38 min read

On Cultivating (Healthy) Community

Your community is yours to build. To cultivate for yourself. Your parents and gov't can't do that for you. They might be able to place you in a location surrounded by other people. But it only becomes community when you make it one.
On Cultivating (Healthy) Community
Photo by Jon Tyson / Unsplash

If you’ve been following me on TikTok you already know it’s time to talk about building community.

I'll get into the tea, but first thing's first, let's define community so we can get on the same page about the vision.

Community as I define it in this article is an extended network of people who complement one another's values and skills in a way that allows them to work together and support one another in living.

A healthy community, specifically, is designed to support us in living a healthy life.

Community is about everything from celebration to culture to varying levels of friendship, camaraderie, acquaintanceship, and lastly, yes, mutual aid. That is: sharing resources and developing a micro economy backed by bartering & gifting to help balance out the weight of having to pay for everything else.

Allll of this is what I mean when I say "community".

And, to be perfectly clear, I'm talking about your community.

No one tells us this, but your community is for you. It's yours to build. To cultivate for yourself. Activists & organizers can't do that for you. Your government can't do that for you. Your parents and friends can't do that for you.

They might be able to place you in a location surrounded by other people. But it only becomes community when you make it one.

And it's not that they won't. It's that they couldn't if they wanted to.

They don't know the ins & outs of your needs, your boundaries, how you like to be supported, your preferences, your lane, your gifts, and your contributions the way you do.

They support and contribute to your community. We all contribute - whether we like it or not - to how the next person experiences community. Every interaction. Good & bad.

So we contribute. But no one can create your community for you. Community is about relationships. And no one can find and build and nurture your relationships for you, any more than you can for them.

The good news is you get to build yours however you want.

As my contribution I'm going to give you a guide to support you in doing exactly that.

It will include some action steps, some pitfalls to look out for and some resources and tools to support with remedying those.

But the point of this article is for you to have a path to feeling well supported, first, and sharing that with others where you can along the way.

Now, community is critical for a few reasons.

#1. Emotional Support & Belonging

I’ve been seeing stuff pop up lately about a “loneliness epidemic”. You heard of it? We're more isolated than ever, especially since the pandemic, it seems.

As a species, we’re struggling with trust. We’re struggling with loneliness. And we’re struggling with belonging.

Cultivating community supports our growth and healing in all of the above.

#2. Resource Sharing and Collaboration

I shared a revolutionary type post on TikTok about how "we’re begging them to ceasefire when they should be begging us to come back to work".

The responses were really eye-opening. They tell me that a large number of people are on the same page, but that same large number of people don’t have mutual aid community and resources. They’re worried they’d take the leap, stop going to work, and be left out to dry.

They’d be homeless with no food, no resources, etc.

This makes sense with roughly 60% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, let alone the varying levels of isolation + poverty that are happening outside of my home country.

Still, this is a fixable problem. It just won't be fixed at scale by capitalism and we need to stop expecting it to. The first step to healing in many cases is accepting the truth.

The best, most immediate answer to capitalism's problems right now is community and mutual aid.

I'm not saying this in theory. I have been the person who wasn't sure I'd have a roof over my head, until my community made sure I did. I have learned in devastating ways that should I not be able to afford to eat that people in my life in fact would support me with that, should I be courageous enough to admit I needed the support.

It doesn't take a revolution to end up without a job. Without shelter. This happens to people everyday for reasons beyond their control.

Community is a gift we give ourselves to never have to fear for our lives in these instances.

And it's an immediate answer because, like I mentioned before, you can build it yourself. Exactly how you need to. Because you know your needs.

#3 Enhanced Quality of Life

Community benefits don't stop at survival and belonging. We get verifiable improvement in quality of life when we exist within strong, healthy communities.

Here are some more benefits including, but not limited to:

  • Community gives us a role - a purpose - to play in this life. And with the right community we get to choose a role and purpose that really lights us up, exercises our gifts, and that we feel appreciated for and supported in pursuing. No more sitting on your ass all day feeling depressed about not having friends or people who value you. Healthy community is built on the foundation that they do, in fact, value you and your contribution as much as you do them.
  • Increased sense of enjoyment in life. A healthy community will have people who remind you to have fun. Disconnect. Enjoy something. Laugh at yourself. Not only does our access to fun activities expand with more relationships, so does our ability to share things, passions, and moments we love with other people who appreciate the same kind of stuff.
  • A deeper sense of security that we will be okay, because we know that we have other people we can lean on for support in tough times. I have no idea where I'd be today without community. Probably nowhere good.
  • And a deeper sense of compassion - both for ourselves and the people around us. When your community is diverse and healthy, you learn first hand how hard it is to hate people up close. Community teaches compassion, forgiveness, and understanding more than anything I've ever known, and this helps us feel safer with all other people.
  • Emotional support on tap at all times. You don't have to grieve alone. Despair alone. You have someone available in those low points.

Lastly, it also happens to come in clutch during the fall of an empire. This would be a joke if our economy wasn’t recently diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer (i.e. Late Stage Capitalism). In my opinion, this should be something we're all considering at this point, to be safe. Check your six. See who's covering you. This is important.

