Finding Community

September 29, 2023
Joe and Brett reflect on how to find or build a healthy community in an era where loneliness has reached pandemic proportions.

04:25 What We Mean By Community

10:07 The Lack of Real Community in Society

17:07 Why People Fear Community

22:10 Signs of a Healthy Community

Brett: So there are a ton of studies out there that show how important community is and how much it can have an impact on our happiness, on our heart health, on our longevity, and also, what seems to be clear is that these days not a lot of people really have it. So today we're going to talk about what community is and how we can find more of it in our lives.

Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment, where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I'm Brett Kistler, here today with Joe Hudson.

How are you doing, Joe?

Joe: I'm doing really well. That thing we did yesterday was so fulfilling. It was so heart opening and wonderful. I'm still just basking in the glow of that.

Brett: Yeah, it was beautiful. For some context, we had a grief ceremony yesterday for somebody in our community who recently lost a child and it was just really, really tender, really moving. In the final sharing circle, it was just amazing to see how much unexpected value people got from it that was far beyond just the expectation of like we're grieving this loss. I think part of what was behind that is just that there were so many different experiences happening in the same place and there was a sharing of it and support. That's just something I really want to have in my life.

Joe: Yeah, it was an amazing situation. For a little context, here a person who had been in one of my courses that you were in 5 years ago or something, and I hadn't heard from forever, called up and talked to me about the death of his child. I immediately was like, we need to mourn together as a community. In my head, immediately I was like, this is something that's important for the community and it's important for them. I think in their mind it was something like we were doing for them and there was like notable hesitation.

His wife didn't really know the community and so she was kind of coming in blind. And I called beforehand and what was really clear was that so many people who have had loss and then the funeral, and that whole experience just kind of sucks. People are trying to make them feel better, which is not helpful or wanting to experience their pain as a way to or their sadness as a way to be able to purge their own sadness. There's this feeling of obligation of the person who is mourning and like they're supposed to take care of people emotionally at least. And there's just all this stuff that happens. And so I was very clear with her, like fuck all that. There's no obligation here. I'm going to be really clear up front, and our community generally knows this anyways, that it’s not about trying to make you feel better and it’s not about having you feel the emotions for them. That it's about everybody feeling their own grief. It was amazing how at the end of the ceremony, it really wasn't about them. It was about them primarily, but it was also about everybody else's healing that that got to go through and how their story and what they went through healed the whole community. I remember just seeing this moment when she came into this thing blind, not knowing people. Then when she saw other people grieving and feeling the pain, it immediately let her know she was in a safe place. Instead of like, oh, are you OK, it was like, I feel you, I am with you. You could just see that she saw that this was a safe place and it was amazing. It just made me really proud of the community that I get to be a part of that to some degree surrounds this work, but not only that. I was really struck by it and I was really excited to be able to talk about it today since it was so fresh on my mind.

04:25 Brett: Yeah, one thing that struck me was just the difference in the feeling from like many funerals that I've been to and this particular moment. There's a way that we could go into a grief ceremony and what made it different. But also there's just the community component here that I want to stick with. I want to talk about what we mean by community here. There's a lot of people out there with a group of friends, and a lot of those friends may also be feeling a deep loneliness and not feeling a sense of community. There's a lot of talk about community in my circles lately, and also a lot of confusion about what exactly it is.

Joe: In the most functional sense of the word, the community is where everybody understands that their health is tied to the health of the community, that their job is to help the community be healthy because it is a reflection of and an influence on their health, meaning if there's a marriage in trouble inside of the community, that the community supports that marriage. Because if a marriage is having trouble inside of a community, it is a reflection of something else happening inside of the community. To help make that marriage functional or to heal that marriage, or to heal whatever is there, maybe it stays or doesn't stay as a marriage. But to help heal that process also heals the community. It heals everybody inside of the community. For that kind of a community to exist, there has to be a tremendous amount of transparency, a tremendous amount of vulnerability, and a good deal of impartiality.

