Community resilience isn’t something that happens by chance. It’s dependent upon the attitudes and respect that people in a community have for one another. We all have a vested interest in contributing to cultivating our own communities to make them more resilient.

Few areas in the world are completely immune from various potential disasters and conflicts – natural disasters, financial disasters, civil unrest, energy and power grid failures, etc. What would your community look like if it faced one of these disasters today? Would people band together and help each other generously, or would it quickly become everyone for themselves? Would people trust and respect their neighbors enough to form support for one another, or would their immediate survival reaction lead them to an attitude of strife and competition? Ask yourself these questions and determine what you can do to contribute in building trust and respect in your own sphere of influence.

You’re never going to find a utopia community where everyone holds hands and sings “kumbaya” together, but you will find that the attitudes and dependencies of communities will definitely vary in various regions. Some micro-communities within just a small city block or neighborhood may be very tight-knit and close, even if the overall broader city is less inclined to charity. What type of community or neighborhood to you want to be a part of? Don’t settle for living somewhere where you don’t feel a sense of belonging and basic respect among those around you.

There are times when the best of humanity comes out on display even in awful times, such as in New York City during the September 11th attacks. All across America, we witnessed the comradery, bravery, and resilience of the New York people. In a time of tragedy and disaster, the people of New York City chose to band together and reach out to lift one another up. They recognized and respected their fellow neighbors and citizens and supported each other during a time of destruction and chaos. When we’re most fearful and disheartened, it’s absolutely essential to be able to find support and comfort in the community around us to help us get through it.

There are numerous cases of natural disasters that we’ve seen across America every year from flooding, hurricanes, and blizzards, to drought and water pollution. Just this month, we’re witnessing the dire situation in California where the Oroville Dam crisis continues to threaten the safety of hundreds of thousands in the towns below its containment. It’s naive to think that we live anywhere that is immune from potential disaster. Unfortunately the various governments we often depend on haven’t always proven to come to the people’s rescue when it happens. Many in California are placing the blame for the Oroville Dam’s failure on their government that was entrusted to fund much-needed repairs that were brought to their attention years prior. During the Hurricane Katrina disaster, one of the five deadliest in the history of the United States, the government agencies were unable to properly provide aid to a great majority of the victims that were depending upon them. They were left stranded or homeless without the basic supplies they needed. The contingency plans that should have been in place hadn’t accounted for the scale of such a disaster.

In the financial crisis realm during the 1929 depression, most Americans that were affected by the financial turmoil were left on their own to rely on the support of their families, friends, and communities as the government was unable to resolve the disaster created by the failed banks. Many people coined the term “Hoovervilles,” to describe the makeshift homes built by those whom had become homeless because there was the unmet expectation for President Hoover to come to their aid and swiftly resolve the crisis. It was a harsh reality for those people to be left with no support but that of their own strength and those around them. Several of  these “Hoovervilles” organized together and even created their own community mayors, liaisons, and pastors. In the end, it was up to the people in those communities to understand and meet the needs of their own community and take action to make it happen.

It’s interesting to see how people rise up to an occasion and provide help when it’s most needed. Last Summer, a few coworkers and I went out for a beer after work and met up at a local restaurant. It was a beautiful day out, so we decided to sit in the outside seating area which happened to be next to a busy road during rush hour traffic. We were enjoying our drinks and conversation for about an hour when suddenly we all heard the sound of a woman screaming coming from the road. As the crowd of the restaurant patrons turned their attention toward the direction of the screams, we all suddenly realized that the scream was coming from a woman who was standing outside of her car in the middle of the road. A bicycle and a small child was pinned beneath the car and she was crying out, having accidentally run over the child. Immediately people began to spring up out of their seats and rush to the scene. One man in the restaurant crowd was a doctor, and he rushed to provide first aid to the child. A few other people immediately began to direct the busy traffic around the scene while others called for an ambulance on their cell phones. A couple of people tried to console and calm down the driver who was understandably hysterical with guilt. I’m happy to tell you now that the boy who had been hit by the car was quickly taken to the hospital and fully recovered without serious injury. The part of this story that always amazes me when I look back and remember it is the way that everyone so quickly sprung into action to contribute in this situation. Ordinary people doing whatever they could to help out and contribute with what they had to offer. Whether it was a simple cell phone call, directing traffic, comforting the driver, or the doctor performing first aid, everyone took up their role.

In this same way as the example above, we all have something to contribute, whether it’s during a time of disaster or a time of peace and prosperity. There are many simple ways we can help to create a more resilient community. The easiest place to start is by showing respect to one another. Whether we have similar or divergent opinions, showing respect to one another is a basic expression of a healthy community and possibly the most important attribute, especially during this time when the flames of division is being fanned by differences of opinion and loyalty to factions. We must have the basic starting point to respect one another regardless of these differences. You deserve it and I deserve it, we all deserve basic respect.

Another way we can help to create a resilient community is by actively supporting each other and the place we call home. It could be financial support by patronizing locally-owned businesses or local farmers and ranchers. Our local farmers are important, and we can’t fully depend upon the centralized food distribution model to sustain everyone. Creating a more resilient community could also be done by giving our time volunteering to clean up trash, or helping to plant vegetables in a community garden. Or maybe instead you want to get involved by joining organizations that support certain interests and causes that help others. You may have a gift, talent, or profession that your community has a great need for. The main idea is taking actions that build, cultivate, and contribute. The payoff is knowing that your actions, even if only creating a slight impact, has slightly shifted the balance of your community in making it better. Even just having a job and showing up to work every day is providing a service and is contributing to your community. Since you live, work, and interact in the place you contribute to you are also reaping the benefits!

Here’s the main takeaway from all of this:

  1. A resilient community is one in which people support and respect each other.
  2. A resilient community responds with flexibility to various situations and disasters, and has the ability to recover effectively.
  3. A resilient community is always building itself and improving itself, thanks to the efforts of individuals and groups determined to cultivate it.
  4. A resilient community doesn’t fully depend upon outside support and aid to the point where it would be devastated if that outside support ceases.

When the going gets tough, you’ll want to be in a resilient community!