Communities are incredible vessels for healing and, built with integrity, no one is giving or taking too much to empty anyone's cup.

Community provides protection and security. It provides a safety net for humans to be humans. Done with integrity, it feels great to give back to community. And it helps us grow.

Plus, I don't know if you've noticed, but we simply need the connection community offers. We’re social creatures.

More than literally anything else we are creators of love and connection. Even when it really, really doesn't seem that way. You'll notice the recluse who hates being perceived offering little contributions to that nice barista that always gets their drink right the first time.

It might be the only person they smile at. But ask around, and I bet you'll find most of us have at least one person we like to smile at. The most basic form of our natural instinct to love. To connect. To be in community.

This is as scientifically backed as bees creation of honey.

Finally, to be clear, I do mean a predominantly local community.

We do great building online communities already, we don’t need any help with that.

But there's a growing number of fully capable and lovable adult human beings who have anxiety attacks at the thought of someone speaking to us in a coffee shop (myself included on a bad day), for fear of being seen, and it's about time we nip this shit.

Enough of Me Running My Mouth.


The Path, The Practice

I'm going to walk you through 4 phases of building and cultivating your community.

It's okay to take your time.

Phase 1: Audit Your Current Community (A Conversation About Trust & Expectations)

Phase 2: Meet New Community Members

Phase 3: Facilitate & Foster Connections

Phase 4: The Greatest Gift Community Gives Us

Remember to keep what works and leave the rest. This won't all be for you. Find your gems.

Phase 1: Audit Your Current Community

Before we run out the door to meet all our neighbors, chances are you have some people in your proximity who already belong in your community.

Maybe we realize it, maybe we don't.

Hell, perhaps there are people who we think belong but won't show up the way we hope they will, and that might change some things for us.

Let's get clear about all of that before moving forward.

Who’s Already In Your Corner?

First things first, take a look around. Who's already in your life?

Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, Susan from Karaoke night...

These are the people we're talking about.

You might have a bigger community than you realize (a lot of us do).

Get out a piece of paper and make a list. List all the people you'd be willing to call for support should you need to for any reason. Even if that call is the only reason you'd speak to them. Even if that call is a hail mary.

If they make it to the "Hail Mary of calls", they're on the list.

Leave some space between each of the names and we’ll fill it in.

Understanding Their Impact

Now, think about how these people affect your life.

What can you count on them for? Emotionally, physically, materially? What do you struggle to count on them for? Are they in your inner circle? How well do you know them (scale of 1-10)?

This isn’t about judgment. It’s about setting realistic expectations for the people around you. Why? Because reality is the point sustainable trust is built from.

Half the time we lose trust in people it's because our expectations of them weren't realistic to begin with.

See the article below for more on this:

The Art of Trust
I realize now that what I really wanted was to outsource the work of really seeing people. But seeing people, and I mean really seeing them, can’t be outsourced.

In short, one of the biggest fallacies of community-building logic is that we go into it wanting to expect other people to show up the way we do. To give the way we do. To love the way we do.

You want a robust community of people you can count on when the world is ending and when it's going smoothly? It's time to count on them to be who they are, and learn to see the magic in whatever that is.

So if your friend who you like to think is with you through thick & thin would actually dog you if you got "soft" about some shit, now’s the time to own it and let that be okay.

We all need shoulders sometimes. Strong shoulders are built. Not everyone has them. There are other people with that muscle who would be happy to lend it to you.

Perhaps that friend is great for just about everything else. Perhaps they bring the vibe. The creativity. Maybe they’re always down to dog sit. And maybe they’re great at introducing you to new people and opportunities. But emotionally available? Yeah, that's not them.

Love. It's time to recognize the truth for what it is, and let that be okay.

None of us can be relied on for everything. Every single one of us can only be relied on for certain things. Not everything. And that's okay.

So for your people? Near and far, write it down. Take stock.

What About You?

Yeah, you have your gifts too. You have your muscles too.

And, there are also things people would be wise to not rely on you for.

Some examples from my list:

  • Do not rely on me to make the group plans. I will not make the group plans. Planning group activities for adults is an absolute pain in my ass.
  • I will attend group plans, be on time, and be responsive to questions and instruction about my role in said plans.
  • Of course I will agree to remind you about the thing you need to remember later. I love you.
  • No. I will not remember to remind you. I forgot I have ADHD because I was too busy trying to love you.
  • The feedback I have for my loved ones is often unsolicited, usually kind, and always honest. Approach me accordingly.
  • Don't ask me to watch your infant child unchaperoned. Yes. I know the list of things they need is about 3 items long. The fragile banshees terrify me.
  • Give me the snotty 3 year old that can clearly articulate to me that I look like shit today before proceeding to scribble all over themselves with a marker. That's my kind of kid. That kid and I get each other on a spiritual level.
  • No, you don't call me to help you hide the body. Too paranoid, therefore, I am the person who's house you show up to to get the story straight. (You better not call me. They track that shit).

Simply put, there are some things people can rely on me for, and other things people simply shouldn't.

The same goes for you.

Getting honest about these things sets everyone up for success. Yourself included.

Contrary to popular belief, half the work of reliability is knowing when to say "no, I'm not that person for you" and giving people an opportunity to accept you as you are with clear expectations.

