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How to increase the community feel in living?

February 26, 2016

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Laura Kähkölä went a long way to see something that is close to home. A trip to India opened her eyes to new perspective on community thinking in Finland.

A five-week respite from the Finnish winter, spent in a hammock under the palm trees in India, is now behind me and it’s time return to work

India is a place of extremes and as the trip drew to its close, I found myself thinking about what I had learnt from everything I’d seen and experienced. Other than that the trains are always late as they carry 1.25 billion people.

Community spirit is very much a part of life in this chaotic and slightly mad country. I also find community thinking important, and it’s a characteristic of India that I place high value on.

If a bus blows a tyre on a mountain road somewhere between Mumbai and Margao, there will be at least one person in the next village with a suitable spare. A second person brings a jack, a third a tyre iron and four others help to replace the tyre and dispose of the old one. Plus at least a dozen onlookers and advisers. Each of these persons is giving up a moment of their time to help a bus load of strangers continue on their way to palm trees and sandy beaches.

Community sprit the Indian way is unthinkable in Finland – or is it?

A week before returning home, I was trying to acclimatise back by reading about a blizzard that had hit Finland. On quite a few sites, I saw a photo by Timo Riitamaa depicting the Finns’ need of personal space on a bus stop, even in a blizzard. Looking at the photo made the idea of the Finns as a community-minded people feel very distant.

Scrolling down on Facebook, I found a post in a group for residents in Kallio about a couple who had cleared the snow from their car and the cars around theirs, as a light workout, and they encouraged others to spread the good and do the same. The post had got many likes and promises to follow the couple’s example.

I also found a news item about how a large crowd of people came together to celebrate the ice hockey world junior champions on the Market Square in Helsinki and undressed in the freezing cold (18 degrees below zero) Even people who were unable to attend found the behaviour quite normal. Those two stories rekindled by faith in the Finns’ capacity for collective action.

Even in the construction industry, community thinking has been trending news. One example is joint building ventures where a group of like-minded people form a collective and then start to build a place where they want to live.

Co-living requires bold ideas and experimentation

Would it be possible to increase the community spirit among people in the existing houses, where the only common denominator is having your name on the board downstairs? How unthinkable would it be, sometime in the future, to watch world championship ice hockey with Jimmie from downstairs and Lisa from block C, sharing homemade pizza and a bottle of red wine? We’d have oregano and basil from the greenhouse built for the residents in the attic when the plumbing was replaced, and the superfluous distribution board room has been converted into a wine cellar.

We just have to change the one thing that we have in common – that is, we live in the same building – to boost community spirit. It’s a daunting task. Dozens or even hundreds of individuals, each with their own idea of the house they would like to live in.

I don’t think there is a shortcut to success: but it would be a good start if we brought people together to discuss in an encouraging atmosphere.

I’m also happy that the company where I work places value on community thinking and works to enhance it. Take, for instance, joint building ventures or pipe repair workshops.

What’s the use of community spirit? Let me return to India for a moment. We had the chance to watch how coconut coir (fibres extracted from the coconut husk) was used to make rope. Rope production and selling was the main livelihood in a village we visited. The individual fibres are no more durable than dry grass. But when twined, the rope was so strong that no one in our group was able to break it. According to the local guide, there were two lessons we could learn from this:

  • You can make a strong rope out of coconut husks.
  • People are like rope. Alone each of us is weak, but if we join forces and work together we can achieve miracles.

Best wishes and lots of energy! Spring is just around the corner : )

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