who are feeding those who are struggling, who are offering life lines, phone lines etc for those who are in increased danger right now, those who are working to heal those who are ill…. We can support out communities through indirect action as well as direct action. It’s not always appropriate to step out of the house to go do something right now.

And of course there’s the long term actions we can take. Remember that post on energy and money a few weeks back? Well here’s another drip into that – remember when the next election comes around in your area, who do you want to be shaping policies on health, social care, etc? What companies supported the community and which didn’t? Who around you stepped up and supported the community and how will that affect your relationships from here on out?

Now of course there is no call for everyone to step up. Some of us are doing just about ok, or less well, by surviving. Some of us are managing ourselves and our families just about and the energy or spare brain space to take on community work just isn’t there. That’s absolutely fine. And it’s to be commended. If all we can do is lie curled up under a blanket and breathe, that’s fine. We all have different levels of capabilities in all sorts of different areas.

I will say that with a full time job in the food industry, supporting my communities is hard right now. And I look at some of the community leaders out there who have revamped, adjusted, changed their businesses and ways of working to accommodate these times we’re living in and beat myself up over not doing more. But there’s only so many hours in the day and only so much energy available.

So – that part of my planner that allows me to reach out and connect with people, with friends, with family as best I can. And because it’s there in my planner I can consciously make those choices. There are things I’m doing on a weekly basis right now and they’re on a specific list, but there are other things that come up because of something I see in the community, or because of a story I hear, or because of a passing remark.

Our communities are changing shape, changing form, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. And community is so important in the modern world where despite all our technology, it’s really easy to remain alone, be lonely, not actually make a connection with people. So – what can you do? What steps can you take? (And remember, if the answer to that is “exactly what I’m doing right now, no more and preferably less” that’s perfectly fine!!)

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