They might not like hearing it from your mouth, but wait til you see what happens when you leave them to find out from your actions. Ouch.

So, what are the contributions you love to make? The ones you're down to make? And the ones everyone's better off not counting on you for?

Pay special attention to your gifts in this list. This is where you shine the most.

Write it all down.

Great work.

Now you have a clearer view of your current community.

Hopefully you look back over this list and find it to be realistic. As in, you know who you can call for what, and when.

Whether it's a shoulder to lean on, a good time with like-minds, an accountability partner, or literal food.

Hopefully you also realize the value you bring to the table as well.

But I'm sure there will be gaps, and that's important too.

Identifying Potential Gaps for Mutual Aid

Mutual Aid is a large part of what communities exist for. It means I can call my friend to help me with my hair and she'll say it's on the house and maybe later she hits me up for a business consult and I say it's on the house.

It's the reason I've never been homeless and food-less even when I couldn't afford housing and food.

If you were making a mutual aid community, what roles wouldn’t be filled with your current list?

Do you need a gardener? A plumber? Someone with extra space? Investment money? A builder? Electrician? Healthcare workers? Mechanic? Artists? Someone who makes clothes? Someone to cook the food? If children are present, do we have caretakers? Community organizers & activists? Social workers and therapists? Do we need a butcher?

Who do you need?

A lot of people on your list might not be professionals at this & that, but that doesn't mean they don't have the skills to figure it out.

For example, one of my friends is an engineer for Honda. She's also the person I call when my Jeep makes a weird noise I don't understand. My nurse friends aren't doctors, but they know enough to let me know if I need to go see one and, while they honor their roles and never diagnose, they'll give me a heads up of the potentials I'm in for.

The list doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be started. You’ll continue to work on it over time.

Appreciating Diversity

Not everyone will have your identity, your gifts, or your sensitivities.

Literally no one around you will carry the nuances of your awareness. Your awareness is yours.

This is the point and beauty of individuality. Of diversity. Of inclusion.

Ricky is never on time and you are. That’s okay. Quit expecting Ricky to be you.

You're a very organized person and you respect peoples' time. You arrive when you say you will. You follow through. That's incredible and people appreciate that about you.


Maybe Ricky defines and measures "respect" differently than you do. Maybe Ricky suffers from time-blindness. Maybe it's not personal and not a threat to you.

Maybe your taking offense to it is something to unpack and heal before deciding Ricky just doesn't give a shit about you.

Plot twist: Ricky is a very forgiving and understanding person when it comes to simple mistakes. Even the habitual ones. They're good at meeting people where they're at. They're very disorganized and make simple mistakes all the time so they love people how they themselves need to be loved.

Just like you.

Sounds like you & Ricky can learn a lot from each other about how to expand your capacity for love.

We all play our roles, and every single one of us can learn from the next person, if only we were to take a moment to stop trying to make them behave like we do, believe like we do, and love like we do.

Setting the Stage

As you jet off on your journey to build your community, understanding who's already in your life and the roles they play sets the stage for the next steps.

It's about recognizing and appreciating the people around us, whether we've fully noticed them or not. This awareness guides us as we move forward…

But First, Where We Hit Roadblocks

If you're struggling to expand your community, chances are you're having troubles with the current one you're a part of, or still healing from the last one you transitioned out of.

Community is something we heal in. Healing is about releasing past traumas and changing our perspective and behaviors moving forward.

These are some of the most common issues that people need support with in community (click whatever interests you or scroll to keep reading)...

The Art of Trust
I realize now that what I really wanted was to outsource the work of really seeing people. But seeing people, and I mean really seeing them, can’t be outsourced.
Boundaries: A Practice
Boundaries aren’t about getting other people to treat you better. Boundaries are about getting YOURSELF to treat you better.
Healing Your Attachment Wounds
This is for you if you’ve ever found yourself trying to convince someone to love you - or show you they mean it. If you run from vulnerability, even when you want it. Or if you never really know what to expect, and it shows.
Why Humans Suck at Emotional Intimacy
What happens when we discover the emotional body?

If you're ready to move forward...

Step 2: Find New Community Members

It doesn’t matter if you’re starting with 1 or 15 other community members, it almost always helps to extend your network.

There will always be gaps like the ones mentioned above. A full, balanced, and luscious community fills those gaps and then has extra pairs of hands to spare.

So, it’s time to start networking.

We’re going to do this the common sense way.

Step 1: Building Connections (How to Strike Up Conversations with Strangers)

If we all feel disconnected - which is seems many of us do - then we’ll all notice the beauty in stumbling across random moments of connection with strangers.

Consider the opportunities you have to strike up random conversations with people.

Neighbors passing by on the street. Other patrons in line at the local coffee shop. The cashier at the gas station. Whoever feels interesting to you, whenever you’re in the mood.

Look at people you see all the time as if you're seeing them for the first time.

Notice them. Stop for a second and really notice people.

Consider how many conversations you have yet to have. Consider trying a new one on for size.

If you're struggling to think of anyone or that sounds terrifying, one of my favorite things to do is find something to participate in where community and connection is built in and expected.

