The Guinxi of random conversations.

A strange thing has happened; an outcome of our reliance on public transport and the cargo bike that I can honestly say I never expected or thought about. I’ve never been accused of being the shy and quiet type and our kids follow suit, but a by-product of always being in a communal space, of deliberately engaging with our community is that they really take joy in engaging, well everyone!

I know this doesn’t sound like anything particularly blog-worthy but I’ve been thinking about what the implications of this are and watching carefully how people react and I’ve come to the conclusion it is both uncommon and hugely important that we develop this habit.

See kids are generally friendly and if given an opportunity I think most kids will talk to people. It’s just that we are so rarely in private. Our kids play in the front yard and talk to the 92 year old lady across the street, the neighbours and anybody who will join in a conversation with two small “units” sitting half way up a wire fence. When we go to swimming, gymnastics, the market or the park; we are never in a sealed car and as a result always interacting with people.

I don’t know if they have picked it up from Nikki and my conscious decision to engage and be present with people in our neighbourhood or whether they just have more opportunity. Either way, they will now think nothing of waving or chatting to shopkeepers, fellow passengers or even people we’re passing in the street. To the point where one women on a train commented that she would expect to have this interaction in the country but was surprised to be having it in the city.

It’s really hard to get to the nub of why I think this is crucial to community resilience in an era that may well be characterised by rapid change and possibly disturbance to formal social structures that we have relied upon. I read an article (which can be found here) which might go some way. It talked about what the Chinese call guanxi (pronouced “gwan-shee”), which is “about maintaining networks of ongoing personal relationships based on mutual benefit through reciprocal ties and obligations.”

Now I’m not sure about the word ‘obligations’ but maybe that’s just the bit of me that doesn’t like to be told what to do. It did resonate though that with a shift to focus on the community good, not just our own, that the need to engage with your neighbours, and build real reciprocally beneficial ties becomes foundational. Some more from the article.

“We can maximise our own well-being by consciously being less selfish and placing greater emphasis on the good of the community.

As the trust horizon shrinks from the national to the local level in a society under stress, strong networks can provide the glue that holds a community together.

In tough time, people benefit not only from strong social support networks but also reliable suppliers of everyday goods and services, particularly when there are cost pressures and scarcities.

For us this might mean joining a community garden where one can grow and share produce, or establishing an ongoing purchasing relationship with a farmer.”

I think we’re in for some tough times whatever shape they take so we need to make an active decision to expand our own trust horizon. For me I think this starts with copying the kids, forgetting the potential social faux pas and taking the time to talk and engage with anyone who is up for a chat.