What we have in our society often is like somebody judging. I have my community and they're telling me how to fucking be happy, or they're telling me how to save my marriage, but they're not being with me in it. They're not actually like witnessing and experiencing my marriage with me in a non judgmental, open loving way, and there's safety. And so in a community, it's about having that full vulnerability but not getting it faced with judgment or advice. It's being with you in it and somebody seeing that it's not your issue because your marriage is bad, it's the community's issue. They are listening to it like, without that judgment.

Brett: I think that's what a really great community looks like. Also, the layer of what they make it mean because if there are challenges in a relationship within a community, does the community make that mean that something's wrong and it needs to be fixed such that the conflict stops and then it becomes an oppressive community? Is it a bunch of avoidant people being like not my monkeys? That's been my role. Traditionally, when there's been some kind of stuff like that in a community, I'm just like, OK, you handle that.

Joe: Not my pig, not my farm.

Brett: Not a sense of obligation, but also a commitment to the health of the people in the community with. This I feel really is really important, with impartiality and I guess we could say VIEW in general.

Joe: I think the nuance is like it's not other, meaning it's not like I am committed to their health. It is a reflection of this community's health, meaning like if that marriage isn't doing well, healing that marriage doesn't just heal the marriage, it heals the community because it's a reflection of something happening inside of the community as well. So it's seeing all the issues in the community as our issues, as my issue, instead of as their issue. At the ceremony yesterday, you got that sense that everybody was healed by this. This community was stronger by going into this morning together and sharing these stories together. They were happier and they were healthier, but everybody was and the whole community was strengthened by it. There's a bond in that community because of it.

Brett: Yeah. The one thing that I think is key here is that that, yes, anything that's going on in the community is a reflection of the community, but not in a way that like, oh, you're reflecting poorly on the community or in a way that I am responsible for fixing this thing with you because I am the community, but rather it's that there's something going on in the community. How can I work on the reflection of that in myself such that I can show up and do it fully?

Joe: In my case it was, hey, let's do a mourning ceremony and like, hey, can the community come together and support you and your wife? How do we do that? These are tools that I don't think most people have or most communities have. How do we come together as a community to support somebody in a way that isn't judgmental, isn't trying to fix, isn't partial? It is, in a way of like, hey, let's witness and be in this together so that nobody feels alone and so that everybody can see themselves more clearly.

10:07 Brett: Given how we've just sort of described community, how often do you see this form of community in our society now relative to something else?

Joe: I'm lucky I get to see it a ton. Tara and I were just talking the other day and the fact that. We were laughing. We were like, yeah, people maybe they come because of Tara and I, you know, maybe because of the podcast. That's why they come into this work. But they stay because of the community. It's people wanting to be a part of this depth and support, and so we do a week-long event and then we find out that that group of people have been in communication for five or six or seven years. I mean this was a five year old community and like so many people showed up for it, in the mourning thing. I get to see it a lot, but in society it is incredibly rare. There's some men's groups that have it or women's groups that have it. There are some very tight 12 step programs that have it. There are some churches that have it. There are some churches who have dysfunctional communities as well. So there are some places, some Buddha Sanghas that have it, but it's a pretty rare thing for it to be deeply vulnerable. That sense of, oh, this is this is ss, this isn't me or you, this is us.

Joe: So it’s an incredibly rare thing. And if you look at the statistics, it's just like the number of friends that the average American has is shrinking all the time. And I think I heard it was like under 3. Recently like 3 friends people that they thought they were close to so and so many people have had like that funeral like had like a dysfunctional form of it that they're just like yeah, it's easier to be in my phone or in my screen or it's easier to not feel it but like it's like not working out you know you it takes a toll it like. It starts making you weaker and less resilient and it becomes a heavy weight on your system to not have it.

Joe: It´s a pandemic as far as I'm concerned. There's just this tremendous lack of community, and I don't even think people know it's possible. It's one of the things that I saw when I was looking around the room of whatever it was, 20 to 25 people, there yesterday. There are some people who didn't know our work or weren’t a part of it, and I could see how touched they were that this was possible. That it was possible that we could come together and support each other in this way in which nobody felt obligation and nobody felt like they had to take care of each other.