  • Volunteer at an organization.
  • Get a part time job.
  • Join a gaming group or sports league.

These are places where people will reasonably expect to interact with you so you don't have to feel so weird. They're also places where activity happens so you have ways to move in & out of conversation (very helpful for ND's, introverts, and the socially anxious).

No need to put on a mask or force any body language. I’m personally a much bigger fan of genuine interactions and unmasking the friend group.

Here are some baby steps to help you strike up conversations and build connections with the people around you.

Start With a Question That Matters

When striking up conversations with strangers we ask meaningless questions and then complain when we find ourselves forming meaningless connections.

The fix? Ask better questions.

Ask questions that matter.

Ask questions that really help you get to know someone and, just as important, help people get to know you.

This will be a personal choice. Write a few questions down that feel real.

Think about those specific people you've never struck up a conversation with. Take a moment to stop thinking of them as a cog in your day and actually wonder about them.

The questions will come to you when you remember how to see them as human.

One of my favorites is the next one…

Ask if They’re Happy

You want a community of people who care about one another's’ wellbeing I assume, yes? Great. Lead with that in your own energy.

Care about if people are happy by asking if they're happy.

When you ask people how they’re doing, really ask, and really listen for the long answer. Or if you go more bold, ask if they’re happy. Straight up.

"What do you do for work?"

"Oh I blehbloobleh"

"Oh yeah? Are you happy?"

See what happens.

It also gets you out of small talk pretty quickly and keeps conversations interesting.

Sincere Compliments

Quit faking compliments.

We want genuine connections, remember?

So keep the compliments sincere. And it’s okay if you don’t have anything you want to compliment. Showing a genuine interest in who someone is is still more than most people get any given day. You’re doing great. Keep it up.

Share Observations

Comment on shared experiences. Again, I’d make this less about the weather and more about something meaningful.

Things we all care about:

  • How our careers/jobs are going
  • How our day is going in a real way. Admit your day is pissing you off. It feels more refreshing in a world full of people afraid to "be negative" as if anyone is actually limited to the emotional capacity of a teaspoon in that way.
  • Whether or not we feel a sense of purpose in our lives
  • Whether or not our loved ones are proud of us
  • Our special interests
  • The vibe of the moment in whatever space we’re in
  • Why people are the way they are. Psychology affects everyone, therefore, even people without a special interest in psychology give a shit and have opinions about why people do the things we do.
    • This is one of my favorite go-to's because it also tells you a lot about a person, how they view the world, and their place in it. Some of my favorite conversations have started with me saying "Why do you think people (some weird or perplexing thing people do)" and letting it unfold from there.
  • I’m pretty sure everyone 50 and under has at least one conspiracy theory we’re low-key vibing with right now. Own your weird, Fran. It's fine.
  • Late Stage Capitalism. Some people are in denial about this because they feel it's a bit of a buzzkill & well, that's not our choice to make for them, is it? What is our choice, though, is figuring out where people in our community stand on politics so we know what we can rely on them for. So fuck it. Bring it up if it feels safe enough to do so.
  • Dating & relationships but honestly there's just so much going on I wonder if this fits into small talk now maybe.

Be Present and Engage

For my socially anxious babes, this is the time to focus more on what’s going on with them. Be present in the moment with whatever they’re feeling and saying.

One of my old mentors used to tell me about networking, "the most interesting person in the room is the most interested person in the room."

Pretty sure that's a paraphrased quote he got from that How to Win Friends & Influence People book, which feels kind of corny. But he wasn't wrong.

People like to feel seen (on their own terms). They're far less interested in how you see them if it doesn't align with how they want to be seen. But if you're looking for how they see themselves and the world, people love to feel seen and understood in that.

We all do. These are beautiful moments.

So if you're feeling uncomfortable about oversharing it helps to just...stay curious. Pay attention to how they want to be understood.

Just be there & see them the way they want to be seen. Actively listen & respond accordingly. The rest will work itself out. This takes practice, but it helps break the ice while your anxiety soothes and you get used to interacting with this person.

Share more of yourself when you're good & ready to. In the meantime, no harm in learning about the people around you.

Offer Help

Again, we want communities where help and compassion are normalized. So lead with that energy. If you see someone who could use a hand and you have the energy and spoons, offer assistance without any pretense.

Ask For Help

Normalize it for yourself, too. You exist.

Get Curious About the Deeper Shit

If and when it feels safe enough to do so, ask about their day and genuinely care about their response. Ask their opinions on politics and genuinely care about their response. Ask what matters to them and genuinely care about their response.

Yes. This has risks.

We don't always like peoples opinions and we don't always like sharing our opinions with others.

Wait let me rephrase.

We've been conditioned to fear one anothers' opinions as well as the genuine expressions of our own.

Peoples opinions have started to feel downright threatening in a lot of scenarios. Even if all they're doing is talking, expressing themselves honestly at a safe distance - if they express the wrong opinion it feels it like a slap to the face. Like a threat to our children.

There's a word for this. It's called being triggered.

Being triggered is what happens when our nervous systems feels and reacts to a danger that is not currently present.

The massive downside to this is that in order for humans to get on the same page as one another, we have to discuss our opinions. Not to be confused with fighting about our opinions.

