Social Networking in Real Life
If you ask certain people what neighborhood they live in, it would be a quick and easy answer—Soho, Silver Lake, The French Quarter—but for others it might be more vague or hard to describe. Neighborhood names and boundaries can instill a sense of community in people and help them feel inherently involved, a part of something bigger than themselves. In many cases, it doesn’t take street perimeters to join people together. There are groups of friends, colleagues, churches, causes and other societal groups that can shape communities or create communal bonds.
While doing online research for this article, I read through a handful of published scholarly journals about the mental health benefits of community and dozens of assorted blog and news articles referencing the easily-measurable positive consequences of the feeling of belonging. Some benefits are measurable in numbers—such as decreases in drug use and violence with youths who are involved in community activities and groups. Other benefits, like decreased stress (when you communicate with others who are going through similar situations, you might feel less anxiety and singularity about an issue), a more positive outlook and a stronger feeling of stability are less statistical but equally important. If you’re interested in the “numbers” of the issue, do a little research and prepare to be surprised by the substantial and legitimate health and societal benefits of “community.”
I’m grateful to be part of a very active and involved community here in my neighborhood of NoDa, Charlotte. The name NoDa refers to the main thoroughfare, the heart of the neighborhood, North Davidson Street. The neighborhood is logged as “The Historic Art District,” but over the years many new restaurants, shops, and for better or worse—condos, has changed the quaint, artsy vibe to a busier, hipper (maybe hipster-er is the right word) and family-friendly neighborhood. From Halloween Glitterati balls, Christmas movies with Santa at the local music venue and Monday night softball at the park, the neighborhood offers almost weekly opportunities to meet neighbors and create relationships. The intimate neighborhood network makes living in a city with a million people feel more like a small town, one where people know each other’s names, one with playdates and kids’ birthday parties, local garage sales and its own “small town” traditions. I can’t provide empirical data, but I have watched my friends and neighbors and witnessed the firsthand benefits:
Perspective: I recently read an article from NPR which evinces that Caucasian kids who attend racially-diverse schools benefit from being more empathetic to other cultures and less willing to stereotype. Children spend time surrounded by diversity, make friends with people who are different from themselves, and improve their social aptitudes. I think the same basic idea could be applied to the aspect of a diverse, or at the very least, involved community. Getting to know and create relationships with neighbors regardless of differences and then being able to come together in the name of community may help alter preconceived notions and create, on the smallest level, a culture of openness. Whether you live in a culturally-diverse neighborhood or one less heterogeneous, it’s evident that people have always benefited, and will always benefit, from sharing ideas and coming together to find common ground, creating connections and making meaningful relationships. Even if it’s a difference as small as which baseball team you cheer for, or something more polarizing like politics or religion, learning the concept of “accepting without agreeing” is a crucial aspect of living in this manifold world.
Balance: Being able to bounce ideas and opinions off of other people can help create a more concise, yet balanced, mentality and outlook on situations. Say I met up with my group of friends and said, “My husband is awful. He didn’t get me flowers for our half-anniversary.” I might hear something like “Don’t be too upset. A half half-anniversary doesn’t usually necessitate flowers.” This is a basic example of getting outside of my own head and letting my own naturally-one-sided thoughts be balanced by people I trust. Having a community of friends and neighbors there to help shape and contribute respectfully and openly to our inner-dialogue can be beneficial in creating unbiased and insightful frames of mind.
Taste: And by “taste,” I mean that literally. The benefits of eating meals together as a family are impressive. There are scholarly articles from mental health departments of colleges, the European Congress and hospitals relating the number of nights spent eating around the table with the family to everything from lowered obesity rates and improved grades in school to lowered levels of depression. Eating with others in a sit-down, no-distraction meal setting may foster a willingness to try a variety of different foods, demonstrate manners and social cues to children as well as show them where they fit into the family or community. Even without kids in the picture, sitting and eating meals with friends can have real, positive psychological effects according to studies, such as to lessen feelings of depression and increase happiness. Every Tuesday in my neighborhood, we get together with several of our friends’ families for a potluck, where we pick a theme and everyone brings a dish to share. My family gets a weekly opportunity to try new foods and recipes we might otherwise have never tried. My kids get a shared childhood experience with other children which could potentially create lasting and meaningful ties. The group aspect also creates a sense of belonging in something larger than ourselves, plus the regularly-scheduled meal creates a sense of consistency and stability—a weekly opportunity to spend time with people who care. We also get a chance to communicate our views on the changes in the neighborhood, the news of the week and other life events that creates a web of new thoughts and ideas that bolster our own individual voices.
It can be unnerving and uncomfortable to meet new people, to take initiative and become involved in your neighborhood. It may be awkward at first, stepping out on a ledge in an attempt to create a bridge to you and your family, to make new friends and build relationships. But not only has science proven that the effects of that cause are well-worth it, you won’t need empirical data to feel the positive aspects and benefits of community in your life.
Our weekly dinners mean so much to us as a family, my husband featured it in one of his music videos.