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home : healthy living : healthy living August 20, 2014

8/28/2013 3:45:00 PM
LIVING SIMPLY | Connecting with people beyond the Internet
By Cecile Andrews

I have a poster on my refrigerator that’s titled “How to Build Community,” and it lists a lot of ideas.

Here are some of the things they suggest — see what you think. Are you doing any of these? Could you?

Turn off your TV

This is a big one, isn’t it? People really used to hang out with each other in the evening. But most of us watch a video every night, instead of having friends over. Who drops in on friends? 

I once lived in a poor neighborhood in the South, working with the Quakers, and it was the first time I had experienced community. The houses had no air conditioning so everyone sat out on their porches, and since the houses were small and close together, adults could talk back and forth with each other while everyone kept an eye on the kids. I loved it.

I mention that it was a poor neighborhood because, apparently, as affluence goes up, community goes down. The bigger the houses, the less neighbors see each other. The more money people have, the less they need their neighbors’ help. 

And now we’re so affluent, many homes have more than one television. Families aren’t even watching together! 

Whatever happened to playing cards?

Look up while you’re walking

This one seemed kind of strange to me, but I know what it means: Too often, people just walk right by without looking at you. 

What it really should have said was, “Greet people while you’re walking.” It sounds like such a small thing, but greeting people brings a sense of belonging and goodwill. 

It’s more difficult to do in Seattle in the winter, when we’re all bundled up and our faces are hidden under parkas and umbrellas, but this beautiful summer gives us a lot of chances to stop and chat!

Use your library

I think Seattle has one of the best systems in the country. I actually go to my library — the Greenwood branch — almost every day. It doesn’t mean I read every book I get, but it just makes me feel good. 

Libraries are something that belong to all of us. They’re part of the commons.

My biggest regret, though, is the self-checkout system. I loved standing in line and getting to know the people who work in the library. Now, it’s too easy to go in, check out your book and be on your way having spoken to no one!

Share what you have

I’ve mentioned the new “sharing economy” several times in this column — things like couch-surfing, AirBnB, Zipcar and Car2Go. The Phinney Neighborhood Center (4649 Phinney Ave. N.) is focusing on being a hub for Sharing activities, so call (206) 783-2244 for more information. In particular, join so you can use its Tool Bank.

Garden together

Here’s something that’s really making a difference in people’s lives: our Seattle p-patches. People don’t garden just to get in touch with nature but in touch with each other. 

I went to a meeting of the Ballard P-Patch the other evening. They gather monthly and have potlucks and conversation. 

In our Sustainable Greenwood-Phinney group, we have monthly meetings at each other’s homes to talk about our gardens and learn from each other. 

Share your skills

Most neighborhoods have created some sort of a block-watch program and have each other’s e-mail addresses. We should use the e-mail list to share what people’s skills are. Maybe someone knows something like basic plumbing, or how to prune plants, or fix bikes. If we created a list, we could help each other out. 

In fact, this is part of the Sharing Economy. There are interesting things happening with this. 

Sustainable N.E. Seattle has a program called “Fixer’s Collective Repair Night.” People with items needing repair gather with people who know how to fix things. The people who get things fixed are very grateful, and the fixers have a good time using their skills and feeling appreciated. This sort of thing is happening around the country.

Ask for help when you need it

Again, remember that people like to help! This is difficult for us as Americans, though. We want to be self-sufficient and self-reliant! But every time you ask others for help, you make others feel good.

So what do you think of this list? Are you doing many of them? Are you willing to try? 

Social ties are the biggest factor in personal happiness and societal well-being, so it’s well worth the effort.

CECILE ANDREWS is the author of “Less is More,” “Slow is Beautiful,” “Circle of Simplicity” and the recently released “Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community and the Common Good.” She can be reached at

Related Stories:
• LETTER TO THE EDITOR | A good example of sharing

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