By: Martha Tesema
There is nothing more thrilling to me than walking into a coffee shop and having the barista yell above the hiss of steaming milk, “HEY MARTHA!”
I live for the acquaintances that I’ve made across the cities I’ve called home. Some are stronger than others (like the bartender who greets me every time I see him) while others are more subtle (like the bodega owners who nod with familiarity when I walk by).
It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized these relationships made me feel part of a community and how necessary that was to my mental health.
It turns out, research backs up that feeling. Studies have shown that the “low-stakes, casual friendships” or “weak ties” in our lives are actually linked to emotional and social wellbeing.
As reported by the New York Times, “the more weak ties a person has, (neighbors, a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel.”
But it’s more than just saying hello to a few people as you wander through your neighborhood. It’s also a building block of “community care”—a concept that’s existed in social justice and non-profit circles, but is now buzzing in wellness ones too.
As Mashable’s Heather Dockray wrote, community care is “basically any care provided by a single individual to benefit other people in their life.”
The goal of community care is to face systematic failures with justice and compassion, and, as Dockray notes, it may not fix overarching problems of inequity, but it can provide relief in the face of it.
For some, this means protesting or supporting grassroots social justice efforts—online and offline. For others, it might mean spending time and energy to support their friendships, family, and chosen family.
Both are critical, especially considering the fact that loneliness has reached unprecedented levels around the world.
According to Forbes, nearly 50% of Americans and a third of the British population feel alone.
While it’s important to remember why we need these relationships and strong communities, they can also be hard to initially cultivate.
Making friends let alone acquaintances as an adult is hard—but it’s definitely possible.
Here are some tips to get your network of casual friends and kickstart some community care in your life.
Embrace the Awkward ‘Hello’
Sometimes all it takes is a little bravery to muster up a “hello.” As awkward as that split second can feel, it can open up the doors of friendship in ways that saying nothing can’t.
Whether it’s a new neighbor or someone you walked by at the park, research shows that when we say “hello” or acknowledge others around us, it can lead to a connection that can foster a sense of community.
Find Common Ground
One of the easiest things to talk about are the things that you love—so why not use this as a way to foster common ground with others?
A person buying your favorite book, a friend of a friend carrying a tote from your go-to podcast: There just might be people with common interests all around you if you’re paying intentional attention.
If not, try connecting with folks who are interested in the same topics through online meetups or community events. When you expand your network with special regard to the things you love, your network just might grow in some pretty powerful ways.
Lean Into Small Talk
Small talk can be daunting, but with tactics like the ABC strategy, you can go deeper when small talk situations call for deeper convos.
Here’s the gist: A—ask questions, B—build off of someone’s answer, then C—connect to their answer in a personal way. Use this the next time you have the courage (go you!) to strike up conversation with someone who might be in line for a bagel, too.
While caring for yourself might be political, and necessary, there’s a lot of beauty and power in building a community that cares for others, too.
Finding the casual friendships and neighbors that lift you up, even with just a wave, can be key to ultimately creating a system of community care that can serve everyone.