Brett: Yeah, yeah. Something you mentioned there was how so many people report and like surveys as having just two or three friends. In a lot of cases, a lot of times I've seen people have like two or three friends. Often those friendships are sort of like let's hang out and watch Netflix together, but we're not really going to go deep into our stuff. It's in the zeitgeist right now. The loneliness epidemic has been in the news and people are talking about it. So what is it? What is it, in your opinion, that makes community in the way that we've been talking about it rare in society right now?

Joe: Yeah, I think a lot of it is just what's known and what's not known, meaning I didn't know that this was possible growing up, right? So, my experience of growing up was you had one or two family friends, and there were things you talked about and there were things you didn't talk about, anything real. There was no example whatsoever that it was even possible to be witnessed and loved in a non-judgmental way. Often when our community has problems, it's people coming and telling them how they should be because what's happening is they don't want to feel something. I don't want to feel the pain of the death of your child. I'm going to say, oh, feel better to you or I don't want to feel the fact that my marriage could fall apart or that financially I could be in trouble. And so I'm just going to come in and tell you how to handle stuff.

The help that people experience from community isn't actually very freaking helpful. So why the hell want it, right? If my only sense of community is that it's very unhelpful, why would I think that it's a useful thing? If my only sense of community is that I have to look a certain way, I have to be a certain way and I have to feel a certain way to be accepted, why the fuck do I want community? I don't want that shit. What I want is a place where I can be loved for who I am, where I'm at in this moment. If I had that sense of community and as far as I've seen anybody who tastes that, anybody I've ever seen who tastes that, they're just like, I want fucking that. I want that. It's like water on a dry sponge, but I don't think there are a lot of examples of it.

Brett: I think there's a lot of counter examples. I think a lot of people have had experiences of community growing up that felt stifling to them. Maybe they were a form of community that had worked for the previous generation, but for them just wasn't working. They might have just decided, OK, I'm just going to be better off going on my own path and then not finding a new community.

Joe: If, for instance, every person in America had witnessed when their parents had problems, that 10 or 12 other couples came around, sat in a circle, witnessed the mom letting out everything, the dad letting out everything, witnessed the anger being released in a healthy way, witnessed the community doing a forgiveness ritual for one another and the community asking forgiveness for not supporting them better. If they had witnessed people speaking their truth, that is really hard to speak and being loved for it, everybody would want community. Everybody would want it and they would sacrifice money to have it and they would sacrifice power to have it because it is unbelievably nourishing.

As soon as you see it, you know it. I cannot tell you how many people when they see it, they're just like, yeah, that's the thing that I want in my life, but instead they didn't get that. They don't talk about it. They give people advice. You know, act right for the neighbors. It is not healthy.

17:07 Brett: One thing I noticed is that when people have felt exiled by community in this way or felt a long term lack of community, that's just become kind of baked into the way that they see the world. When they find real community, there's a way that they're scared of it and also deeply attracted to it at the same time, which can often lead to sort of attacking it a little bit and then also like clinging to it. I want to kind of talk about both of those angles a little bit. Let's start with what scares people about the kind of community that we're talking about here, the kind where they're seen.

Joe: Yeah, we heard it multiple times last yesterday, right? Yesterday afternoon multiple people were saying letting this amount of love in is hard for me. It's scary because it will rip out your identity. Like the comparative mind, I'm this and you're that and I'm not good enough or you're better than I am or I'm better than you. That shit doesn't exist very long in the community like that. So that's scary. It's also scary to be vulnerable generally, like, oh, I'm going to be seen, I'm going to get rejected, I'm going to get pushed out, I'm going to get ostracized.

So you have all the fear that came up your whole life with being real in front of people now shows up in this community. I think those are the main things that really scare people about the community is that, oh, I'm going to be deeply loved or I'm going to be deeply rejected. Both of those are very scary because both of those fuck with our identities in a big way.

Brett: I think another thing that happens is that when you drop the defenses that have kept you safe in the past, there's a lot to feel. Those defenses were there because feeling those things wasn't safe. When you're in a group and your defenses aren't necessary or they're seen through or they're loved in a way that was not previously experienced, then it's scary because you're now in territory that was once dangerous.

