by Christina Nikitopoulos
As we go through life, creating who we are and who we want to be, a sense of community is advantageous in empowering us to create the life we want to live. Especially with today’s social media culture, there is more and more emphasis on creating one’s life with satisfaction – doing things that we’ve always wanted in our lives and not letting opportunities go by. Elkind (1982), discussing Erikson’s stages of identity, states “the sense of integrity arises from the individual’s ability to look back on his life with satisfaction. At the other extreme is the individual who looks back upon his life as a series of missed opportunities and missed directions; now in the twilight years he realizes that it is too late to start again” (page 17). How do we make sure that we can look back at our lives and feel satisfied, fulfilled with all that we have accomplished? One way is to seek empowerment from a community.
Fitness communities are a brilliant way for individuals to help find meaning in their lives, to go after goals they might have – whether it is to run a marathon (and many are doing this through fundraising for hospitals, for example), hiking, yoga, and joining other communities, that will help them fulfill goals. Within these communities, one can find like-minded folks who they can turn to for support – whether it may be silent or vocal. Knowing others are there for similar (or different) reasons, the goals are ultimately the same, yet can constantly vary. These goals can be regarding health, stress-reduction, a need to find friends, or a new hobby. Pretty, Bishop, Fisher & Sonn (2006) state “…community is often seen as a buffer against the hard challenges people face. Community offers support and identity derived from those nearby or with whom there are meaningful ongoing interactions” (page 3).
As we begin to develop within a new community, we discover so much about one’s self and who we are within the wider community. Are we the same person within and outside of that community? What do we seek from the community and what can we provide? Belger (2012) states “In thinking about the power of community and the impact of group support, what I have come to understand is that you may not know what has been missing until you discover it, and you can’t imagine the possibilities until they begin to unfold… Communities can do wonders for people, and these affinity groups don’t need to be formal or structured; they simply need to provide support, ongoing contact, and a sharing of experiences” (page 3).
How can we “use” our communities to help us achieve goals, become better versions of ourselves, and look back on our lives with satisfaction? Bronfenbrenner, as discussed in Scott and Wolfe (2015), talks about an individual’s development within the context of the environmental systems (communities) in which the individual is a part. Each of these systems or communities influences the individual’s decisions and behaviors. #UML #commpsych
Christina Nikitopoulos is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Belger, A.W. (2012). The power of community: CrossFit and the force of human connection. Las Vegas: Victory Belt Publishing.
Elkind, D. (1982). Erik Erikson’s Eight Ages of Man. SSCBT: Supplemental Teaching Handouts, Module 3.https://www.pdx.edu/sites/www.pdx.edu.ceed/files/sscbt_EriksonsEightAgesofMan.pdf
Scott, V.C. & Wolfe, S.M. (2015). Community psychology: Foundations for practice. Los Angeles: Sage publications.
Pretty, G., Bishop, B., Fisher, A., & Sonn, C. (2006). Psychological sense of community and its relevance to well-being and everyday life in Australia. The Australian Psychological Society, LTD. http://groups.psychology.org.au/assets/files/community-updated-sept061.pdf