Whats Up With That? - Katy Byrne


Community rocks

We are all challenged with something… death, divorce, illness, money issues, bad coffee, who knows what. It all makes community connection more important than ever before. Whether we are getting older or in transition, we need each other.

Nobody taught me friendship 101. Sometimes I’m confused about how to connect, or people seem mean-spirited, but no matter what, community is essential.

The other day, a friend walked up to me. I said, “How are you?”  He looked long into my eyes. I wondered if he was going to crack a joke or if he simply drank too much. He spoke softly, “I have cancer.” We dove deep into a conversation that I wasn’t expecting. I walked away thinking about how important friends are. People are never perfect, but we need to connect because in the end, tribe keeps us alive.

I sometimes joke about community, calling it a bunch of nuts in a bowl. It helps me accept all the varied characters. But, community rocks because we care. Oh, sure, we’re weird or quirky, practical or controlling, intelligent, loose or loud. And sometimes we’re comforting, crabby, spaced out, gabby, or stingy.

But I’ve learned something from all of you, even folks I thought I wanted to get rid of. Some of the people who bothered me the most have helped me in the end.

Friends aren’t the same as marriage partners, but they make me laugh or buy me dinner or help me feel less fat. Either way, the definition of love is “active concern,” according to Eric Fromm. And while texts help, being busy into oblivion doesn’t. So, while I still use my cell like the cells in my body, I try not to create too much distance with technology. Still, its great to have easy access to folks. After all, we are our own safety net.

Margaret Wheatley, in “Turning to One Another,” said:

“Large and successful change efforts start with conversations among friends, not with those in power. Change begins from deep inside a system, when a few people notice something they will no longer tolerate, or respond to a dream of what’s possible. We just have to find a few others who care about the same thing. Gradually, we become large and powerful. We don’t have to start with power, only with passion.”

Community is my life raft. It’s kept me afloat. And now, with class divisions, we need to stay close to each other for support.

I am still learning how to build community; it’s not easy. Sometimes people get critical and it really sucks to be at the receiving end. But I’m blown away by the people who keep me going, and laughing, help me out and give me hope.

Judgment kills community. And, as a friend said today, “If we analyze our friends we won’t have any!” So, while most of us store some resentments, when our hairballs fly without thought, we can do harm say, speak directly and not behind backs, and with respect, but don’t wreak havoc. Shutting down, shunning or blame is poison. If you must let ‘em have it, at least apologize. Geez, can we finally be a civilized?

If you have to cough up that hairball, take a deep breath, don’t swallow it, or backstab, but ask yourself, what is the deeper need here? Is it understanding or support? Our unmet needs are usually at the bottom of conflict and stuck emotions.

Being alone is sometimes inescapable, but life is short. Can we share the load? Conversation can change the world. Use it before you lose it.

Katy Byrne, MFT, is a Sonoma psychotherapist.

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