Joe: I think all of that. I think the other part of feeling everything that makes it scary is that you have to feel everything. All that shit has to be felt and one of the hallmarks of a great community is that they welcome each other's feelings. They're not trying to fix each other's feelings. That's what makes it really healthy is that deep welcoming of the emotional experience. It's going to come up. It's going to come up because, I mean, if you weren't mourning yesterday. You're with 20 people who were mourning. It's a difficult place to sit. It's not easy to sit with a whole bunch of people having emotions. If you're not willing to have the emotions, you'll get very agitated, judgmental and shit like that.

Brett: What makes people love this form of community?

Joe: On some level, we all want to be seen and loved for who we are and be met with non judgment, to be met with acceptance. If you're listening to this right now, you close your eyes and you just ask yourself what it would be like to be met with acceptance and loved for who I was and not have to put up a front. Do you want that? I can't imagine somebody being like, nope, that sounds like shit. There's this great experiment that I used to talk about, which I called the island experiment, and it's imagine you were dropped onto an island and there were 12 people who unconditionally loved you. They drew boundaries with you. It wasn't like they were just accepting your shit, but they loved you unconditionally. They accepted where you were and they loved you unconditionally. Now if you imagine that you were stuck on that island for a decade, and you're with these basically kind of like saints, almost like people who are just in that kind of deep love. Who are you at the end of that decade? Where is your fear? Where's your love? How do you interact in the world? How do you see yourself? That's why everybody wants it. Because they know if they're met there, what becomes of them? They become the thing that they truly are. I think that's the thing that really pulls people and people can sniff it out.

22:10 Brett: Speaking of sniffing for it, what are the signs of a healthy community? I mean there are a lot of different communities out there and some of them can be dangerous and there's a reason why people have become rather hesitant about community in our society.

Joe: Vulnerability top to bottom is a huge one. Emotional fluidity, top to bottom of the community or side to side of the community, is really important. Transparency is a really important part of a healthy community. A feeling that there isn't us and them in the community. It's just there's a oneness to it. As far as if there's a problem in the community, it's all of our problems. It's not your problem. Another really healthy aspect of a community is there is not a feeling of obligation. People aren't acting in the community out of obligation. If they feel obligation, they announce it, and everybody realizes that. Nobody wants someone to act out of obligation. Another great sign of a healthy community is being non judgmental. It's not judgmental. It's not performative. People don't feel like they have to perform to be a part of the community. Healthy boundaries, very healthy, clear boundaries about what this community is and isn't. If is not like trying to hold people into the community and having a very thoughtful way of a community person leaving. So those are some of the things that make a community, like a strong container makes it something that's really healthy and it can be less or more conscious.

I've seen very healthy communities that are not all that conscious. It's not like, hey, we're in a community. It's just like there's just been like a couple people in the community that are really great examples. I've seen it in a small town once. It was amazing to see that and where it just had become the culture. I've seen some companies. I've seen two companies with a really great sense of community as well. I think it was really conscious to create that community on some levels of the organization. It was very unconscious and so it doesn't have to even be like, hey, we're in a community and we're doing this. It's something that can actually happen a little bit unconsciously or not consciously to everybody in it.

Brett: I'm curious about some example sort of boundaries as you describe about what this community is or isn't. I guess there's a spectrum here from not being consciously created to being very principled and very well defined. I'm curious to hear a couple of data points from that spectrum.

Joe: Yesterday it was really clear, the inside of that container. We're not here judging each other and we're not here to make each other try to feel better. We're accepting people for each other for how we feel. Whatever is true for you and your feelings is what we want to hear about, be shared and share. That's like a boundary that the community if it was not that, it would not have been a very healing situation for anybody, let alone everybody. Those are all examples of it. Things like lying probably would be another great boundary. We're not lying. We don't gossip. We work out our shit. If there's problems between us, we work it out and we work it out with witnessing.

Brett: Those would be all potential boundaries that you would have, and I imagine another boundary might be that we don't always work it out right now because sometimes we have other agendas, of course.

