A few weeks ago, just shortly after I first drafted our interview questions (which Kirk mentioned and used for his post last week), I interviewed David Merrick. David and his delightful eight year-old daughter came for lunch, and then we conducted our interview while our children played in the background. David is someone I have only met a handful of times in person. I noticed his community spirit through Facebook, where I saw him suggesting community initiatives, and experienced him responding energetically and positively to suggestions for local action that I had made.
I have to say, my mind was a little bit blown by talking to David. There were assumptions I had made in creating these five questions which didn’t reveal themselves to me until I spoke with him. There were things I thought must be common to all community builders which, it turns out, aren’t. It feels so timely that he was my first interviewee, pushing me to expand my thinking and stretch out beyond my own range of understanding.
When I asked David about an early experience of a sense of belonging, he told me he has rarely ever had a sense of belonging or not belonging. “I belong to the universe. I tend to look at the big thing”. I realised quickly that David’s sense of community is broader than just people. He considers himself to be connected with people, but also plants, trees, the planet, the stars. “We have this one reality, which you can’t destroy. When you have a solid rock like that, you don’t have a sense of coming or going, or belonging or not belonging…”
(…Well, I had thought of various answers I might get for that question. That wasn’t one of them!)
David is a gentle, reflective man, and a truly deep thinker. He pondered for a while when thinking about the most welcoming person he has met, and decided that he knew too many to focus on one. He realised some themes though; people who welcome well do so in a natural, almost effortless way. “With some people it feels like it’s an inconvenience to them that you are there because they have cooked enough food for twenty people. But with some people it is just naturally done with this beauty rather than physical substance”. If that sounds a little difficult to intentionally replicate, one concrete example of welcome reassured me: “Asking someone their views is very welcoming. Anyone who does this is extremely welcoming because they are showing you they want to connect. It gives people a chance to contribute – people feel good when they are affirmed.” And then, this: “It’s people’s lack of opportunity to contribute to society that leaves them feeling like drifting boats”.
WHAT? David, this is amazing!
So, if people want to contribute, what might help them to feel a sense of agency as a citizen? “We all have the power to set examples. But to have real power, you have to work together. When you are involved in a bigger picture, you feel a sense of agency, like a musician in an orchestra”. David feels able to put his ideas forwards because he has never worried about what other people think of him. “You do what you can”.
This ability to not worry about what people think filters into his every encounter. We discussed the emotions he has when meeting a new person for the first time. Once again, he blew my preconceptions apart. I included this question because meeting somebody for the first time is a big deal for me. I now feel so silly that I made assumptions about this too, but until I spoke to David I thought it would be a big deal (positive or negative or more-complex-than-that) for everyone. For David though, it is just one of many meetings. It isn’t the only chance to make them feel welcome and it isn’t a more important meeting than any other you might have with them. “It’s nothing dramatic. If you don’t get in a flap, you aren’t going to make a mess of it. Everybody is a gem. You don’t know what it’s going to be, but it will reveal itself in time”.
I asked David about where in community life he feels most able to make his contribution. He explained that he sees himself “as a helper”. He doesn’t like being in the limelight, but if nobody else will lead then he will take the reigns if he can see what needs done. “You just go up and do it. You may shake at the knees, but you do it. It’s a duty”. David certainly sees that we have a duty to one another to build and strengthen community, and to take action to keep our communities and our planet functioning.
And he sees that we need to work together to be effective. I will leave you with some of his final words during our interview. David, it was a pleasure, thank you so very much for speaking with me.
“You need The Whole to work. But you gain your beauty through your local, personal interactions”.