Healthy community has friction. Tension. Differences. And diversity of thought.
If everyone in your community thinks just like you, and is afraid to disagree, that's called a cult.

To each their own but cults don't have a good track record for happy endings. America is a cult. Look at us now.

So, you want to be in community with people? You have to learn to disagree with people without fearing for your life about it. Even about shit that matters to you.

This doesn't mean you lay down & do nothing. It means you do something, of course. But regulate through it so you do what's called for.

No more, no less.

There are five keys that each individual needs to be responsible for in community tension:

  1. Check in with yourself before entering potentially tense conversations
  2. Be aware of yourself. Your emotional state. Your triggers.
  3. Regulate your own triggers.
  4. Step away before it gets to a point of no return
  5. Reflect.
    1. A question I like to ask myself when I'm feeling activated is "what am I feeling that's for the present, and what am I feeling that's from the past?"

It's also important to learn how to fight in a way that doesn't rip communities apart.

I'll do a follow up about this soon. Don't let me forget.

But for now, regulating your own triggers goes a long way. And, if anyone gets above a 4, walk away. No one can hear each other when we're activated. Take a break and return to it later.

Moving on...

Discover Common Ground

Yes, find common ground. Even with all our differences, our relationships live & die on the hill of common ground.

Whether it's hobbies, interests, values, or whatever.

Ask them what they're interested in, then just listen and ask more questions. Let them teach you something.

Show up. See where it goes. It’s all an experiment right now. Think of it as that & nothing more until it becomes something more. The point is to get a conversation going about something true and see where that takes you.

Anyway, you don’t have to like all of these tips. Just like one of them.

Then, go use it. :)

Once you start meeting people you’ll get to update your list of community members and move into next steps.

Part 2: Digging Into Shared Values and Skills

Once you've begun to meet people in your community it's time to explore if they share your values and have complementary skills for mutual aid.

Do they fill the gaps?

This step is crucial in creating a support network that's built for trust and collaboration.

And yes, you can talk to people about this openly. Ask them if they know about mutual aid and how they feel about it. Wouldn't they love a network of people to lean on for various needs? Ask them how they feel about community. These are great questions to get to know where someone’s head & heart is and if they're on the same wavelength as you.

And if they have no idea what you're talking about when you say the words "mutual aid", how they go about that will say a lot about them. Are they open & interested or are they looking at you like a quack?

That pretty much tells you all you need to know.

Otherwise, here's how you can go about seeing where someone fits in your world, and where you can in theirs:

Authentic Conversations

Continue having authentic conversations. Remember, authenticity is about sharing who you really are and where you really stand from a vulnerable space.

It's about saying, “this is who I really am, and I’d like to know who you are and hopefully, we’re a good fit to be in each others’ lives.”

People rarely respond poorly to honest, innocent intentions.

Authenticity Is / Is Not... (Activity Prompt)
How can you act authentically from your truth if you aren’t checking in on it?

Make Your Contribution

We’re all tired, and, we all need community.

Being a contributor builds good-will, and good karma that comes back to you tenfold.

The cool thing is you now have a list of gifts you feel better giving. Gifts that give you a sense of purpose. If the opportunity arises, express a willingness to support. At minimum, express a willingness to get involved.

My last bartending job was at a local gay bar. I was looking for exactly what we’re talking about here: community.

I was still fairly new to Ohio and outside of my relationship at the time, I didn't feel I had any friends I could call my own. I didn’t have a sense of community and belonging I felt secure in. So I went & got a job bartending and I was looking for one thing: belonging.

The staff seemed pretty tight knit. Like a clique. They later told me they knew that about themselves. They chuckled about how newcomers rarely got through that big “this is our home, our family” brick wall of exclusive energy they sort of had draped around the place. Intimidation, I imagine.

The thing that made me stand out, it seems, is that I didn’t care about any of that.

I do this thing sometimes, and especially with new people, where I simply don’t feed into energy I don’t want to participate in. I think my therapist would call this "denial". Some people call it "naïveté".

Whatever it's called, it works.

Instead of shying away with intimidation or trying to butter them up wanting them to like me, I relaxed. We were either going to get along or we weren’t. That wasn’t up to me. And considering I wasn't there for the money, I could leave if I didn't like it anyway.

Besides, they’re just people. Like me. So I showed up as just that: a fellow person.

I was friendly. I offered to help where I could. Whenever I found myself standing around without anything to do during training, I’d say “hey I need direction please” so someone would give me something to do.

A couple of the bartenders said something about plans to go to the dog park while we were closing one night. They were right next to me so I might as well have been included in the convo anyway. So without inviting myself I shrugged & said “I like the dog park. That sounds fun” and they asked me if I had a dog, we showed each other pictures of our pups, and they invited me to join.

The rest was history.

Later I found out that they appreciated that I wasn't intimidated and just treated them like regular humans - as well as showed up as one. They appreciated that I spoke up. I spoke up about offering to help and about asking for it. I spoke up about interests that I found we had in common - without expecting anything in return.

I showed up as who I am and let them choose.

I asserted myself without inserting myself.

