It is a real joy to read a book outside of your usual professional reading that strikes so many familiar chords. Mia Birdsong’s How We show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship and Community is such a book.
Mia Birdsong has a background in advocacy, storytelling, a change maker and activist for reform. So, the common ground for her thoughts and community development should not be a surprise.
This book challenges the accepted wisdom of the well paying job, career, nuclear family, possessions as the way to fulfilment. Instead Birdsong finds that often those, with the vestiges of success, as prescribed by our western liberal society are not satisfied, are isolated, lonely and are longing for something more. That something missing is a sense of being part of a community. Not just friends and acquaintances but a connected community.
Although written for an American audience much of what she has to say is incredibly relevant for any of us living in any western democracy. We can be successful in the eyes of our peers and society but still lacking that connection with others that only community can provide.
The author discusses that we are already kept apart by injustices relating to gender differences, poverty, racial inequality, differences in values, political belief, religious and spiritual differences but the real disconnection is with the choice we often make to be independent of others without realising that we are an interdependent species. And we need this interdependence to survive, grow and prosper. We need to belong and continue to seek that place of belonging.
Instead of seeking to be the strong independent type, Birdsong finds that we find that place of belonging when we are open to our own vulnerability and open ourselves up to others so we can be connected. However, we often choose the option of fear. Lock others out. We no longer welcome the stranger in our midst. We build walls between ourselves and others in our community. We lock ourselves away in our houses, rarely venturing out the front door.
Birdsong challenges us to question what we have been socialised to believe about what it means to be successful and, instead, look at what we long for i.e. connection with each other, vulnerability, the desire to belong and all that comes with such a commitment. Along with our vulnerability comes the importance for us to be accountable for our true selves, accountable for the values we carry within, accountable to ourselves and to others. Along with the gifts connection with others gives us comes the responsibility of authenticity and accountability.
Birdsong asks us to learn from those around us who choose a different path to fulfilment. Those who choose connection above societal approval. She challenges us to learn from the LGBTQI community, from people of colour, those who have been disenfranchised, the poor. She encourages us to be open to others and to reframe how we view success, family and develop a more contemporary view of community.
This is a thought provoking book to read and one that will stay with you for some time. Prepare to move out of your comfort zone. For me I take with me the challenge to being vulnerable to others and be more accountable to my community for the values I hold dear.
This is the challenge for us to really consider How We Show Up.