Joe: Yeah, of course. I need space, but I will come back to it. Another boundary would be just like no man can tell another man what to do or no woman can tell another man or woman what to do. There's an understanding that everybody is responsible for themselves, which is an odd paradox, but that we're all responsible for the community. That only really works when everybody is taking responsibility for themselves. It doesn't work when somebody feels like a victim to the community, not taking full responsibility for their actions. It doesn't work. Both things have to be there.

Brett: All right, so I want to give people something practical that they can so they might go find community. Also a beautiful thing to do is just to cultivate community where you are and plant a flag. I'm curious what people can do to cultivate that in their lives, whether it is to go find it somewhere or to plant the flag and start cultivating it on the spot.

Joe: I remember. Like moving and going, OK, I need a sense of community and going and finding it. The way that I did it was I just looked for any place where I thought there was a sense of community, and I looked for healthy ones that were commutative and deep and where there was a lot of acceptance. I went to 12 step programs for children of alcoholics. I went to yoga classes. I went to book clubs. I went until I found the place where that strong sense of community was in existence. Our courses are another example. Other people's courses, there's lots of places where there's just that sense of community. It's just trial and error. Get a feeling, go where you're interested. But also don't stay long if you don't feel this really tight sense of community, so that's one.

As far as cultivating it yourself, what I notice is that if you're in VIEW, if you're doing vulnerability, impartiality, empathy, and wonder as a way of life, not as a communication practice. I noticed that when I treat myself and others like this, my life is better and then that will cultivate a sense of community. There are some skills that you need for the whole community part of it. How to do a mourning ceremony is something that you might want to look into. The Quakers or East Africa have some really great ceremonies. You might want to look into other people's ceremonies and see what you can replicate or the stuff that we do. But the core of it is that vulnerability, impartiality, empathy and wonder with each other, cultivating that and learning those skills together. It is a great way to create that sense of community. What happens is that when you act that way because other people want a sense of community, just more and more people come to you. I've seen you experience that in your life. The more you're there, the more people come to you, but not only do they come to you, they want to be there in that depth with you. Even if it takes some time, it just, it happens and it happens to everybody I've ever seen deeply cultivate. When you know how to connect, people want to connect.

Brett: In my world, I've noticed how over the course of the past number of years, Alexa and I have been really seeking to create community. Earlier on it was very hands on, like, OK, let's find the people that we want to have community with. We're going to pull together and buy a piece of property, and sometimes people do that and it works. It didn't work out for us in that particular instance. What ended up happening, though, is that we've ended up having community around us because we did something like planting a flag. We did something like, just OK, here's what we want. We kind of created a world where people could come around us and be around us. We're not like running or leading a community, but what happened was that we started a bit of a center of gravity that has coalesced into a beautiful sense of community that still of course has its challenges and its conflicts. What is this? Is this a community? Who's in it? What is it? There are a lot of questions. There's one thing that I can say to define this community is that there's a number of people who are sitting in the questions a lot of the time. As a result, there's just a lot of support available and there's a lot of gatherings and there's a lot of spaciousness to move things individually or as groups and with support. It wasn't top down created.

Joe: I saw it at your wedding. That was a really strong sense of community. It was incredibly transparent, incredibly forthright. It wasn't like, oh, let me tell you a cute story about Brett and Alexa. It was like here's some real shit and like, you could just see that sense of depth. It was very clearly there. Whether there's a structure to it or whether you call it a community or not, there were a lot of people being transparent and supporting one another.

Brett: Yeah, yeah. A lot of it felt very self organized, the community aspect of it. Just the way people showed up makes the community.

Joe: Yeah, I mean it's our nature to be in community. We're not a non communal, individual solo species. Good to be with you. Good to be with you yesterday. For those in the community that came yesterday, I just want to thank you very much. I was deeply touched and healed by the ceremony yesterday. So I just want to thank everybody who showed up.

Brett: Thank you everybody, for listening. If you have any follow up questions from this episode, I'd love to hear them. Maybe we'll do a Community 2 someday, and you can reach out to us on X, Twitter, or in a Circle Community, or e-mail, or on our website,

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