I’m still good friends with some of them today, over 10 years later. Three of them I call family.

A lot has changed. We’ve all grown a ton. And we don’t all see each other as often. But we all remember the chosen family we have together and we all keep in touch.

This was the biggest lesson for me that building community is oftentimes as simple as showing up as a contributing member yourself. Just pick your lane and start driving. No one is stopping you.

Community is contribution as much as it is sharing space and interests.

Assert yourself without inserting yourself. Meaning: you exist. So do that. You have contributions to make. Offer them. You have interests to share with others. Express them. You exist. So exist with them.

Get Curious About Skills

One thing I quickly noticed as I entered this new community (that expanded out into the greater gay and lesbian community of Columbus, OH) was how we seemed to have a go-to person for everything.

Need a dog sitter? Carpenter? Chiropractor? Mechanic? Tattoo artist? Nurse Practitioner? Social Worker? Real Estate Agent? Place to live? Someone to work the grill at the cookout? Interior designer? HR pro to help with your resume? Bartender? Hair Stylist? Gardener? Finance pro? DJ & photographer for your wedding?

If you needed support with something all you had to do was ask around. And if whoever you asked wasn’t sure, they’d ask around too. You'd find someone. And usually whoever you were working with was also in the community, so they got you the best hookup they could. And if there was room for a barter that worked out too.

This is essentially what the queer community has been like for me, in general. But I don't want to pretend I've visited every queer bubble. I've only known a couple. But I'm pretty sure that's just how it goes.

And to be clear: it's the same for the black community. And lots of communities.

They all have their flaws, but it was definitely a community takes care of community kind of situation. And everyone is very proud of this. Of being a contributing member.

So how do you build this for yourself?

Remember that sheet where you figured out who could bring what “to the table”?

Make another one, “little black book” style. I want you to make a little black book of people in your life and their trade or skills they specialize in.

Make a point to casually bring up mutual aid and bartering to them and see where they stand with it. Talk about capitalism with people. Talk about community with people. Not to change their mind, but to simply get to know where their minds are at so you can be clear in your own expectations.

Add their contact info and what you contact them for, aid wise.

If you need mutual aid of any kind, you’ll know who to turn to, first.

As you meet new people get curious about what they do for a living, what they’d prefer to do for a living, and what their side hustles and hobbies are.

Not in the “I want to know your status & income level” kind of way that people sometimes do. No no. Get curious about what their contributions are. And remember to offer your own.

Get Clear About Complementary Values:

Community isn’t just about shared resources, it’s also about shared values.

We want to feel safe with the people we coexist with, but that’s become increasingly difficult over the decades.

The interesting thing is that we tend to share more values than we think.

For example: a lot of people on both sides of whatever the political aisle at any given time have a value of family or, at minimum relationship of some kind. A lot of people have a value of compassion.

A lot of us fail to meet those values when we sense compassion for our own families and loved ones being threatened. Then we get defensive and lose sight of our own values in a blink.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that, when you really break it down, makes more sense than we realize (tied to trauma and the physiology of trauma responses). But I’ll cover that another time.

For now, it’s tough to get clear on what values you share with someone else if you aren’t aware of your own.

So the first thing to do is exactly that: get clear on your own values.

The key word in “core values” is “core”.

Think of core values as the things you absolutely need to strive for in life. Life doesn’t feel right without that energy present and prioritized. It feels painfully out of balance when you're forced out of core values. Almost like a violation of self.

For example, my #1 value is probably integrity. Meaning, what’s happening inside of me is adequately represented in my actions. I’m not thinking one thing and saying another and doing yet another.

Integrity, to me, is alignment.

Any time I feel myself step out of my integrity I get a deep anxiety that just sits under the surface nagging at me. It's one of my most sensitive boundaries, and one of the most painful boundary violations I can experience. It physically impacts my nervous system to be out of alignment in that way.

I need to be in my integrity. It’s not just a pretty thing I say to sound like a good person. There’s plenty of other shit I do that gives me some edge, some darkness. Nobody's all love and light. We all have our shit. But being out of integrity isn’t something I can consciously stomach very well, personally.

Our core values are like this. We simply cannot live without striving to meet them. They may grow and evolve over time, but generally they stick around in one form or another. They’re a core part of who we are. We feel a pain of losing ourselves when we step outside of them.

In addition to integrity, some other core values of mine are spirituality, connection, compassion, autonomy, purpose, and a deep, deep love of learning.

Take any of these away from me and you’ll notice how quickly I fall out of center. It’s like taking a fish out of water. I flail, spiraling, unable to breathe life into my day.

This might sound dramatic but I want you to think about it for a minute for yourself.

You can use Berkeley Wellbeing Institute’s list of values to get started.

Take a look at the list. Do you notice any concepts there that, when you think about it, you simply cannot imagine yourself living without striving for these things?

Like, the thought of being without them makes your skin crawl. Like it's just not you. Could never be you. It’s difficult to imagine. It doesn’t make sense; you stop making sense without them present.

Find the top 5-10.

Those are your core values. Congratulations. Keep them near and dear to you. They’re a big part of who you are and they’re not going anywhere any time soon.

But You’re Not the Only Person In the Community

There are others in the community too. And they deserve to have their own values, too. We each have a right to our own.

