Community Well-Being: We’re Better Together
When you think of personal well-being – do you think about your health, happiness, connections, education, or environment?
Now consider what community well-being might look like to you. I am sure many of those things you think for your personal well-being translate to community well-being.
What Works Wellbeing points out that our lives are not solely influenced by our independent well-being – but the community well-being saying,
“We grow up, act, think and feel through our interactions with other people, and wellbeing is, at least in part, ‘being well together.”
Being well, together. I love that.
From the individual to the whole
It is a shift in perspective from the individual to the whole. I always love making the connection between us and nature because we are nature, and there are so many things we can learn from our non-human counterparts.
Biology Online says that a contemporary community is “one that is built upon healthier, eco-friendly, and holistic design with the intent to live harmoniously with nature and other life forms.”
Similarly, Ecological communities are the collection of living organisms with symbiotic relationships among themselves so they can function as an ecological unit.
An example of an ecological community is A forest community that includes the plants, trees, birds, squirrels, deer, foxes, fungi, fish in the forest stream, insects, and all other species living there or migrating seasonally.
All of these living organisms rely on each other for nutrition, the air they breathe, shelter, companionship, and stability. Their ability to live healthy and full lives depends on the different organisms in their environment. Interactions – even seemingly insignificant, affect the community as a whole. They have to be well together.
On the human side of things – many point to the Wiseman and Brasher definition that says, “Community well-being is the combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political conditions identified by individuals and their communities as essential for them to flourish and fulfill their potential.”
It’s well, together.
Community and Sustainability
If I haven’t clarified, community well-being is important because it is intrinsically linked to sustainability.
If you remember, The three pillars of sustainability are people, planet, and profit – otherwise known as Social, Environmental, and Economic. Our personal health and well-being affect our community health and well-being, which affects our economic and environmental health and well-being and vice versa.
Suppose we invest in supporting and developing strong communities where people feel safe, valued, and respected, where they have opportunities to learn and grow personally and professionally, and where they can connect to their culture – that will contribute to sustainable communities and sustainability as a whole.
You can cut the community well-being pie in many different ways, but I will focus on how the University of Minnesota’s Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing slices it. They say the three attributes that play the most prominent roles in community well-being are connectedness, livability, and equity.
Connectedness is how people connect to each other and the community. People can connect through informal networks, like friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers. They can also connect through formal networks like school or work. Social cohesion refers to shared values and beliefs within a community that promotes positive relationships between people in the neighborhood, city, or region.
As we discussed in the episode about the importance of community, people’s feelings about their community matter because they affect everything from fostering civic engagement and volunteerism to health outcomes. Connectedness empowers all community members and democracy – which determines outcomes for the community at large.
A sense of belonging fosters feelings of social support and safety; it’s easier for people who feel safe in their communities to participate in civic life because they know they won’t face any threats when they’re out in the community.
Connectedness and safety affect other aspects of our life – including teens. 12% of Youth in the U.S Reported feeling unsafe walking to/from school in 2019.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says,
“Feeling safe outside of the home promotes trust, school attendance, and physical activity. The degree to which young people feel safe getting to and from school is critically important to their ability to stay healthy, exercise, and complete their education.”
Community well-being also encompasses how happy you are in your neighborhood or home—or where you want to live someday! It’s important because if we don’t feel good about where we live, it’s hard to enjoy our lives as much as possible.
Connectedness is what allows us to learn more about ourselves and increase our well-being while living harmoniously with each other.
Author Harriet Lerner said –
“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.”
Be the person who makes people feel seen, heard, respected, and connected – because that is what you will receive in return.
In a nutshell, livability is about our built environment or the community’s infrastructure to support community wellbeing.
We should work towards connected, accessible, and pedestrian-friendly communities. Community members should have access to quality, affordable housing, public transportation, good schools, libraries, natural spaces, parks and recreation, culture and the arts, supermarkets or farmers’ markets, and so much more.
Another big part of livability and infrastructure is access to human services such as:
- Elderly and Aging Services
- Counseling and Mental Health Services
- Access to Medicine
- Assistance with Crimes and Abuse
- Food and Clothing Assistance
- And, Insurance Assistance, to name a few.
An infrastructure that allows everyone access and opportunity mean the community will thrive. We could break down each one of those and follow the trail of how they connect to each other. I invite you to take some time to think about or even discuss with someone how having access or no access to the things I just listed could affect someone’s life differently.
One of these, the walkability of a community, plays a major role in our health, well-being, and even sustainability. RJWF says
“The national walkability index is defined as a composite of various factors that affect mobility, including how close houses and apartments are to each other; how connected or grid-like the streets are; the available mix of nearby destinations; the ease of access to public transit; and how dependent residents are on their car to travel”
It allows people to get where they need to go safely and easily while improving their health, reducing their impact, and increasing opportunities for social connection.
Liveable communities increase opportunities for every resident to make healthy choices and are a significant determinant of the outcome of individuals’ health, future, and overall happiness.
In a way, livability can determine equity – the final piece of the pie. You may have seen the graphics showing the difference between equality and equity. Equality assumes that if everyone is given the same tools, resources, and assistance – they can all succeed in the same way (which we know isn’t reality because of the systems in place that create inequality.) Equity is realizing that inequalities exist and providing customized tools, resources, and assistance to address and eliminate the inequality.
I like the graphic where people of different sizes, ages, and abilities are given the same bike – some might work in their favor, some will have a difficult time, and some might not be able to ride it at all. But if you give each person the bike they need, customized to address the inequality – it makes a world of difference (and for a happy bike ride!)
An equitable community supports diversity, social justice, and individual empowerment.
A powerful Martin Luther King Jr Quote reads,
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
This is so true for our communities. All members of the community should be treated fairly and justly. Remember – the goal is to be well together, and the community’s well-being dwindles when people do not feel safe, secure, or treated equitably.
Equity within a healthy community also looks like all member’s basic needs are being met – clean air and water, housing, healthy food, personal security, education, health, and employment. That should be the bare minimum. When comparing this to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these basic needs are the building blocks for finding a sense of community, love, freedom, and eventually self-actualization – or living up to our highest potential.
Something to grow on
For this week’s something to grow on, I have an exercise for you. I want you to go to the Sharecare Community Well-being Index and see where your state ranks. Look through and see what the criteria are and what interests you and then start a conversation with someone in one of your communities about it.
Talk to them about the connectedness, livability, and equity of your community and how you might be able to bring in new perspectives and increase your community’s well-being.
To finish up, I just wanted to say – We are better together. When we shift our mindset to realize that we are part of a community in some form or fashion, we can see how the community’s well-being affects our personal well-being and vice versa. Alone we are strong. Together we are stronger. I genuinely believe that, and I hope you do too.
Until next time, thanks for joining me, neighbor.
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