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Review: Paul Born’s Deepening Community: Finding Joy in Chaotic Times

deepThis review first ran in the May 26 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times

By Paul Born

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

$22.95

We’re the Ambitious City. But are we a caring city and a deep community?

There are lots of reasons to think so. Hamiltonians look after our own. We’re generous with our time and money. Local employers can be counted on to step up and help make our city an even better place to call home.

But fault lines start to show on hot button issues like bike lanes, one-way street conversions and light rail transit. You’re with us or against us is a recurring refrain in letters to the editor, online comments and blog posts.

Not a fan of scrapping one-way roads? Then you’re an SUV-driving, stuck-in-the-1950s suburbanite who thinks racing through our lower city streets to get somewhere else in 20 minutes or less is your birthright.

An LRT supporter? Then you’re a Millennial hipster who pines for Portland and wants to play a real world version of Sim City with tax dollars we don’t have to swap blue collar buses with white collar trains so the creative class can ride in comfort.

These tired stereotypes are untrue, unhelpful and if unchecked, can slide us into what Paul Born calls a fear-based community.

“A community based on fear is a dangerous place,” warns Born, author of Deepening Community and cofounder and president of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement. “They are built by people who are trying to make sense of changes outside their control and their comfort zone. Fear-based communities derive their sense of reality from being against community; they exist only on the basis of creating an enemy or developing a ‘them against us’ narrative.”

A shallow community is no better. Instead of us versus them, there’s only you. Civic engagement ends with retweets and likes on our smartphones. “We go from one group activity to the other seeking connection and personal fulfillment and are so often left wanting more and seeking the next great experience,” says Born. “These experiences are shallow not because they are fun or entertaining but because they do not require ongoing connection and mutual caring.”

Deep community is where we need to be. “To deepen community is to find opportunities for ongoing connection with those we care about and those who care about us. This connection strengthens the bonds between us,” says Born. We start to act together for the benefit of all.

There are four ways we can individually and collectively deepen community:

  1. Share our stories.
  2. Enjoy one another by spending time together.
  3. Care for one another.
  4. Work together to build a better world.

“There are other ways to build connection, but these four simple acts are, in my experience, the most powerful,” says Born. “Each is compelling, but – as I have seen again and again, to my great joy – when all four are present in our interactions and connections, that is when we can experience the full benefits of community.”

Ask Born what’s the most important thing we can do to make a difference in the world and he’ll tell you to bring chicken soup to your neighbor. It’s a simple solution that takes a lot of work upfront.  You need to build a relationship with your neighbour before she’s under the weather.

“The work takes place long before you perform the act of bringing soup,” says Born. The same holds true with building a deep community.

“Community is not automatic. We cannot take it for granted; we cannot assume that is what is should be; we cannot stand on the sidelines and just hope that things will work out.”

Whether at work or at home, deepening community is everyone’s responsibility.

“When we belong and enjoy strong relationships with one another, we can rely on one another in both good and difficult times. This makes us more resilient, and it makes us healthier. It improves our economic opportunities and even makes us happier.”

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