But sometimes they bump up against one another and it doesn't feel too good.

For example, my value of autonomy may not feel too comfortable with someone else’s value of influence. I may find some of the ways they exercise their influence to be manipulative or controlling.

This doesn’t mean we can’t get along. It means I need to be aware of myself, my boundaries, and my role.

If we can get clear on the benefits of each others’ values, we can support one another in exercising them in healthy ways.

I can help them figure out how to exercise their influence without incidentally challenging anyone’s autonomy. They might help me exercise the things that give me purpose in a way that has more positive influence on the community as a whole.

There's nothing wrong with autonomy and there's nothing wrong with influence. It's how we go about exercising these things. Am I taking my autonomy to the extent of hyper-independence? Are they taking their influence to the extent of manipulation?

These are things we can support one another with if we're not too busy being afraid of one another.

This is what it means to work together. Collaboration over compromise and conflict is always the goal.

How to See What Someone Else’s Values Are

Obviously you can ask, but our core values show up more in our behavior than anything else.

A lot of people aren't aware of their values. And even more, I might notice values that another person doesn't pay much mind to because of how I'm impacted by them.

So having our own gauge of others' values is helpful for establishing expectations we ourselves can trust. They don't have to agree. They don't even have to know. What other people think of us is, largely, none of our business, and not really about us anyway.

Remember, values are things we don’t feel right if we aren’t striving for. I have a couple of friends who are married. They work hard at building a family, a home, and financial security. They don't run around saying "I really value family." In fact I don't think I've ever heard either of them say anything of the sort.

It just shows.

So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out things like hard work, family and financial security are core values they share as a couple and will inevitably instill much of in their children (if they can help it).

What about your people? What does their behavior suggest about their core values? What values do they keep coming back to, over and over again, and seem to be pained when challenged on?

By focusing on discovering shared values and complementary skills, you can start building a mutual aid community that's rooted in authenticity and mutual support.

Part 3: Connecting the Dots - Introducing People to Build a Cohesive Community

Now that you've identified individuals who share your values and have complementary skills, it's time to connect them with each other to strengthen your community.

Here are some ideas to facilitate these introductions:

Find Common Interests

It's likely that the people you're introducing to one another have things in common with each other. You can be intentional about making warm introductions by identifying similar interests and including it in the intro. Or just mentioning the common interests to each of them even before they've met to build a sense of friendly familiarity.

This isn't about gossiping about peoples personal business to each other. Let people tell their own stories there. What I'm talking about is more of a "Oh yeah, my friend Micah was just talking about DND the other day, I think they play too" kind of thing.

Invite to Events

Sometimes we get into a groove with our core friend groups. Plenty of people separate friend groups. This often isn't personal so much as there's a certain vibe when a certain group of people get together, and there's fear around changing that vibe. Not all change is bad, nor is it permanent. It's okay to experiment and mix it up once in a while.

If there's someone in your extended community who you think has enough in common with your other friends and community members, invite them along. The worst that can happen is they don't click. But keep in mind, community doesn't mean everyone is best friends.

It could just be that they end up being good acquaintances. And good acquaintances are still great to have.

You've still done everyone in the room a favor if Bob the gardener is now in everyone's contact list for a rainy day, if nothing else. Now they all have more community to lean on than they did before should they ever need to use the number, and that's never a bad thing.

"I Know Someone..."

We have those times when someone needs a certain kind of help that we're not necessarily best suited for. A friend called me the other day and she was worried about being able to finish a build. I knew the build wasn't something I'd be able to do, but I knew someone else who'd likely be up for the task. So I just...said that.

Sometimes your friends say yes, sometimes they'll say no. That time, my friend said no thank you. She was already working out how to finish it herself. But if any issues arise, the offer stands and she can change her mind. She can also hit me back up later for any future projects. Now the seed has been planted that "I know a guy."

Invite to Shared Projects, Missions, & Goals

Like I mentioned before, if you follow me on TikTok you know this article was inspired by more of a mutual aid, what are we going to do with our crappy government kind of situation concerning the genocide in Palestine.

Basically, "I'd be down to do a general strike or put my foot down against my government funding the genocide of an entire group of people, but I'm worried I'll be alone. I'd need a lot of support to keep my housing and food."

Community is first stepping stone to answer to this problem.

And people know this. A lot of people replied and reached out personally about starting mutual aid groups and organizations.

I think that's a beautiful and necessary idea. In the spirit of that, I'd say as you get a clearer picture of how your people work, play, and get along together, you can come up with ideas for how you all can work together to solidify a mutual aid structure - or whatever other projects, missions, and goals you might all share.

This doesn't have to be something like Palestine, and more often than not it realistically doesn't start there.

It's much more likely to start with something far lower stakes. Say, everyone getting together to help the artist set up for their art show, or a baby shower, a fundraiser, or whatever kind of event that brings people together to collaborate. Bring something, clean something, etc.

Finding smaller ways to invite everyone to work together to accomplish a common goal gives you and everyone else low-pressure ways to see how you all like working together and what your dynamics are like.

Nothing happens overnight. Expecting a bunch of strangers or people who aren't used to collaborating in this way (even if they're not strangers) to get together all of a sudden and support one another in high stakes, vulnerable ways is a long shot.

That likely won't happen unless it's our own lives that are in immediate danger.

But getting together to organize a meaningful event that no one's life is relying on is a solid way to introduce everyone and test the waters of collaborating and getting more comfortable relying on one another.

This helps you, but it also helps them. Everyone needs community. All you can do is invite them to participate, but people like being involved in something larger than themselves. We generally like to feel like we contributed to something. And we like feeling connected.

It's scary now, but it doesn't change that these are basic needs and urges of human beings. The main thing going on right now is a lot of people are afraid, which means a lot of people are afraid to take initiative to put things like this together. To make the ask. To light the fire.

That might need to be you, and that's okay. They'll thank you for it. And you'll thank yourself. If nothing else it's a learning opportunity for everyone involved.

It could even be a birthday or holiday party. Whatever the case, take it easy take it slow. Try to avoid asking a group of people to marry one another overnight.

Fostering organic connections is helpful for everyone's ability to choose their own lane, and trust that it feels right for them.

Because if there's one thing I can promise it's that if it doesn't feel right for everyone, it's not going to feel right for anyone.

By introducing people to one another and creating opportunities for collaboration, you can truly build a strong and connected community that thrives on shared values and complementary skills and resources.

Phase 4: The Greatest Gift of Community

Romantic relationships are gaining a beautiful reputation in certain circles as vessels for healing.

Communities are the same thing, amplified.

In community we have opportunities to:

  • Face our fears, realize we can handle them, and come out more confident on the other side
  • See our definitions of "love", "friendship", "connection", "compassion" and "relationship" evolve into something we never knew was possible because it wasn't modeled for us in the community we used to know.
  • Show up and contribute to something bigger and greater than any of us are as individuals.
  • Experience fun, play, a little light in dark times, camaraderie, support.
    • Including a kind of "outside" emotional support that many of us desperately need, but can be more difficult to get from the people who've known us longer and have their own bias and assumptions accordingly.
  • Discover what "compassionate accountability" looks and feels like.
  • Practice healthy boundaries in place of barriers and violence.
  • Take in other points of view, tools, and resources that we wouldn't have been able to discover without stepping outside of our bubble.
  • Look around and realize we are supported. And let ourselves feel that, perhaps for the first time.

Community work is difficult work. It can be time-consuming, scary, draining and, yes, triggering.

But here's the thing: riggers are just showing us where we need to heal. And otherwise, when we build healthy community, it gives back far more than it takes from each person involved.

  • A healthy community will trigger us, but then it supports us in healing the wounds those triggers uncovered.
  • It may consume our time at times, but then it covers us when we need to take space to recoup.
  • It may be intimidating, but then it helps us realize we are bigger than whatever the thing was that we feared.
  • And it may drain our energy at times, but it will be generative more than anything, more often than not.
  • It will show us where we undervalue ourselves and other people, then teach us how to love ourselves and others more deeply. Something this world desperately needs.

But the setup to make that happen? It looks different for everyone. There is no one community where everyone belongs. All of my friends have friends and community outside of me. We all have community outside of one another, and with one another.

This is because you're the only person who knows what your limits are, what lane you play in, what your gifts are, what your contribution is, what your boundaries are, and what your needs are.

You're the only person who has the information to know what your community needs to look like.

Even with all the information here, only you know which tips and angles will work for you and what doesn't feel right yet, or ever.

So don't depend on any organizer, activist, friend or government to build your community for you. They contribute. We all contribute. But your community won't fit as snugly as it would if you'd lead yourself to build your own, tailor-fit, circle of support.

The best part? You don't have to do it alone. I can be here to support you through it. Hit the link below to see what coaching looks like:

Want Support on Your Journey?
So, you want to develop a healthier, deeper, and more empowering connection with yourself, and the people around you. Or, more specifically, you may want support with: ✨ Developing a deeper sense of awareness about where your patterns are coming from. ✨ Really connecting the dots on why you are…

Alright, Time for a Recap

  • Community is the best thing since sliced bread for your mental health as well as practical security and support measures.
  • Cultivating a healthy sense of community doesn't happen by accident. It happens on purpose.
  • Start with your current community. Take stock. See who fits where in your life, and where you fit. What lane are you riding in?
  • Then, use some meaningful measures to meet new community members. Make it genuine. Everyone's weird. They're just waiting for someone to give them permission to be okay with their weirdness. Be the one who gives them permission by stepping into your own and having real conversations with strangers.
  • Facilitate and foster connections with your people by inviting them to meet one another and participate in small and/or large projects together. Remember, you're not responsible for their relationships. They're not yours to manage. But you can be the connector that gives them the opportunity to know one another and see how they click.
  • We don't just heal in romantic relationship. We heal in community, and we need community for healing. It's time.

Thank You.



P.S. There's a LOT more to cover on the topic of community. Email me at tori@torireid.org to let me know your questions and where you want me to dive deeper.

P.P.S. If you liked this article, share it out. Let others know what you loved and didn't love. It's all alright. We need to talk about this kind of stuff. We need to learn to be in community with one another again.